U.S. Homebuilder Confidence Surges to 6-Year High

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By Alex Veiga

LOS ANGELES -- Confidence among U.S. homebuilders rose this month to its highest level in six years and many expect the housing recovery will strengthen in the next six months.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Tuesday increased to 40 in September. That's up from 37 in August and the highest reading since June 2006, just before the housing bubble burst.

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

Still, a measure of builders' outlook for sales in the next six months rose to 51. That's up from 43 in August and also the highest level since June 2006.

Builders also reported seeing the best sales level since July 2006, while turnout by prospective buyers returned to levels not seen since May 2006.

The survey, which is based on responses from 445 builders, has been trending higher since October. After a dismal 2011, homebuilders have seen their fortunes begin to turn around this year as the housing market recovery has steadily gained momentum.

Sales of newly built homes are running ahead of last year, when they sank to the lowest level in a half-century. Sales of previously occupied homes also are up from a year ago. And home prices are increasing more consistently, in part because the supply of homes has shrunk and foreclosures have eased.

Mortgage rates remain near record lows, beckoning potential buyers with good credit.

The positive trends have helped bolster optimism that the U.S. housing market may finally be on track for a sustainable recovery.

Even so, the housing market isn't expected to recover fully until job growth improves and the unemployment rate, now at 8.1 percent, declines further.

In addition, a weakening economy in Europe and the possibility that U.S. lawmakers may fail to reach a budget deal in coming weeks could damage the U.S. economy. And that could keep would-be homebuyers on the sidelines.

Though new homes represent less than 20 percent of the housing sales market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to the NAHB's data.

Copyright 2012 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 The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.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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U.S. Homebuilder Confidence Surges to 6-Year High

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a modern kind of guy, so he wanted this old-school Spanish Colonial wiped out -- even if it was historic. Jobs found himself in the middle of an epic battle with preservationists when he applied for a permit to have his Woodside, Calif., home demolished. The house, known as the Jackling House, was originally designed by influential architect George Washington Smith for copper magnate Daniel C. Jackling in the 1920s. Preservationists fought Jobs all the way to the California Supreme Court, but the tech legend eventually won out.

Jobs had lived there for 10 years, then moved out and left it to fall into disrepair for several years afterward. He even called it “one of the biggest abominations of a house I’ve ever seen.” His plan was to build a smaller, more modern home in its place -- but he died before he had the opportunity.

Photo: Jonathan Haeber

In February 2011, Jobs brought down the entire 17,000-square-foot home in a single day. The mansion was reduced to rubble, finally giving Jobs room to build the dream home he always wanted, but would never build.

Photo: Jonathan Haeber

The lot was left barren once the house was taken down.

Wayne Johnson thought his dreams had come true when he renovated his million-dollar home in Marblehead, Mass. But for his neighbors, it was a nightmare. The neighbors complained that the additions that Johnson put on his home blocked their view of the water. They filed suit against Johnson, claiming that he violated local zoning laws, and a 16-year court battle ensued. Finally, last December, a judge ruled in the neighbors’ favor and ordered Johnson’s home torn down.

See video of the teardown at CBS Boston.

In February, Johnson’s home was leveled in a matter of minutes. Johnson claimed that he tried to compromise with his neighbors during the feud, even offering to remove the part of his house that blocked their view. But ultimately, he said, he was just happy the ordeal was over. “I’m happy to be able to get on with my life and not have to be dealing with this miscarriage of justice that has truly been a real burden for 20 years,” he told CBS Boston. “There’s more to life than a house.”

See video of the teardown at CBS Boston.

Known as the “Dragon’s Head,” the 55,000-square-foot home in Southampton, Long Island, that fashion designer Calvin Klein scooped up in 2003 was something of a local legend. The original home was built in 1929, but a financier renovated it into oblivion in the ‘80s, adding spires and turrets everywhere. Residents long complained that the home was an eyesore in the middle of an otherwise desirable summer hotspot. So, Klein to the rescue.

In May 2009, Klein had the storied home completely brought down. But would he replace it with another mega-mansion? Not quite.

Klein replaced the over-the-top mansion with a much more understated -- and much smaller -- beach house.

Teardown crews crush the “Dragon’s Head.”

History? Who cares? Certainly not David Schwimmer. The former "Friends" star bought a townhouse in Manhattan’s East Village in 2010, one of the oldest on its block of East Sixth Street. The home was built in 1852, and New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission reportedly sent Schwimmer three letters warning him that the building was in line to receive landmark status. But because it hadn’t officially been named a landmark yet, Schwimmer was free to do with it what he wanted. And so he did.

In February (is this, like, the month of teardowns?), Schwimmer had the townhouse razed, angering preservationists and city officials. It’s not like it was a shock, though. He had put his Los Angeles mansion on the market months prior. His plan is to replace the building with a new, luxurious six-story home.

The original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City was one of the most beloved arenas to baseball fans. It first opened in 1923. As far back as the 1980s, campaigns began calling for a new home for the New York Yankees baseball team, raising questions about safety conditions at the ballpark. Political wrangling and disputes over funding tied up the go-ahead for building a new stadium. But finally, construction began on a new stadium across the street, and the original Yankees’ home closed in 2008.

Close to a century of cherished memories were brought to the ground in 2010 when crews demolished the old, legendary Yankee Stadium. Baseball fans and others lobbied to save pieces of the famed building, but to no avail.

In its heyday: The original Yankee Stadium was one of the most popular venues in New York City.

After the fall: There was nothing left of the famed building once demolition crews were done with it in 2010.

Clark and Sharon Winslow of Belvedere, Calif., lived in an enviable $19 million mansion complete with a “resort-style health club.” There was just one little problem: The $4.2 million mansion next door was partially blocking their view of the water. So they came up with a pretty simple solution.

They bought the offending house at a foreclosure auction and tore it down in June. The couple planned to replace the 100-year-old house with a garden once demolition was complete. Even the neighbors were thrilled. “The view is really nice now!” neighbor Roger Snow told NBC Bay Area.

See video of the teardown on AOL Real Estate.

Hedge fund billionaire David Tepper purchased this Sagaponack, Long Island, estate in 2010 for $43.5 million, the most expensive transaction of the year in that area. But instead of enjoying the 6,000 square foot estate, he chose to go in a different direction.

He leveled it! Tepper not only destroyed the main house, but he razed the tennis court, filled the swimming pool and destroyed the guesthouse. His plan? Build an even bigger home.

Elin Nordgren, the former wife of golf superstar Tiger Woods, purchased this Palm Beach, Fla., mansion in March 2011 for $12 million. The home was originally built in the 1920s, but it was infested with termites and wasn't built up to modern hurricane codes. So should she try and fix it up? Nah.

Why not knock it down? Builders determined that it actually made more financial sense just to destroy the old house. The new home will come with ultra-modern amenities and include a wine room, gym and a theater.

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