The number of real estate managers with more than $100 billion in assets under management continues to grow, according to new research by three real estate organizations.

For the first time, five firms exceeded the coveted $100 billion AUM mark at the end of 2017, up from three the previous year, according to data from the 2018 Fund Manager Survey conducted by ANREV, INREV and NCREIF. The average AUM across all managers rose more than 22 percent during the year, and the total real estate AUM reached $2.8 trillion by the end of 2017, the survey reported.

Blackstone, Brookfield Asset Management and PGIM were the three largest managers in 2017, according to the Fund Manager Survey. Blackstone topped the list once more with $193.8 billion in total real estate AUM, up 28.4 percent from $150.9 billion the year before. The New York-based alternative asset manager also widened its lead from second-place finisher Brookfield Asset Management, which ended 2017 with total real estate AUM of $155.5 billion, up 5.1 percent from 2016. PGIM posted $127.9 billion in real estate AUM.

Similar to the previous year, Hines and TH Real Estate rounded out the top five largest managers in 2017, but surpassed the $100 billion benchmark for the first time, reporting $110.1 billion and $109.1 billion of real estate AUM, respectively.

CBRE Global Investors missed the $100 billion mark by just $5.3 billion, coming in at $94.7 billion of real estate AUM. The 10 largest managers represented 38.6 percent of the $2.8 trillion in total real estate AUM at the end of 2017, similar to percentages in previous years, according to the survey. The overall real estate AUM grew by 11.8 percent from $2.5 trillion at year-end 2016.

The growth was driven by continued interest from institutional investors, according to Greg MacKinnon, director of research at the Pension Real Estate Association. Investors may be turning to real estate as part of a flight-to-safety strategy, since it comes with lower risk than the equities market and provides greater returns than treasury bonds, he said.

While investments in the asset class will likely continue given the volatility in the equities market, MacKinnon believes the returns from real estate won’t be as rewarding going forward. He predicts most returns will come from income rather than appreciation given the already low cap rates and run up in prices. The average forecast from the Pension Real Estate Association Q1 2018 survey saw a 1.3 percent appreciation return in 2018 and 0.5 percent appreciation return in 2019 for the NCREIF Property Index.

As a geographic strategy, North America lost its dominance to Europe, as the latest Fund Manager survey reported the former shrank to 33.8 percent from 36.8 percent in 2016 as a percent of the industry’s total real estate AUM. In contrast, European strategies grew to 36.9 percent in 2017 from 34.4 percent the year before. Asia-Pacific strategies slightly lost some share, accounting for 16.9 percent of real estate AUM in 2017 versus 17.1 percent in 2016. Global strategies inched up to 11.9 percent from 11.1 percent the previous year, while South American strategies continued to make up just 0.6 percent of the total.