Triple net lease real estate investment trusts (REITs) come pretty close to making money for doing little to no work. It's a great sub-sector, but the big names are largely domestically focused. That's why you should look at W.P. Carey (WPC -0.71%).

What's a triple-net lease?
REITs that buy and manage physical properties usually have to maintain their holdings. That can be an expensive and time-intensive proposition. As any homeowner will tell you, there's always something that needs fixing -- apartments, office buildings, and shopping malls are no different. And then there's other costs like real estate taxes and insurance.

Triple-net lease companies get around that by purchasing properties, then leasing them to clients who are willing to take on almost all of the costs or running and maintaining the property. Why do that? To free up capital that would otherwise be trapped in the ownership of a building. In fact, many companies actively look to sell their buildings to triple-net lease REITs and then sign long-term leases with regular rent hikes built right into the contracts.

Big names
Realty Income (O -0.26%) is probably the best-known triple-net lease REIT. The strength of the business model was on display during the deep 2007 to 2009 recession. While other large REITs chose to, or were forced to, slash their distributions, Realty Income kept right on increasing its dividend. In fact, the company has increased its quarterly dividend, which is paid monthly, for 65 consecutive quarters.

That's an impressive streak, and one that looks set to continue. The shares yield around 5.8%. It's among the largest players in the space and is definitely worth a closer look right now since the shares have fallen about 30% from their early 2013 highs. However, if you are looking for more income, relative newcomer American Realty Capital Partners (VER) is a better bet.

American Realty shares yield around 7.3% and also pay monthly. The company just completed a big acquisition that has turned it into the largest triple-net lease player. The company only came public in late 2011, owning just about 60 properties leased to two banks and Home Depot. It's been active since then, acquiring its way to diversification, growth, and the "heavyweight belt" in the triple-net lease space. The shares are down about as much as Realty Income.

Lacking something
The interesting thing about these two big players, however, is what they are lacking -- international exposure. That's where longtime industry participant W.P. Carey comes in. This company only recently became a REIT, but it operated as a publicly traded limited partnership for years prior to its conversion. On a quality basis, Carey can stand head to head with either Realty Income or American Realty Capital Partners. However, about a third of the REIT's portfolio is foreign, largely European.

That extra level of diversification gives the company more avenues to grow since it isn't chained to the domestic market. And, while both Realty Income and American Realty own well over 3,500 properties, making growth harder to come by, W.P. Carey will own about 720 after an upcoming merger that will double its size. Carey is hardly a small fry, but with more markets to source and a smaller portfolio, it has the potential to grow faster than its larger brethren.

Looking outside the box
W.P. Carey shares yield around 5.7%. That's roughly what Realty Income yields, though still lower than American Realty. However, the extra diversification and growth prospects make this triple-net lease REIT worth a deep dive. And, to make the picture even more alluring, the board of directors just increased the dividend for the 51st consecutive quarter.

If you like the triple-net lease space, you have to look at industry giants like American Realty and Realty Income. But don't pass W.P. Carey by just because it's smaller -- I think it's about to gain more heft, and it offers international exposure the other two lack.