Real estate investment trusts, or REITs, invest in real estate assets, either properties (equity REITs) or mortgages (mortgage REITs). REITs often have higher-than-average dividends and may also offer excellent long-term total return potential, among other benefits. However, picking individual REITs isn't for everyone. Fortunately, there are several exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, that invest in REITs that you can use to invest in the real estate sector.

Price wars among providers of passively managed index funds like those I'll discuss here have resulted in some of the lowest ETF expense ratios (fees) in history. So, here are four of my favorite REIT ETFs, all of which have below-average fees, that could provide income and growth in your portfolio for decades to come.

Name

Recent Share Price

Dividend Yield

Expense Ratio

Schwab U.S. REIT ETF (NYSEMKT:SCHH)

$41.96

3.02%

0.07%

iShares Core U.S. REIT ETF (NYSEMKT: USRT)

$50.23

3.89%

0.08%

Vanguard REIT ETF (NYSEMKT:VNQ)

$85.09

4.31%

0.12%

iShares Global REIT ETF (NYSEMKT:REET)

$26.14

4.93%

0.14%

Data source: TD Ameritrade. Prices, dividend yields, and expense ratios current as of June 14, 2017.

1. Schwab U.S. REIT ETF

With an expense ratio of just 0.07%, the Schwab U.S. REIT ETF is the most inexpensive REIT exchange-traded fund available as of this writing. The fund tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Select REIT Index, and currently invests in 131 separate U.S. equity REIT stocks on a weighted basis, meaning the larger companies in the index make up higher percentages of the fund's assets. The top five holdings of the fund at the end of the first quarter of 2017 were Simon Property Group, Public Storage, ProLogis, Welltower, and AvalonBay Communities.

Apartment buildings

Image source: Getty Images.

2. iShares Core U.S. REIT ETF

The iShares Core U.S. REIT ETF has a similar objective as the Schwab fund, but tracks a slightly different index, the FTSE NAREIT Equity REITS Index. Top holdings of the fund include Simon Property Group, Public Storage, Equinix, ProLogis, and Welltower. As you can see, these are nearly the same as the Schwab fund, but since the iShares fund has slightly more (157) components, it is less reliant on these top holdings. For example, Simon Property Group, the largest REIT in the market, made up about 6.6% of the iShares fund at the end of the first quarter, compared with 8.5% of the Schwab fund.

3. Vanguard REIT ETF

The Vanguard REIT ETF tracks yet another index of U.S. equity REITs, the MSCI US REIT Index. The top five holdings are the same as the iShares ETF, and the Vanguard fund is perhaps the most diversified of these three U.S. REIT ETFs, with no more than 6% of assets invested in any single REIT. With more than $62 billion in assets, the Vanguard REIT ETF is by far the largest REIT-focused exchange-traded fund in the market, and is about 15 times larger than its closest peer.

4. iShares Global REIT ETF

Unlike the other three ETFs in this discussion, which focus exclusively on U.S. REITs, the iShares Global REIT ETF invests in real estate stocks from all over the world, including the U.S., other developed economies, and emerging markets. This translates to a somewhat higher level of risk, but also more income and long-term reward potential -- notice the fund has the highest dividend of the four.

In all, the fund owns 279 REITs. 64% are in the U.S., with Australia, Japan, the U.K., and France the next four largest concentrations. The top five holdings are the same as the Schwab ETF, and just one of the top 10 holdings is a foreign REIT (a French shopping center REIT). The bottom line is that the iShares Global REIT ETF is a way to invest most of your capital in U.S. real estate, but to also give yourself some potentially valuable international exposure as well.

Matthew Frankel owns shares of Public Storage. The Motley Fool recommends Equinix and Welltower. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.