Homebuilder Confidence Rises to Highest Level Since Spring 2010

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builder sentimentWASHINGTON -- Rising interest from would-be buyers is leaving U.S. homebuilders less pessimistic about the housing market. But tighter lending standards are still keeping many potential buyers from purchasing new homes.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index rose two points to 21 in December. That's the highest level since May 2010. It's just the second time the index has been at 20 or above in two years.

Still, any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the housing market. The index hasn't reached 50 since April 2006, the peak of the housing boom.

Last year, the number of people who bought new homes fell to its lowest level on records going back nearly a half-century. The figure for 2011 will be close to that level.

Builders are struggling to compete with foreclosures, which have forced down prices of previously occupied homes. And many buyers are finding it hard to qualify for loans or meet higher required down payments.

Low appraisals are scuttling some deals after contracts have been signed. As a result, some buyers who want to buy a new house are holding off because they can't sell their home.

Those in a position to buy are benefiting from lower prices and mortgage rates. The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage is 3.94 percent, a record low. Yet so far, those factors have done little to boost home sales.

David Crowe, the builder group's chief economist, pointed to some regional pockets of strength. New Orleans, Pittsburgh and other smaller areas, in particular, have reported increased buying.

New homes make up a small portion of housing sales. But they have an outsize impact on the economy. The builder trade group says each new home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes.

Sentiment about current single-family home sales rose two points to 22, according to a separate gauge in the survey. Builders are also more optimistic about future sales.

The outlook in the South rose four points; it ticked up one point in the West. In the Midwest, it was unchanged, and in the Northeast, sentiment fell one point.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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Mouth-Watering Kitchens
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Homebuilder Confidence Rises to Highest Level Since Spring 2010

Aspiring chefs, gourmets and gourmands -- feast your eyes on these delectable kitchens, plucked from some of the finest homes on the market today. If the kitchen truly is the heart of the home, get ready to fall in love with some of the best-kept, cutting-edge and well-equipped tickers this side of Lyon. Bon appétit!   

Location: Brookline, Mass. 
Price: $6.95 million
Beds/Baths: 6/14
Sq. Ft.: 9,838

Newly renovated, this Gambrel-style mansion boasts a sweeping English garden that encloses its one acre. The home's amenities include a home theater, wine cellar, three-car garage and... 

See more images of this stunner.

....a  stone pizza oven! 

See what else this home has to offer.

Location: Rome, Ga. 
Price: $2.5 million
Beds/Baths: 5/6
Sq. Ft.: N/A (9 acres)

Touted as "your own resort on almost nine acres," this property offers pastures and stables along with a pool, spa, tennis court, putting green, 20-seat theater, billiards room and wine cellar. 

See more images of this Southern manse

Pictured here is the residence's lavish gourmet kitchen, which boasts top-of-the-line restaurant-grade appliances. 

See the listing for more details. 

Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Price: $12.5 million
Beds/Baths: 7/13
Sq. Ft.: N/A

This stately Georgian mansion, labeled a "smart home," has pretty nifty tech features that include computerized lighting, audio and security. Amenities include a screening room, gym, sauna and pool.

See the listing for more details. 

The slick, sconce-lit kitchen is nearly cavernous in size and includes a wet bar and sprawling kitchen island. 

See a slideshow of this beauty. 

Location: Atlanta, Ga. 
Price: $12.5 million
Beds/Baths: 5/10
Sq. Ft.: N/A

This home is outfitted for large-scale entertaining and has the amenities to show for it: There's a paneled library, butler's pantry, office, pool, guest suite, massage room, spa, home theater -- phew! -- golf room, gymnasium, gift-wrapping room and living room. 

See the listing for more details. 

And what would a grown-up party house be without an over-the-top kitchen? Crammed with state-of-the-art appliances, this expansive culinary laboratory has two kitchen islands and encompasses a breakfast area with a fireplace. 

See 25 photos of this home

Location: Nashville, Tenn. 
Price: $3.2 million
Beds/Baths: 4/6
Sq. Ft.: 5,598 

Sitting on nearly three acres, this four-story mansion offers plenty of space and a pool. And guess what else? 

See the listing for more details. 

A futuristic, eat-in kitchen with ample cabinetry. 

See the listing for more details. 

Location: Beverly Hills, Calif. 
Price: $40 million
Beds/Baths: 9/13
Sq. Ft.: 13,885

They don't get much more expensive than this giant (though, believe it or not, there do happen to be quite a few houses that dwarf it). This gated mansion offers a swimming pool, tennis courts and, clearly -- at this price -- a whole lot more.

Get a taste of its other features by viewing the listing. 

Armed with a lavish pantry and cherry-stained cabinetry, the home's kitchen is a dream come true for a gourmet chef -- let alone, a movie star's spouse. 

See a slide show of this one-of-a-kind mansion. (There's a pretty thrilling arial shot thrown in.)

Location: Beverly Hills, Calif. 
Price: $27.5 million
Beds/Baths: 5/10
Sq. Ft.: 13,227

This Beverly Hills manse boasts a four-car garage, solar-heated pool and guesthouse. It also offers easy access to community features like tennis, paddle and basketball courts. 

See the listing for more details. 

Gleaming with fine finishes, the kitchen offers a sizable island and pantry, and is stocked with a wide array of appliances. 

See what else this home has to offer

Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Price: $34.95 million
Beds/Baths: 6/10
Sq. Ft.: 15,000 Sq Ft

You can’t buy happiness, but this stunning architectural home is about as close to a Zen investment as you’re likely to find this side of Nirvana. With six bedrooms and 10 baths, you could start your own religious commune in this sprawling contemporary home. And speaking of food for the soul …

See what we're talking about

Get a load of this divinely feng shui kitchen, complete with dazzling views of the Pacific. Feed your friends (trust us, you’ll have plenty) and entertain in this multifaceted, high-tech kitchen.

See the listing for more details. 

Location: Colleyville, Texas
Price: $7.4 million
Beds/Baths: 7/12
Sq. Ft.: 12,194

Oh, would that we were real Disney princesses! Well, there’s also the princely sum this property costs, but we can dream, can’t we? This palatial estate -- in the Lone Star State, no less -- has everything an aspiring royal could ever want, including a grandiose gourmet kitchen.

Get regal

This Tuscan-style palace is just what fairy tales are made of -- rustic stone walls, golden chandeliers, and a kitchen island to die for. We may be highlighting killer kitchens this week, but the rest of this modern palace has to be seen to be believed. Swoon!

Location: Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.
Price: $7,500,000
Beds/Baths: 3/5
Sq Ft: 4,141 Sq Ft

Sitting on a small fortune but aren’t much into mowing the lawn? Then try this tropical fantasy condo on for size. With cerulean blue around every corner of this luxurious beachside home, sit back and enjoy a Mai Tai in your spacious and airy dining room.

View the listing for more details. 

If you’re so inclined, walk over to your state-of-the-art kitchen and whip up something to snack on before the evening’s stunning sunset.  

See some of the other wild rooms in this mansion

Location: Santa Barbara, Calif.
Price: $19.995 million
Beds/Baths: 5/6
Sq. Ft.: 13,875

The listing touts this single-story home as a “redefining structure within modernism.” Called the Glass Pavilion, its rambling 14,000 square feet sit on 3 1/2 oak-dotted acres in Montecito.

See the listing for more details. 

The glass-box kitchen is a chef’s dream -- provided the chef is obsessively neat. We're willing to bet it’s tough to keep really tidy where there’s a thousand-bottle “wine room”  only steps away.

See the gorgeous features of this home

Location : Newtown, Pa.
Price: $5.9 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.:  13,000

This sprawling brick manor started life as circa-1789 farmhouse, but you have to squint hard to see it. Inside, it’s old meets new, with an expanded and updated interior that spares no modern amenity.

See the over-the-top details here.

The kitchen has every top-of-the-line convenience, including a six-burner range, a built-in grill, a butler’s pantry and acres of storage space.

See a slideshow of the home

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