Check out Pensco.com. Their website is loaded with info. Their SDIRA is pretty much turn key simple. I have a self directed IRA with them which funds an investment in a hard money fund (arixa capital) and also holds a rental house. One of my colleagues holds 4 rental houses in his SDIRA with Pensco. Another friend has an apartment building with Pensco.
There are some tax implications to consider. You loose the advantage of depreciation offsetting NOI to reduce taxable income since all assets in a Self Directed IRA will eventually result in taxation as income.
On the other hand if you have already sheltered the money in an IRA that more or less offsets the loss of benefit of the depreciation/NOI taxable income reduction.
To explain with an example. You are able to maximally fund a retirement each year to $50,000. You can put $50,000 into a self directed IRA., or You have to option of paying taxes (approximately 40% +/-) and having 30,000 (more or less) left over to invest post tax. The money in the SDIRA has lost the advantage of depreciation offsetting NOI to reduce taxes. However, you have more money to invest by keeping it in the SDIRA. When you run the numbers you basically have ~60% more to invest if you keep it in a SDIRA but you will be paying taxes on those assets at income rates (40%). If you don’t shelter the money in a SDIRA you will have 40% less to invest but the returns on that investment will be at Capital gains rates (20%) or (0%) if you 1031. With a 1031 you defer but at some point the government catches up with you.
Obviously, one should run the numbers both ways and maybe check with an accountant. I would disagree with the assertion to “liquidate the thing, take the tax hit”. You can control the money without the government taking a big chunk of it.