As 2010 gets underway, multifamily REITs find themselves in a much different position than a year ago. Instead of tidying up balance sheets and tapping into liquidity, they seem a lot more open to deploying their dry powder. Here’s what to expect in 2010:

1. They will play more offense. In 2009, REITs were generally quiet so should we expect more of the same this year? While no one expects the floodgates to open up, acquisitions should pick up this year. Already, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Essex Property Trust announced the purchase of an REO deal in Irvine, Calif.

“REITs have raised almost $30 billion of capital,” says Hessam Nadji, managing director of research services for Marcus & Millichap. “The REITs have de-levered. The next phase is moving into expansion mode.”

2. They will generate more liquidity. In mid-January, Cleveland-based Associated Estates offered up 4.5 million of its common share stocks at a price of $11.10 per share. The REIT was happy with its pricing—and it isn’t alone. Towards the end of 2009, other major players made equity offerings.

The goal of these types of programs: To pay debt and maybe, just maybe, get ready to buy. “There are plenty of REITs that need to raise capital to de-lever,” says Alexander Goldfarb, associate director of equity research of REITs for New York-based Sandler O’Neill + Partners. “The REITs that have capital to be offensive are few.”

3. They will be equipped for the recovery. This year is predicted to be ugly, but 2011 and beyond could signal brighter days. And the REITs, maybe even more so than their private peers, are positioned to take advantage of that recovery. “It is easy to have confidence in apartment REITs because of the operational expertise that they have,” Nadji says. Les Shaver