Most real estate investment trusts (REITs) own and operate collections of income-producing properties. Among the 225 or so publicly traded REITs are some great options for folks looking for growth and income -- emphasis on income -- from an investment they can buy and hold forever.

Twenty-eight years isn't actually forever, of course, but it's how long Agree Realty (ADC 0.53%) has been a public company and in that time it has truly outperformed. Since 1994, this retail REIT has provided a total return of 630%, besting two key benchmarks, the S&P 500 and Vanguard Real Estate ETF, by about 200 and 350 percentage points respectively.

Meanwhile, check out what $1,000 of those first 2.5 million shares bought then would be worth now, compared with the aforementioned benchmarks:

ADC Total Return Level Chart

ADC Total Return Level data by YCharts

That's a compound average annual total return of 12.4% over that time, and that's pretty good, too. REITs are required by tax law to pay out at least 90% of their taxable income as dividends, and Agree Realty has performed admirably in that regard, too, raising its payout by an annual average of 5.8% over the past decade.

This chart shows just how much impact a dividend has on total return, illustrating why a successful REIT is such an attractive hold-forever stock, especially for income-focused investors, including retirees and people still building that nest egg.

ADC Chart

ADC data by YCharts

As you can see, Agree's total return in the past 10 years is basically double that of its share price gain alone. But looking at forever means looking forward, not looking backward. In that regard, Agree is well positioned to keep burnishing its record as an income stock.

A propensity for pumping up payouts

Agree Realty began paying shareholders monthly in January 2021 and has raised its payout four times since then. That current dividend of $0.24 per share was good for a yield at this writing of 4.02% at a share price of $71.68.

Agree generates that income from retail buildings and ground leases, holdings that as of Sept. 30 were in all 48 continental states and on a growth trajectory that gained serious steam since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company added 98 properties in the third quarter alone, and it plans to finish the year with a total of $1.6 billion to $1.7 billion of total acquisitions.

Agree's tenant list is led by a who's who of generally recession-proof retailers, including Walmart, Kroger, Tractor Supply, Dollar General, and Home Depot.

The REIT also has sector diversification to go along with geographic spread, with home improvement, grocery stores, and tire and auto service accounting for about 9% each of Agree's annual rent. The company was founded in 1971 by current Executive Chairman Richard Agree, whose son, Joey Agree, is the chief executive officer. That's another sign of stability.

Agree Realty also has a fortress balance sheet that includes a ratio of net-debt-to-recurring earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of 3.1 and the street cred to recently issue $300 million in senior unsecured notes that carry an interest rate of only 3.76% and aren't due until 2032.

The market concurs on Agree

It's not just major lenders that understand this company's ways. Agree Realty stock, at this writing, is up 0.6% so far this year, compared to a 17% decline for the S&P 500. But it's still reasonably priced, in my opinion, with a price-to-funds from operations (FFO) ratio of 17.7 and an enterprise value of about $8.1 billion compared with a market cap of about $6.4 billion. Analysts also rate it a buy and give it a consensus price target of $78.41, which would be about a 10% gain from current levels.

Agree's reputation precedes it, but this is still a stock worth considering buying for the long haul. Forever is a long time, naturally, but I can say that I own Agree Realty shares now and I intend to add more soon. With no plans to sell, either.