Bank of America Merrill Lynch has recently decided to offer non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) to its clients, making it the first major wirehouse to offer the alternative investment. Non-traded REITs have traditionally been sold by independent broker-dealers who focus on retail clients, but Merrill Lynch believes the moment is ripe to offer REITs to clients given that "the primary investment objectives are designed to provide attractive current income, preserve and protect invested capital, achieve net asset value appreciation over time and enable stockholders to utilize real estate as a long-term portfolio diversifier," said Merrill Lynch's Keith Glenfield. In fact, the company has already raised $50 million from clients interested in the Jones Lang LaSalle Income Property Trust REIT. However, since the onset of the financial crisis, non-traded REITs have proven themselves to be nothing more than risky and highly illiquid investments that have been the subject of regulatory scrutiny due to misrepresentations about the product. This lends itself to the notion that the only thing that remains certain about the REITs are the high commissions brokers will earn for selling them.
REITs invest in a diversified set of income producing real estate properties and mortgages, and they must distribute 90 percent of net earnings to investors. REITs allow investors to partake in real estate investing without directly owning property, which may lock up large amounts of money for long periods of time. The most popular REITs are publicly traded on a stock exchange such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) - they are relatively transparent in their finances and operations and are covered extensively by investment analysts. Non-traded REITs are not listed or registered with securities regulators and are supposed to be available only to accredited investors - $1 million or more in assets or $200,000.00 in annual income. Non-traded REITs disclose their finances publicly and offer shares to the public, but they do not list their shares on an exchange, which is one of many risk factors associated with them.
There is no doubt that the potential to earn hefty commissions can influence broker-dealers such as Merrill Lynch to ignore duties owed to their clients. Such duties include performing adequate due diligence to better understand a product and evaluating whether the product is suitable for an individual's investment objectives and risk tolerance. As a result, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has issued several "Investor Alerts" regarding investing in non-traded REITs. The Alerts were intended to help investors understand the risks, benefits, features and fees associate with investing in non-traded REITs. The Alerts also warned investors about the use of borrowed funds, limited early redemption schemes and fees associated with the sale of the investments. Unfortunately, these Investor Alerts came too late for some investors who purchased non-traded REIT shares that have lost a significant amount of money.
The primary cause of the increased number of telephone calls to our office over the last five years is many elderly and retired investors have been steered into non-traded REITs as yields on other income producing investments have steadily declined. According to many investors, the REITS were recommended as safe, secure, and steady income producing investments which sounded to be exactly what many seniors wanted and needed. When any Wells REIT investor calls our office, we will make a customer specific suitability determination after we learn the "essential facts" concerning that investor. We will ask, just as their stockbroker should have asked, about their age, investment experience, time horizon liquidity needs (length of time they could hold the investment without need for the principal), risk tolerance, other holdings, and financial situation in terms of liquid total net worth, tax status and investment objectives. All of these factors are relevant to suitability determination, and most weigh against the ownership of REIT investments by elderly retired investors. If we believe a brokerage firm or its representatives made an unsuitable recommendation that any person invest in a non-traded REIT, we recommend that they file a FINRA arbitration claim and attempt to recover their losses!
Have you suffered losses resulting from a real estate investment trust sold by Merrill Lynch? If so, call Robert Pearce at the Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A. for a free consultation. Mr. Pearce is actively investigating and accepting clients with valid claims against stockbrokers who misrepresented and sold real estate investment trusts to investors.
The most important of investors' rights is the right to be informed! This Investors' Rights blog post is by the Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., located in Boca Raton, Florida. For over 30 years, Attorney Pearce has tried, arbitrated, and mediated hundreds of disputes involving complex securities, commodities and investment law issues. The lawyers at our law firm are devoted to protecting investors' rights throughout the United States and internationally! Please visit our website,, post a comment, call (800) 732-2889, or email Mr. Pearce at for answers to any of your questions about this blog post and/or any related matter.