Dividend stocks have given their investors lots to be thankful for over the years. The average dividend stock has outpaced the S&P 500 since 1973 (a 9.6% average annual total return versus 8.2%), according to data by Ned Davis Research and Hartford Funds. Meanwhile, companies that steadily increased their payouts delivered even higher total returns (10.7%).

Our Fool.com contributors believe that three dividend stocks investors will be thankful they own in the coming years are Agree Realty (ADC 0.53%), Prologis (PLD -0.84%), and Weyerhaeuser (WY 0.30%). Here's why they stand out as great ones to buy right now for the long term. 

Agree Realty keeps growing its portfolio and its payouts

Marc Rapport (Agree Realty): Agree Realty leases buildings and land to stores and shops. It's not the most exciting business in the world, but it pays well. Since going public in 1994, this retail REIT has more than doubled the total return of the S&P 500.

While that's certainly no guarantee of the same for the next 28 years, there are good reasons to pick up some shares and hang on, especially for income investors. Agree pays dividends monthly and right now is yielding about 4%. Agreeably enough, it just boosted its monthly dividend by 5.7%, keeping pace with the 5.8% annualized clip it's maintained for the past 10 years.

That profitable portfolio is also growing. The suburban Detroit operation added 121 properties in the third quarter alone and now has 1,707 of them scattered across all 48 continental states. Two-thirds of its tenants are investment-grade companies that include some of the largest, most stable retailers in the country.

After trading as high as about $80 a share this summer, ADC shares are down to about $69. Analysts rank it a "moderate buy" with a consensus target price of $78.41. You can find other quality REITs with a higher targeted upside than the 13% or so we're seeing here, but keep in mind that ADC stock is off less than 3% year to date. 

And given Agree's long record of handsome shareholder returns and its fortress balance sheet, to be used to continue strategically growing its portfolio, investors who get in now or add to what they already own will likely find themselves thankful they did so next year and beyond.

Visible growth ahead

Matt DiLallo (Prologis): Prologis has been a great dividend stock in recent years. The industrial REIT has grown its payout at a 12% compound annual rate over the last five years. That has outpaced the REIT sector's 6% annual dividend growth rate and the 5% yearly pace of the S&P 500.

Prologis should have no problem growing its dividend in the future. The company has a conservative dividend payout ratio (65% of its adjusted FFO). That has it on track to produce $1.4 billion of post-dividend free cash flow this year. It also has one of the strongest balance sheets in the REIT sector, with A-rated credit and a low leverage ratio, which gives the company tremendous financial flexibility to continue paying its dividend and investing in expanding its portfolio.

A big growth driver is the embedded rental upside of its existing portfolio. Prologis leases its warehouses under long-term contracts. This means it has yet to capture the full benefit of soaring rental rates in recent years, driven by the accelerated adoption of e-commerce, reshoring, and supply chain issues.

There's a 62% difference between its current lease rates and market rents. That leads Prologis to believe it can grow its same-store net operating income at a high-single-digit annual rate for several years.

In addition, Prologis will get a boost from its needle-moving $26 billion acquisition of Duke Realty and its development pipeline, and as mentioned, its financial flexibility will help it make additional acquisitions and fund more developments. These growth drivers should enable Prologis to continue growing its dividend in the future.

Despite that embedded growth, Prologis' stock price has tumbled by about a third this year, pushing its dividend yield up 2.8%. Investors will be thankful they took advantage of that sell-off to buy shares of Prologis when they collect its growing dividend in the coming years.

Housing is out of favor, but Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway just bought a similar company

Brent Nyitray (Weyerhaeuser): Weyerhaeuser is a timberland REIT that owns or manages 24.7 million acres of timberland in the United States and Canada. It is also a leading manufacturer of lumber products such as plywood, structural timber, and engineered wood products. Most of its production is used in the residential construction business. 

Given that the white-hot housing market is showing signs of slowing down, a building products company might seem like an odd bet. That said, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway just took a position in building products company Louisiana-Pacific.

This is a contrarian play heading into a potential recession; however, housing has usually led the economy out of recession. This is because the Federal Reserve usually cuts interest rates to stimulate economic growth. The Fed used this tool during the 1970s, and today's economy appears remarkably similar to that time period.

We still have a dire shortage of housing in the United States, so regardless of the state of demand, the supply side of the equation supports housing companies. Lumber prices are well off their highs, so this is an early bet, but generally speaking, Weyerhaeuser's dividend pays you to wait. 

Weyerhaeuser has an unusual dividend structure. It pays a quarterly dividend, which is meant to be sustainable throughout the entire housing cycle. In addition, it pays a yearly special dividend, which is meant to reflect the earnings for the year. This will be paid in early 2023.

Last year, Weyerhaeuser paid four quarterly dividends of $0.17 per share, a special dividend of $0.50 per share, and its full-year special dividend came out to $1.45 per share. This works out to be $2.63 per share in dividends, or about an 8% yield at these levels. 

Investors need to be prepared for continued share-price volatility, especially because future special dividend levels will rely in part on lumber prices, which have seen sharp moves throughout 2022. Over the long run, though, Weyerhaeuser should benefit from future homebuilding activity to respond to the housing shortage in the U.S., and the positive impacts could last for years to come.