Better Buy: Welltower Inc. vs. National Health Investors Inc.

By Keith Speights Markets Fool.com

If you're looking to receive a high dividend yield and invest in the healthcare sector, Welltower (NYSE: HCN) and National Health Investors (NYSE: NHI) might be just the tickets. Both of these real estate investment trusts (REITs) pay out juicy dividends and focus solely on healthcare properties. But which is the better choice for long-term investors right now? Here's how Welltower and National Health Investors compare.

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The case for Welltower

Assuming the old saying that practice makes perfect is still relevant, Welltower should be the most perfect healthcare REIT around. The company started operations in 1970, making it the oldest REIT in the country focused exclusively on healthcare.

Welltower's dividend yield currently stands at 5.03%. The company has a good track record of increasing its dividend, with a hike every year over the last seven years.

The company focuses onseniors housing but also invests in post-acute communities and outpatient medical properties. Welltowerowns interests in 1,464 properties in high-growth markets across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

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One big positive for long-term investors is that Welltower is repositioning its property portfolio toreduce its exposure to long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) and increase itsfocus on premium private-pay healthcare real estate properties. Focusing primarily on private-pay properties should boost the company's profits and improve its balance sheet.

While Welltower's dividend has certainly paid off in a big way for investors, the stock has also done relatively well. Shares are up 57% over the past 10 years. Combining share appreciation with dividends paid, Welltower's total return during the period was a solid 171%.

The case for National Health Investors

National Health Investors hasn't been around as long as Welltower, but it's not new to the healthcare REIT business. The company was founded in 1991. National Health Investors now hasinvestments in real estate and mortgage and other notes receivable involving206facilities across32states.

What about its dividend? National Health Investors' dividend yield currently stands at 4.84%. Like Welltower, the REIT has hiked its dividend payment each of the past seven years.

The company's properties currently consist of128senior housing properties,73skilled nursing facilities,three hospitals, and two medical office buildings. While Welltower is reducing its exposure to LTPAC, National Health Investors has added to its LTPAC portfolio. The company purchased eight skilled nursing facilities in Texas in April 2016. However, National Health Investors' primary activity has been centered on senior housing.

Investors who bought National Health Investors' stock 10 years ago have fared pretty well. Shares are up 128% during the period. National Health Investors' total return during the period, including dividends, is an impressive 325%.

Better buy

I think both of these healthcare REITs should be solid picks over the long run. If we were only making a decision based on recent performance, National Health Investors would clearly get the nod. However, as disclosure statements caution, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. Looking to the future, I'd give a slight edge to Welltower.

Welltower's restructuring of its portfolio is smart and should free the company to make more strategic deals in the higher-profit private-pay seniors housing market. I think this could drive the stock higher over the next few years.

The move should also help Welltower keep those dividend increases coming. Welltower and National Health Investors have gone back and forth over the last several years as to which stock claims the higher dividend yield. Welltower is in the lead now -- and I suspect it will be able to maintain that lead thanks to its portfolio repositioning.

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Keith Speights has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Welltower. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.