More than 20 publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) focus on owning office buildings. Because of that, it can be easy to overlook Cousins Properties (CUZ 0.44%), which is much smaller than some of its more well-known peers. That's causing some investors to miss out on the company's attractive dividend -- it currently yields over 4% -- and bright future.

Here's why dividend investors should take a closer look at Cousins Properties.

Focused on the right properties in the right location

There's a lot of uncertainty about the future of offices. Employees have grown comfortable working remotely, making it hard for their employers to coax them back to the office. Many remote workers have opted to move away from major metro areas along the coast to the warmer and cheaper cities in the Sun Belt region. Because of that, demand for office space in large urban office buildings remains muted.

However, companies still value having their employees come into a central office at least part of the time. Because of that, many are relocating to or expanding in the Sun Belt region to gain access to that growing workforce. Further, they're upgrading their offices to Class A buildings loaded with amenities that employees can't get at home.

These trends play to the strategy of Cousins Properties, which owns a portfolio of high-quality office buildings in major Sun Belt markets. Because of that, it's benefiting from healthy demand for space in its buildings, which is driving up rental rates.

Rents on second-generation leases on the same space were up 15.4% during the first quarter as the company captured higher market rents as legacy leases expired. Overall, rents are 9% above their pre-pandemic levels at these properties. That's helping boost the net operating income at its existing properties, putting a solid floor under its dividend.

More growth ahead

As companies expand and relocate to the Sun Belt region, it's providing Cousins Properties with the opportunity to develop additional office buildings. The company is currently developing 1.5 million square feet of commercial space that it expects to complete over the next two years, including new office buildings in Austin and Phoenix.

Cousins is building 100 Mill, a 287,000 square-foot property in Phoenix, and Domain 9, a 338,000 square-foot building in Austin. Both properties are more than 90% pre-leased, thanks partly to e-commerce giant Amazon.

Amazon signed a lease to occupy 100% of Domain 9 and will lease 158,000 square feet of space at 100 Mill to support its growing workforce in those two fast-growing cities. Because of that leasing success, these properties will start contributing immediately upon completion, further growing Cousin's rental income.

Meanwhile, Cousins has a vast land bank across several fast-growing Sun Belt markets. This land could support up to 5.1 million square feet of additional development in the future, as more companies relocate and expand in the Sun Belt region.

The REIT has ample financial flexibility to fund future developments. It has the lowest leverage ratio among office REITs, giving it lots of liquidity. In addition to financing more development projects, Cousins could continue to acquire high-quality office buildings in the region.

The REIT recently purchased its partner's 10% interest in a joint venture that owned two newly developed office buildings in Atlanta for $43.4 million. It also acquired a partner's stake in 300 Colorado in Austin for $162.5 million. Cousins also sold an older property in Austin for $174 million, enabling it to recycle capital into acquiring a larger interest in those two recently developed properties and maintain its strong financial profile.

This office REIT stands out from the pack

While there's a lot of uncertainty about the future of offices in coastal markets, Cousins Properties has a bright future, thanks to its focus on high-quality offices in the Sun Belt region. The REIT should continue benefiting from rising rental rates while getting an added boost from the upcoming completion of several development projects. That should enable it to continue growing its attractive dividend, making it an enticing option for those seeking to generate some passive income.