REITs@50: Industry Reflections, Sam Zell of Equity Group Investments

As part of our REITs@50 Anniversary celebration, sat down with one of the luminaries of the REIT industry, former NAREIT Chair Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, to get his thoughts on the past, present and future of REITs. 

Zell explained that he felt NAREIT's biggest contribution to the industry was being able to get an industry full of strong personalities to realize they needed a collective voice.

"The real estate industry has historically been a bunch of entrepreneurs who operated without regard to what was going on in the overall country. I think that the improvement and focus of NAREIT, which has brought all of us forward to recognizing the role of Washington, how important it is that we have our interests represented, has been a major, major impact to the real estate industry overall," Zell said.

For Zell, the arrival of the Modern REIT Era and mainstreaming of listed REITs have helped expand the definition of asset classes. According to him, before the early 1990s there was a great deal of dispute as to whether or not real estate was really its own asset class.

"We've seen the creation of the modern REIT distribute equity ownership in real estate through the system as well as internationally," Zell said. "That is something that did not exist before."