Do you have a pulse? If so, odds are that you're at least intrigued by real estate investments, if not downright eager to make some. The sector has been hot, hot, hot for quite a while now. But it isn't so easy, buying properties and maintaining them (learn more in "So You Want to Be a Landlord?"). Or fixing them up and selling them. Let's face it -- some of us are just not handy.

Another option is investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), companies that invest in gobs of real estate and share their earnings with shareholders. This is an easier option, though you still have to sort out the healthy, growing REITs from the sickly, troubled ones. (We can help on that front, though -- grab a free trial of our Income Investor newsletter and you'll see all our recommended investments, some of which are REITs. Our newsletters have an impressive track record -- see for yourself.)

There's a third option, which may not have occurred to you yet: mutual funds.

As Roy Weitz recently explained at, "many diversified mutual funds also own REIT shares, as well as other holdings that provide indirect exposure to the real estate market (for example, homebuilders, building-product makers, home-improvement retailers, engineering companies, even regional banks that do a significant amount of mortgage lending)."

Examples of the kinds of companies Weitz mentioned include Lowe's (NYSE:LOW), Pulte (NYSE:PHM), Hovnanian Enterprises (NYSE:HOV), Masco (NYSE:MAS), and Fluor (NYSE:FLR). He cited a New York Times article that pointed out that "Lipper recently found that about 4% of the average large-cap 'core' fund was tied to real estate (the real estate exposure rises to 13% and 17% for mid-cap and small-cap funds, respectively)." We're talking about funds that are not necessarily dedicated to real estate investing. Those certainly exist and also warrant your consideration. But the interesting point here is that you can get a solid exposure to real estate via many funds -- perhaps including some already in your portfolio.

You can learn a lot more about mutual funds in our Mutual Fund Center.

And let us help you be a better mutual fund investor. You can do a lot of research yourself online, searching for funds with long, strong track records and managers who inspire your confidence and trust. Or you might simply grab a free trial of our MotleyFoolChampion Funds newsletter, and see which funds our analyst Shannon Zimmerman is recommending and has recommended. Together, his picks have doubled the market's return (as of the last time I checked), with a bunch racking up double-digit gains in the last year. In fact, out of about 28 picks, only two were underwater, and not by much. A real estate fund he recommended about a year ago, Third Avenue Real Estate Value (FUND:TAREX), has risen by some 30%, and he's just made another real-estate recommendation.

Learn much more in these articles:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.