Passive Investment Benefits of Delaware Statutory Trusts

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Many baby boomers who hold highly appreciated real estate assets may be at a stage of their lives when they are seeking more passive investment opportunities. Passive, professionally managed ownership may allow them to concentrate on other opportunities in life that they may have always been passionate about but never had the time to enjoy.

Key Takeaways

  • Delaware statutory trusts allow for a type of 1031 exchange that makes an opportune vehicle for passive investing in real estate.
  • Typically up to 499 investors (and sometimes more) can use this investment vehicle to share a property such as a large apartment or medical building.
  • This can allow investors to own professionally managed properties without managing the property themselves, but there are risks involved.

Passive Investment Benefits

Rather than deal with the "Terrible Ts"—toilets, trash, and tenants—many older investors are in search of the "Terrific Ts," which give them time, travel, and teeing off. To accomplish these goals, some seasoned investors have turned to real estate investment strategies such as a tenants in common 1031 exchange.

Tenants in common 1031 exchanges have long permitted investors to own high-caliber, professionally managed properties occupied by established tenants, with virtually no property management responsibilities. Most of these investors have been able to accomplish these forms of ownership in a tax-deferred manner through a 1031 exchange.

Delaware Statutory Trusts 

Delaware statutory trusts (DSTs) are not new, but current tax laws have made them a preferred investment vehicle for passive 1031 exchange investors and direct (non-1031) investors alike. DSTs are derived from Delaware statutory law as a separate legal entity and created as a trust, which qualifies under Section 1031 as a tax-deferred exchange.

In 2004, the IRS blessed DSTs with an official revenue ruling about how to structure a DST that will qualify as replacement property for 1031 exchanges. The revenue ruling (Rev. Ruling 2004-86) permits the DST to own 100% of the fee simple interest in the underlying real estate.

How Delaware Statutory Trusts Work

The real estate sponsor firm, which also serves as the master tenant, acquires the property under the DST umbrella and opens up the trust for potential investors to purchase a beneficial interest. The investors may either deposit their 1031 exchange proceeds into the DST or purchase an interest in the DST directly.

DST investors may benefit from a professionally managed, potentially institutional-quality property. The underlying property could be a 500-unit apartment building, a 100,000 square-foot medical office property, or a shopping center leased to investment-grade tenants. Most DST investments are assets that your run-of-the-mill, small- to mid-sized accredited investors could not otherwise afford. However, by pooling money with other investors, they can acquire this type of asset.

Investors who are familiar with the tenants in common (TIC) investment strategy may see some similarities in the DST concept; however, it is important to understand the differences between the two concepts. While a TIC may have up to 35 investors, each owning an undivided, pro-rata share of the title to the property, a DST typically may have between 99-499 investors (or more), with each investor owning a beneficial interest in the trust which, in turn, owns the underlying asset.

DST vs. TIC Ownership

There are two benefits that the DST structure offers over the TIC concept. One is that because a DST is not limited to 35 investors, the minimum investment may be much lower, sometimes in the $100,000 range. The second major advantage is that in a DST, the lender makes only one loan to one borrower: the DST's sponsor.

In a TIC investment, the lender can fund up to 35 separate loans, one to each investor. In times of tight money, however, the DST gives the lenders greater security because the lender has fully qualified the sponsor, who is the underlying responsible party.

Be aware that the higher number of investors, plus the larger number of shares, may or may not protect your investment; careful scrutiny of the controlling partner or sponsor is advised. There are a lot of crooks in this business.

Risks Involved

DSTs are not without risks. As with any real estate investment, investors may be subject to high vacancy rates and loan defaults. It is also important for investors who may be considering the DST strategy to consult with an experienced investment professional and obtain competent legal and tax advice. The DST structure may be a viable investment alternative for qualified real estate investors, but only your tax adviser and a lawyer can tell you if it is right for you.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. State of Delaware. "Title 12, Chapter 38, Subchapter I. Domestic Statutory Trusts."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Internal Revenue Bulletin: 2004-33."

  3. Freddie Mac. "Freddie Mac Multifamily-Legal FTI: Delaware Statutory Trusts."

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Rev. Proc. 2002-22," Page 10.

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