Active vs Passive Real Estate Investing: Which is Suitable for Your Investment Goals?

by | Nov 13, 2023 | blog

In a recent Bankrate.com survey, real estate has reasserted its dominance as Americans’ preferred long-term investment option, with 28% favoring it, up from 26% the previous year. These findings reaffirm the enduring allure of real estate as a wealth-generation tool for long-term gains. As investors, the crucial decision lies in determining whether an active or passive approach aligns with their specific goals.

For those seeking hands-on involvement and higher potential returns, active real estate investing offers the autonomy to implement value-added strategies. However, this path demands a substantial time commitment and a specialized skill set. Conversely, passive real estate investing presents an enticing option for individuals who prefer limited involvement.

In 2023, two compelling factors make passive income particularly attractive. Rising interest rates mean increased yields on REITs, while lower housing prices create opportune moments for securing income-generating real estate assets at reduced costs.

Read on to make a well-informed investment decision between active and passive real estate, depending on your unique goals, risk tolerance, and desired level of involvement.

Active Real Estate Investing

Active real estate investing requires a proactive, engaged approach. It demands extensive analysis, meticulous research, and specialized expertise. Unlike passive investing, where one can adopt a more laid-back stance, active investors are deeply involved in every facet, from property acquisition to management.

Vehicles of Active Real Estate Investing

Active real estate investment encompasses a range of hands-on strategies:


This strategy involves acquiring undervalued properties, renovating them, and selling them for a profit. It’s a dynamic approach, but it carries a higher level of risk, necessitating substantial financial commitment and market acumen. An active real estate investor pursuing this strategy must possess specialized market knowledge and savvy financial management skills.

Rental Properties

Turning properties into rental units offers a steady income stream. However, it demands vigilant property management, careful tenant selection, and regular maintenance.


Real estate wholesaling is a dynamic strategy sought after for its potential quick returns. This method tends to be less capital-intensive than other active real estate strategies, as wholesalers aren’t required to invest their funds.

Nonetheless, it demands a substantial investment of time and effort, involving tasks such as scouting suitable properties, maintaining an updated list of potential buyers, and effectively marketing deals.

Property Rehabilitation

Engaging in property rehabilitation, commonly known as rehabbing, is an ambitious and potentially lucrative approach to real estate investment. This strategy involves an active real estate investor committing a substantial portion of their personal capital to acquire a property, conduct necessary renovations, and strategically market it for sale.

It’s worth noting that rehabbing is a riskier method, given the substantial financial commitment and the potential impact of market volatility. 

Pros of Active Investing

In choosing active real estate investing, one gains autonomy, expertise, and potentially higher returns. It’s a path for those prepared to immerse themselves fully in real estate market dynamics with a healthy risk tolerance.

Higher Potential Returns

Active investors have the potential for greater profits due to their hands-on approach. They can seize market opportunities and implement value-added strategies to enhance property value.

Total Control

From acquisition to exit, active investors dictate decisions. They have the autonomy to choose properties, select renovation strategies, and make timely adjustments to maximize profitability.

Valuable Experience and Knowledge

Direct involvement leads to a profound understanding of the real estate market. Active investors prioritize continual learning to gain valuable insights into market trends, property valuation, negotiation, and risk management.

Tax Benefits for Active Real Estate Investors

Achieving real estate professional status can offer significant tax advantages for those fully committed. This designation allows investors to offset regular income with passive losses from their investments. Consult a tax professional. 

Cons of Active Investing

Becoming an active real estate investor requires significant time, financial resources, and specialized knowledge.

Time-Intensive and Demanding

Active investing can be akin to a full-time job, demanding a substantial time commitment. Investors must allocate time for property research, acquisition, management, and potential renovation.

Specialized Knowledge Required

Success in active investing hinges on a comprehensive grasp of the market, financing, legalities, and property evaluation. Investors must continually educate themselves to make informed decisions.

Potential for Higher Risk

With total control comes a higher specter of risk and market volatility. Active investors bear the brunt of potential rewards and risks. Market fluctuations, unforeseen expenses, and other variables can lead to financial setbacks.

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Passive Real Estate Investing

Passive real estate investing offers a strategic approach where investors allocate capital into ventures like self-storage or mortgage notes while third-party experts handle the operational intricacies. Property managers or sponsors drive the business plan, from property selection to financing, ensuring seamless day-to-day operations.

Vehicles of Passive Real Estate Investing

By judiciously selecting from REITs, real estate funds, or mortgage note investments, they balance convenience and potential returns, aligning with their unique investment goals and preferences.

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

Over 45% of American households now hold REITs, underscoring their value in providing real estate exposure without direct property ownership responsibilities. REITs, like American Tower or Prologis, trade publicly, offering liquidity and diversified exposure to specific real estate asset classes.

Real Estate Funds

Real estate funds, often in the form of ETFs or mutual funds, focus on real estate companies, including REITs. Passive investors can incorporate these funds to diversify and expand their portfolios without active property management obligations. Actively managed funds may provide expertise but might entail higher fees.

Mortgage Notes

Mortgage note investing empowers individuals as lenders, not property owners. At CWS Investments, we acquire defaulted mortgage notes and collaborate with borrowers for sustainable, long-term returns. This strategy is secured by real estate assets and boasts lower market volatility. 

Pros of Passive Investing

Passive investing minimizes time commitments while allowing for diversification across multiple projects, enhancing the resilience of a real estate portfolio.

Limited Time Commitment

Passive investors enjoy the benefits of real estate ownership without the time-intensive demands of direct management. While some oversight remains necessary, it pales compared to active investment involvement.
For instance, analyzing offering memorandum or reviewing financial performance reports for crowdfunding or private equity self-storage opportunities requires a fraction of the time compared to hands-on management.

Diversification through Pooled Investments

Passive real estate investing enables diversification with smaller capital outlays across multiple projects. This reduces risk exposure and enhances portfolio resilience. Investors can allocate varying amounts to different real estate opportunities, spreading their investments for a balanced, diversified approach.

Lower Level of Expertise Required

Passive investors leverage the expertise of fund managers or sponsors, allowing them to benefit from professional guidance in property selection, acquisition, and management. For example, fund investors rely on experienced teams to navigate the complexities of real estate investments, minimizing the need for extensive market knowledge.

Cons of Passive Investing

Potential returns in passive investing may be slightly lower than active strategies, and investors have less direct control over investment decisions.

Potentially Lower Returns Compared to Active Investing

Passive investing may yield slightly lower returns than active strategies due to reduced control and involvement. However, it offers a more hands-off approach for those prioritizing convenience. While the returns from real estate funds may be substantial, they may not reach the level achievable through active strategies like fix-and-flip projects.

Less Control Over Investment Decisions

Passive investors cede control to fund managers or sponsors, trusting their expertise for optimal investment outcomes. This means less influence over specific property selections or business strategies. For instance, while investors can choose which funds to invest in, they don’t have a direct say in the individual properties or projects within those portfolios.

Reliance on Fund Managers or Sponsors

Passive investing necessitates trust in the capabilities of third-party professionals. Success hinges on their ability to execute effective business plans and deliver desired returns.

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Determining Your Investment Goals

Understanding your investment goals involves a nuanced evaluation of your risk appetite, time horizon, and financial capacity. Striking a balance between short-term and long-term objectives is often optimal for most investors, providing a diversified and well-rounded portfolio.

Short-Term vs Long-Term Objectives

Discerning between short-term and long-term objectives is crucial when establishing your investment goals. Short-term goals, realized within five years, encompass ventures like saving for a down payment or a vacation. These investments offer liquidity and lower risk but typically yield modest returns.

Conversely, long-term goals, spanning over five years, involve endeavors like retirement or education funding. These carry higher risk but come with greater potential returns, thanks to the power of compounding.

Risk Tolerance and Investment Horizon

Risk tolerance, pivotal in investment decisions, gauges an investor’s readiness to endure market volatility. It guides the selection and allocation of investments. For instance, a higher tolerance aligns with ventures in stocks or equity funds, while a lower tolerance steers towards REITs and rental properties.

The time horizon is a key factor outlining an investment’s duration. Longer horizons allow for more risk-taking, potentially leading to higher returns, while shorter horizons necessitate lower-risk, more liquid investments.

Capital Availability and Liquidity Preferences

Recognizing how much capital you can allocate to investments and your liquidity preferences is paramount. For instance, real estate investments may require a down payment, necessitating available funds.

Liquidity preferences influence the types of investments you pursue; stocks and real estate investments offer different liquidity profiles. Moreover, considering external funding sources or leveraging other people’s money can be a strategic move for those starting with limited capital.

Active vs. Passive Real Estate Investing: Right Strategy for Your Goals

When determining your investment approach, several critical factors come into play, each tailored to suit your financial landscape and aspirations. Consult a financial advisor to determine what investment vehicle is best for your goals. 

Risk Tolerance and Comfort with Involvement

One pivotal aspect to weigh is your comfort level with risk and involvement. Active investing demands a hands-on approach, making it ideal for those who relish the role of a landlord, revel in property improvements, and are willing to navigate tenant relationships.

In contrast, passive investing offers a more hands-off experience, making it the preferred choice for those seeking a more streamlined investment journey, free from direct property management responsibilities.

Time Availability and Expertise Level

Time is a crucial commodity in investment endeavors. Active real estate investments necessitate a substantial time commitment in the initial acquisition phase and throughout the project’s lifecycle. This is a fitting choice for those with the bandwidth to dedicate to property management.

On the other hand, passive real estate investment requires a front-loaded investment of time in the research phase, providing a more manageable option for those with limited availability.

Financial Resources and Investment Capital

The extent of your financial resources and available capital is another pivotal consideration. Active investing demands a more substantial initial capital investment, covering expenses such as insurance claims, emergencies, and repairs.

On the contrary, passive real estate investment typically involves a more modest initial capital investment, with ongoing expenses managed by a team of experts, offering a more accessible entry point for investors with limited resources.

The choice between active and passive real estate investing hinges on a comprehensive assessment of your risk appetite, availability, expertise, and financial capacity. A balanced approach combining active and passive investments can provide a diversified portfolio catering to growth and stability objectives.

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Final Thoughts

Shifting towards long-term investment strategies and focusing on stable, cash-flow-generating assets is paramount for building lasting wealth. It’s not about quick gains but identifying opportunities that provide sustained income, surpassing traditional employment constraints.  Passive investing leverages the advantages of low cost of entry and greater liquidity with multiple exit strategies.

For those looking to embark on a passive investment journey, CWS Investments offers a tailored solution. With a vast portfolio of over 500 assets and a proven track record. By investing in mortgage notes, you bypass the hassles of property management, tenant relations, and upkeep. Our passive investment approach for investors is backed by real estate, with low volatility and costs of entry. At CWS Investments, we perform multiple rounds of due diligence on each asset to ensure the property, person, and predicament align with our investing strategy. Talk with a team member today.