Personal Finance Q & A

Real Estate Trusts Hard To Analyze

Q Is there any source for evaluating real estate investment trusts (REITS) comparable to Value Line for stocks or Morningstar for mutual funds?

- V.M. Wilmette, Ill.

AThere are several, but it's a tough field for average investors. Greenstreet Advisors (714-640-8780, www.greenst.com) and Penobscot Group (617-723-9600) issue REIT reviews. But they are primarily aimed at financial institutions and specialists. Several brokerage houses cover REITs, including Lehman Brothers, Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette, and Paine Webber. A broker might be able to provide you with reports, including those from Greenstreet and Penobscot.

"Unless you have a great deal of expertise with real estate, you are probably better-served in working with an REIT specialist or buying into an REIT mutual fund, rather than trying to set up an REIT portfolio on your own," says Ed Turville, a financial specialist with money manager DGHM, in New York.

The REIT market has sagged in recent months, but Mr. Turville finds some solid values there. Most real estate in the US is occupied, he says. So new construction will be needed to satisfy demand. Turville expects a comeback for REITs in the months ahead.

Q Would it be better to transfer a 403(b) annuity ... into an IRA or another 403(b)-type plan? This annuity is only paying 5.6 percent.

- R.C. via e-mail

AIf you are still working for the company with whom you set up the 403(b) annuity, you cannot roll it into an IRA, says Tim Shmidl, a financial consultant with Prism Group in Overland Park, Kan.

You can, however, make a direct transfer to another 403(b) provider. If you have a specific provider in mind, contact the company to see if it will do this for you.

But if you've left the company, you can use a rollover IRA.

Should you bail out? That depends on your age and tolerance for risk, Shmidl says. If you have an investment timeframe of five years or more, you can probably do better than 5.6 percent annually.

Questions about finances? Write:

Guy Halverson

The Christian Science Monitor

500 Fifth Ave., Suite 1845

New York, NY 10110

E-mail: halversong@csps.com

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