Unless you are hiding under a rock, you know that modern technology is less and less reliant on wires. That is the big-picture story behind American Tower's (AMT -0.19%) long-term success and long-term outlook. It has been a growth and income winner for investors.

But that doesn't mean you can't find strong investment options in the brick-and-mortar world. And Agree Realty (ADC 0.26%) a good alternative in the far more mundane retail-property sector.

A cell tower giant

There are very good reasons to like American Tower, given its scale and reach in the cell tower sector. It is also moving into data centers, giving it even broader exposure to the increasing use of mobile technology.

So far, the company has put up some pretty impressive numbers, too. For dividend investors, that includes 13 years of payout growth with an annualized growth rate of 20% over the past decade. That is an easy story to like, particularly given that American Tower is a real estate investment trust (REIT), a sector usually associated with slow and steady dividend stocks.

AMT Chart

AMT data by YCharts.

Investors are well aware of the history at American Tower. Over the past decade, the stock is up roughly 160%. But there are two sides to this story. At the high-water mark in 2021, the stock was up over 250%. Since that peak, it has fallen around 30%.

That type of volatility isn't uncommon when you are dealing with growth-oriented stocks. Notably, the next year won't be all that kind to American Tower's business, with management forecasting a funds from operations (FFO) decline in 2023. So you probably shouldn't expect the stock to suddenly perk back up again.

Slow and steady

Which is where Agree Realty comes in. This net-lease REIT owns around 1,800 single-tenant retail properties. (Net leases require tenants to pay for most of a property's operating costs.)

It is pretty close to the opposite side of the property spectrum from American Tower. And yet, over the past decade, the stock is up 134% without the gut-wrenching volatility that has accompanied an investment in American Tower of late.

AMT Chart

AMT data by YCharts.

But here's what's interesting: Those performance numbers only look at the stock price. If you add in reinvested dividends, which is the total return, Agree's performance over that span improves to 265% or so, well above the 220% of American Tower. Dividend reinvestment is a powerful tool.

The thing is, Agree's annualized dividend growth has been about 6% or so over the past decade. That's much lower than American Tower's increase. The big difference is the yield. In fact, even after a huge price decline, American Tower's dividend yield, at 3%, is still below that of Agree's 4.3%. The average REIT, for reference, has a yield of around 4.1%, using the Vanguard Real Estate Index ETF as a proxy. 

And there's no material headwinds on the horizon for Agree, as it continues to build its portfolio and business. To put some numbers on that, the REIT bought $220 million worth of properties in 2015 and $1.6 billion worth in 2022. It expects to buy "at least" $1 billion in additional properties in 2023. So the growth and income story here remains soundly intact. 

Boring can be good, too

Clearly, if you are looking to invest in a technology-focused REIT, then American Tower beats out Agree Realty all day long. But if you are really looking for a good growth and income investment, you shouldn't ignore a boring net-lease REIT like Agree.

It won't excite you with what it owns, but it is growing fairly steadily and rewarding investors well along the way. And in some ways (specifically yield and reduced volatility), it is rewarding investors better than American Tower.