Dividends are an important part of the stock market's appeal. They provide income for investors who favor the reliability of slower-growing stalwarts, and they're often an integral component of a retirement portfolio.

Some companies had to cut their dividends to keep cash and survive during the pandemic, but many others continued to reward shareholders with dividends and even raised them. Realty Income (O 0.46%) and Home Depot (HD -0.22%) are two companies that have showed their strength through the last year's adversity, and they're great dividend stocks to buy today.

Exterior of a Walgreens pharmacy.

Image source: Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Monthly dividends and increases

There are a few businesses that pay a monthly dividend, but Realty Income has made that part of its identity, calling itself "The Monthly Dividend Company." It yields 4.7% at recent prices and has increased its dividend for 93 consecutive months. The stock has produced a 15.3% compound average annual total return since it went public in 1994.

Realty Income is a real estate investment trust (REIT), a kind of company that owns income-generating properties and often specializes in a particular field. Realty Income is a retail REIT -- a sector that struggled in 2020 while its tenants weren't making sales and, in some cases, weren't paying rent. But Realty Income's tenants are largely essentials providers that have remained open and posted strong sales throughout the pandemic, such as Walgreens, Walmart, and Home Depot.

Occupancy has never been below 96%, and it remained strong in the third quarter at 98.6%.Realty Income collected 93% of rent during the third quarter, and that strong performance continued into the month of October. It has many new properties on the horizon, and the company invested nearly $700 million in the development of 89 properties in the third quarter.

Just as many of its tenants proved their strength during an economic downturn, Realty Income also demonstrated its resilience during the pandemic. Its stock was volatile during 2020 and ended the year down a slight 3%, but the dividend was issued every month and remains a top choice for dividend investors.

Home Depot worker in a store.

Image source: Home Depot.

Building homes and your portfolio

Home Depot stepped up to the plate during the pandemic and fulfilled high customer demand as consumers shifted discretionary spending from travel and leisure to home improvement.

While rival Lowe's had higher growth throughout the pandemic, Home Depot didn't do too badly itself as the largest player in the industry, with a 24% same-store sales increase in the quarter that ended Nov. 1. It had invested $1.2 billion in e-commerce and bridging physical and digital starting in 2017, and that resulted in strong performance when the pandemic hit. In the third quarter, 80% of sales came through digital channels, but 60% were picked up in a store.

It'll be tough to keep up that kind of growth in 2021, especially if restrictions on public activity are lifted. But Home Depot is making the right moves to solidify its dominance in home improvement, pro sales, and do-it-yourself. It opened several new distribution centers in 2020, most recently two in New Jersey, to meet different types of demand. It also recently completed its purchase of HD Supply, which caters to a commercial market and expands Home Depot's reach.

Home Depot issued a quarterly dividend in December, and the stock yields 2.3%, above the S&P 500 average of 1.6%. It raised the dividend in March 2020, as it has for the past 11 years, and it's likely to raise it again in 2021. With its strong cash position and solid future trajectory, Home Depot is a great pick for a dividend stock.