5 min read
By Beqa Bumbeishvili, ETF Insider


When diving into the realm of real estate investment trusts (REITs), two prominent ETFs that frequently pop up are ICF and VNQ. These funds provide a pathway for investors to participate in the real estate market without buying physical properties. Here, we'll explore a comparative analysis between ICF and VNQ, shedding light on their characteristics, strategies, and differences.

ICF VS VNQ: Sectors and Top Holdings

Both ICF and VNQ primarily focus on real estate sectors in the United States, but their portfolio compositions can vary significantly.
<b>ICF (iShares Cohen & Steers REIT ETF)</b> represents a collection of large, established REITs. Its primary holdings tend to lie in sectors like retail, office spaces, and residential complexes. The emphasis of ICF is on quality, established businesses, making it a suitable option for those who seek stability in their real estate investments.
<b>VNQ (Vanguard Real Estate ETF)</b>, on the other hand, boasts a more diversified portfolio. Alongside the conventional sectors that ICF covers, VNQ extends its reach into industries like healthcare, hotels, and industrials. This diversification can be advantageous for investors looking for broad exposure to the US real estate market.

ICF overlap ICF VS VNQICF overlap ICF VS VNQ

ICF VS VNQ: Capitalization strategy

Capitalization, or how funds weight their holdings, can significantly influence the performance and risk profile of an ETF.
ICF adopts a modified market capitalization strategy. This means the fund doesn't just invest based on the sheer size of REITs but rather focuses on other attributes like liquidity, dividend yield, and growth potential. Such an approach tends to lean towards large-cap, established REITs that demonstrate a blend of stability and growth.
VNQ, being one of Vanguard’s flagship products, uses a full-replication strategy for the MSCI US Investable Market Real Estate 25/50 Index. Essentially, it owns almost all stocks in this index, in approximate proportion to their market capitalization. As a result, VNQ is heavily weighted towards large and mega-cap REITs, but still offers a flavor of mid-cap and small-cap exposure.

ICF VS VNQ: Tracking and Exposure

One vital attribute of any ETF is its ability to track its benchmark efficiently.
<b>ICF</b> aims to replicate the performance of the Cohen & Steers Realty Majors Index. Given its modified market capitalization strategy, it doesn't own every company in the index. Yet, historically, it has done a commendable job tracking its benchmark, with minor tracking errors.
<b>VNQ</b> seeks to mirror the returns of the MSCI US Investable Market Real Estate 25/50 Index. As mentioned earlier, its full-replication strategy means it owns nearly all the index constituents. This close alignment ensures minimal tracking errors, making VNQ a reliable option for investors seeking accurate index representation.
When it comes to international exposure, both ICF and VNQ are domestic-centric funds. Their primary concentration is on U.S. real estate sectors, limiting global diversification. However, for investors specifically targeting U.S. real estate, this domestic focus can be beneficial.


Choosing between ICF and VNQ boils down to your investment goals and risk tolerance. If you're looking for a diversified exposure to the US real estate market with minimal tracking error, VNQ might be your pick. On the other hand, if you're inclined towards established, large-cap REITs with a blend of stability and growth, ICF could be a better fit.
Always remember, investing in real estate ETFs requires a good understanding of the underlying sectors and market dynamics. Both ICF and VNQ offer compelling features, but like all investments, they come with inherent risks. Engage in thorough research and, if needed, consult a financial advisor before making a decision.


  1. iShares by BlackRock. "iShares Cohen & Steers REIT ETF (ICF)."
  2. Vanguard. "Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ)."
  3. MSCI. "MSCI US Investable Market Real Estate 25/50 Index."

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