Purpose – to analyse the effect of corporate real estate ownership on the stock performance of firms active in the international retail sector. Design/methodology/approach – a sample of 454 retail companies is separated into three geographical regions and six different sub-sectors. We measure the corporate real estate holdings using balance sheets information and link these to the risk and return characteristics of the individual firms. Findings – we find that corporate real estate ownership varies greatly across subsectors. This variation is explained by differences in location and customisation demands of real estate. Retailers for which the micro-location of real estate is a critical value driver tend to own more of it. In general, corporate real estate ownership for retail companies is associated with a strong relative performance, which contrasts markedly with the negative performance effects found for other industrial sectors. Research limitations/implications – although we include as many firms as possible in our sample, we are still confronted with sample size limitations while performing sub sample comparisons. Practical implications – our results show how owning real estate instead of renting it will impact the long run profitability of retailers. Originality/value – where most of the extending literature focuses on sketching the impact of real estate ownership using theory and isolated cases, we no offer numerical proof based on a international dataset.