IN A FEW SHORT MONTHS, EQUITY RESIDENTIAL has become the country's No. 1 buyer of apartment assets, gobbling up 15 assets for more than $1.4 billion in 2010. At the helm of this aggressive growth strategy is longtime president and CEO David Neithercut, who sat down to talk about the Chicago-based REIT's outlook for 2011.

After the credit markets tanked, deal activity came to a halt. What was the turning point for you to start buying assets again?

As we got toward the end of 2009, we saw the credit markets improve, and we became more confident in the ability to fund ourselves. We could become more off ensive and less defensive.

We're not made up to be market timers. We're not private equity, where you can go in and put your money for two or three years, harvest that, give your money back to your investors, and take your promote. We're investing capital today that we hope will be invested for 15 or 20 years.

What kinds of assets will you not be targeting?

Fully stabilized core assets in our core markets. There are 100 people who will be bidding for those assets. I'm much more interested in those things that have complexity where fewer and fewer people can compete. With those opportunities, I think we can underwrite and manage those risks in a way that we can get an enhanced overall return.

How would you describe 2011 in one word?

Lumpy. My guess is we'll bump along and, all of a sudden, something will present itself that might be a little unusual.

Hopefully, we'll be able to jump in.

What's it like working with real estate titan Sam Zell?

By working with Sam Zell, our presence is everywhere. If we wanted to buy deals in Ecuador right now, we could. Eyeing Returns