Yes, you can invest in real estate in most qualified retirement plans. Your current retirement account management company will probably not offer real estate investment options or management services. However, if you look into real estate, and decide that owning property in a retirement account makes sense for you, there are retirement account custodians out there who specialize in working with real estate investors. Their fees are higher, as there is more involved in buying, selling and managing real estate, but it could be well worth it for some.
A 401k or IRA account can be used to purchase and sell real estate, as well as to hold and manage rental properties. There are strict rules, and you must be very careful to abide by them or risk severe tax penalties. But, if you're not happy with the ups and downs of stocks or the returns of bonds, real estate might be the way to go. All dollars going toward the purchase, and all proceeds of rents and sales must flow through the retirement account. Also, all maintenance, real estate taxes, management fees or any other expenses must be paid through the retirement account as well. This is the rule that gets many investors into trouble, as they'll pay for something out of a personal account, which could completely dissolve the tax benefits of the retirement account.
The major benefit of course is the deferral of all income taxes and capital gains in the retirement account. There are other rules you'll need to be aware of, especially if financing a portion of a purchase. The IRS doesn't allow complete tax deferral if a mortgage is involved. But, check into the idea, and we're here to help in the financing of your retirement real estate investments.