The real estate industry is enjoying such a renaissance that it?s breaking financial barriers that haven?t been disturbed since the tech boom of the late 1990s. For the first time in nearly two decades, the S&P 500 got a new sector this year.

In September, the S&P Dow Jones Indices separated real estate companies from the rest of the financial sector to form an 11th stock group. The new grouping makes it easier for investors to follow the continued growth of one of the hottest segments of the economy.

Real estate hasn?t just been doing well over the past decade; it?s been one of the primary fuel sources in the sustained recovery of the overall economy. With interest rates at near record lows, property owning real estate investment trusts (REITs) that pay steady dividends have been one of the most attractive opportunities available to investors. An estimated $60 billion flowed into the real estate funds in the United States between 2001 and 2015.

Publicly traded REITs significantly grew in numbers over the past 15 years. Going back to 2001, almost 130 of them have gone public in America. Those offerings collectively raised more than $37 billion. Currently, there are approximately 240 REITs listed on Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange.

Now that it is separate from the insurers, banks, and other financial sector companies, the real estate industry accounts for about 3 percent of the S&P 500?s market capitalization. This drops the financial grouping down to 13 percent from 16 percent.

According to a member of the index-designation committee responsible for the decision to split, the real estate industry is primed for even more growth due to the latest developments. Real estate used to be buried in financials, Sebastien Lieblich told the Wall Street Journal. Now it?s been elevated to special status, he noted, making it easier for investors to put their money in those stocks.

The Latest Sign of a Strong Market

Before the S&P made the move to elevate real estate, a rival indexing firm already had done the same. Based on the performance of the real estate stocks and the general health of the property market in the United States, MCSI Inc. made the change to remove the real estate sector from financials and place it in its own grouping.

The developments in the stock world are just further proof of the strength of U.S. housing right now. New home construction is booming, the value of existing homes is on the rise, and low interest rates have more and more people thinking this is the time to buy.

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