Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to provide an analysis of the dependence structure between returns from real estate investment trusts (REITS) and a stock market index. Further, the aim is to illustrate how copula approaches can be applied to model the complex dependence structure between the assets and for risk measurement of a portfolio containing investments in REIT and equity indices. Design/methodology/approach: The usually suggested multivariate normal or variance- covariance approach is applied, as well as various copula models in order to investigate the dependence structure between returns of Australian REITS and the Australian stock market. Different models including the Gaussian, Student t, Clayton and Gumbel copula are estimated and goodness-of-fit tests are conducted. For the return series, both the Gaussian and a non-parametric estimate of the distribution is applied. A risk analysis is provided based on Monte Carlo simulations for the different models. The value-at-risk measure is also applied for quantification of the risks for a portfolio combining investments in real estate and stock markets. Findings: The findings suggest that the multivariate normal model is not appropriate to measure the complex dependence structure between the returns of the two asset classes. Instead, a model using non-parametric estimates for the return series in combination with a Student t copula is clearly more suitable. It further illustrates that the usually applied variance-covariance approach leads to a significant underestimation of the actual risk for a portfolio consisting of investments in REITS and equity indices. The nature of risk is better captured by the suggested copula models. Originality/value: To the authors', knowledge, this is one of the first studies to apply and test different copula models in real estate markets. Results help international investors and portfolio managers to deepen their understanding of the dependence structure between returns from real estate and equity markets. Additionally, the results should be helpful for implementation of a more adequate risk management for portfolios containing investments in both REITS and equity indices.