Seven out of 10 REIT industry CEOs expect merger involvement in the next five years, according to an electronic survey conducted Feb. 25 for the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT).

Of the more than 80 REIT leaders who participated in the survey during NAREIT's CEO Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., 71% forecast that their company will be a party in a public-to-public merger by the year 2004.

In other survey findings:

* More than half of the CEOs, 55%, believe the industry is in the early innings of the REIT cycle - the movement of private real estate to public hands;

* 79% expect REIT ownership of commercial real estate to as much as double (from 10% to 20%) by 2004;

* Well over half of the respondents, 58%, said access to capital is the biggest obstacle their REIT will have to overcome in order to meet their goals over the next five years;

* 91% of the CEOs believe their company will still qualify as a REIT in 2004;

* 37% believe internal opportunities will be the primary avenue of growth for their REIT, followed by acquisitions (34%), mergers (16%), and joint ventures (13%).

* About four out of 10, 44%, believe institutional investor ownership of REITs will be higher in five years; and

* 71% of the CEOs expect pension fund ownership of REIT shares to as much as double in that time.

The 87 publicly traded real estate industry CEOs who participated in the NAREIT survey used a portable, instantaneous feedback and information gathering system.