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Squatter rights

It is never advisable to take the law into your own hands, especially in a heated situation like an eviction. That’s why Shelton is now working as an advocate to give property owners more more rights in these situations.

A squatter is someone who inhabits a piece of land or a building that they have no legal right to occupy — and without paying rent.

According to the American Apartment Owners Association (AAOA), most states have laws that give squatters rights to inhabit a property “in the event that the lawful owner does not evict or take action against,” them and they differ from state to state. Those laws typically only apply if the squatter has been illegitimately occupying a space for a specific period of time — after which, they will have gained “adverse possession,” and local law enforcement will not be of much help.

Squatters should not be confused with trespassers. A blog post on the AAOA site explains: “A trespasser breaks into the property through an illegal entry and doesn’t have utilities, furniture or any form of a prior lease. Due to this, trespassers can be removed for violation of local loitering or trespassing laws.”

“I feel bad I can’t help everyone,” said Shelton in the FOX Business interview, who is now running a service to help other property owners deal with squatters. “I’m trying to change the laws.”

If the risk of serial squatters and the other trials and tribulations of being a landlord don’t appeal to you, here are three ways you can invest in real estate without all the hassle.

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REITs

Investing in a real estate investment trust (REIT) is a way to profit from the real estate market without having to buy a house or worry about screening tenants, fixing damages, chasing down late payments or even facing trespassers.

REITs are publicly traded companies that own income-producing real estate like apartment buildings, shopping centers and office towers. They collect rent from tenants and pass that rent to shareholders in the form of regular dividend payments.

Essentially, REITs are giant landlords. To qualify as an REIT, a company must pay out at least 90% of its taxable income to shareholders as dividends each year, in addition to other requirements. In exchange, they pay little to no income tax at the corporate level.

Generally, REITs are described as high-return investments that provide solid dividends and the potential for moderate, long-term capital appreciation.

Also, as REITs are publicly traded, you can buy or sell shares any time and your investment can be as little or as large as you want — unlike buying a house, which usually requires a hefty down payment followed by a mortgage.

Real estate ETFs

Another easy way to invest in real estate without having to pick and choose which stocks to buy and sell, is through exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

And as the name suggests, ETFs trade on major exchanges, making them convenient to buy and sell. Some ETFs passively track an index, while others are actively managed. They all charge a fee — referred to as the management expense ratio — in exchange for managing the fund.

The Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ), for example, provides investors with broad exposure to U.S. REITs. The fund currently holds 160 stocks with total net assets of $54.07 billion. Over the past 10 years, VNQ’s net asset value (NAV) has grown 4.65%, as of the end of October. Its management expense ratio is 0.12%.

Another example is the Real Estate Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLRE), which aims to replicate the real estate sector of the S&P 500 Index. It currently has 31 holdings and an expense ratio of 0.10%. Since the fund’s inception in October 2015, XLRE’s NAV has grown 4.77%, as of the end of October.

Both of these ETFs pay quarterly distributions.

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Crowdfunding platforms

Through a crowdfunding platform, you can buy a percentage of physical real estate — from rental properties to commercial properties. You can even buy a stake in digital real estate.

If you’re an experienced investor looking to up your stake in real estate, there are also options for accredited investors that often have higher minimum investments that can reach tens of thousands of dollars or more.

If you’re not an accredited investor, many platforms let you invest smaller sums, even as low as $100.

These online platforms make real estate investing more accessible by simplifying the process and lowering the barrier to entry.

Sponsors of crowdfunded real estate deals usually charge fees to investors — typically in the range of 0.5% to 2.5% of whatever you’ve invested.

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Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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