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NEW YORK CITY-More and more countries are adopting REIT guidelines, but there is still plenty of room for the industry to grow globally, said speakers here at Nareit’s REITWeek 2007. “Large investors are providing the demand that is driving the global real estate investing market,” says Nicholas van Ommen, chief executive officer of the European Public Real Estate Association.

There are about 20 countries that have REIT guidelines in place and more are soon to come on board, he says, including Italy and Spain. Plus, the industry has many opportunities to expand, given that only 10% of the world’s real estate is held by REITs, Ommen points out.

Future REIT ownership could come through new development, governments and corporations spinning of their real estate holdings and the addition of emerging markets such as Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and South America into the industry. “We think there’s going to be a compelling story long term,” says panelist Samuel Lieber, chief executive officer and portfolio manager of Alpine International Real Estate Equity Fund.

Investing in foreign markets isn’t always easy, though, says Amos Rogers, managing director of State Street Global Advisors, stressing that a lot of research needs to go into a venture before funds are allocated. “You really have to look at the country,” he says. “Who is the company that you’re investing in? What is their expertise?”

The expertise of many foreign real estate firms is still not matured. Many of them do not specialize in one property type, but Rogers expects that to change. “I think we’re going to see that evolve to a more focused market,” he says.

Though the market is growing globally, at least one panelist wishes it would expand more rapidly. A lot of the firms looking to go public are not ready for an IPO or worth investing in, says Ritson Ferguson, chief executive and investment officer of ING Clarion Real Estate Securities. “We’re not finding a lot of that real estate making it in,” he says. “The fact that it’s not happening right now is a bit of a worry to me.”

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