Rick Judson, owner of Evergreen Development Group, recalls the bottom of the housing crisis when home construction had plunged by more than 80 percent in some states, and many builders had either lost their jobs or were barely hanging onto them.
Well, good news, he says: For many builders, those days are over.
"The life support has been taken off now, and you're allowed to live again," Judson says.
In the past 60 days his company has sold two or three plots a month; previously it needed an entire quarter to sell that many, he says.
Judson, who is first vice chairman of the National Home Builders Association, is one of many builders across the country who is noticing increased business as more Americans finally dip a toe into the real estate market. While North Carolina builders have fared better than in many states, his industry, in general, is now on the upswing, he says.
And while builder permits, which predict future housing starts, declined 7 percent to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 715,000, they still rose 23.7 percent above the April 2011 estimate.
"New construction is a vote of confidence by builders that demand is strengthening," says Jed Kolko, chief economist of listing service Trulia. "Asking prices have stabilized since last September, and construction starts followed, leaping up in November and keeping those gains."
The National Association of Home Builders' Housing Market Index would appear to reflect that confidence, having surged month-over-month from 25 to 29 points in May.
"That's been a real shot in the arm," Judson says of the four-point rise, "And it becomes self-perpetuating when the consumer ... feels it's a good time to buy. They'll go out and buy, and that is now happening again."
NAHB economist David Crowe said the rate of housing production is still half of what his organization would expect in a fully healthy market but that in April "it was very solid for this point of the recovery."
The jump in confidence and rise in housing starts suggest that the housing market could be traveling on an encouraging trajectory, but Kolko notes that housing starts still remain far below pre-housing-bust levels, and cautions against a Pollyannaish outlook.
Judson agrees that his industry is still struggling against tight credit conditions and what he says is a distorted appraisal process that unfairly compares borrower-owned homes to foreclosed homes.
But he adds that a "trickle-up effect" has started, with increased buyer demand beginning to spark more building activity.
"Builders to whom I sell lots," he says, "would not be buying lots if they didn't have customers interested in those lots."
The jury is in: Our beleaguered housing market has finally turned the corner, many experts say.
Not only are home prices beginning to edge up for the first time in months, but other indicators, like home construction and sales, are stronger than they've been in years. Still, with tight lending conditions and shaky employment, the progress is slow in most communities.
But not in these places.
There are actually markets that are steaming at full speed toward recovery. But with home prices still severely depressed, compared to 2006 levels, many properties remain ripe for the taking.
Keep clicking to see some of the best homes (as determined by Realtor.com) for sale in some of the hottest markets.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 8.04 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -47.36 percent
Home Location: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Price: $11.3 million
Sq. Ft.: 13,282
The quintessential enormous Florida mega-mansion, this home boasts 145 feet of canal waterfront, with quick access to the ocean. Its backyard has a pool and hot tub, a full service concrete dock, and an outdoor dining area with a summer kitchen.
Built in 2009, the home features all state-of-the art appliances. The kitchen has an oversize center island, a walk-in pantry and a separate butler’s pantry. The master suite features a sitting area, two walk-in closets and two master bathrooms.
This newly built, never-before-occupied home is located in the highly sought after Phillips Park community in Washington, D.C. It was built with energy-saving in mind, with Energy Star appliances, high-performance windows, insulated doors, energy efficient heating and cooling systems, and water-saving plumbing.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 8.58 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -29.15 percent
Home Location: University Park, Texas
Sq. Ft.: 6,561
This classic five-bedroom home with a stone exterior has some interesting and unique features. It has a two-story library, an Old World pizza oven, a wine vault, and an outdoor loggia with built-in grill.
There is a tiki bar with summer kitchen; a pool with a large, beautiful waterfall and a spa; two wrap-around decks (one on each floor); and the second floor deck has its own hot tub. There’s also a sound system wired throughout the house and lanai, which is also wired for a TV.
Its banquet-size dining room is perfect for entertaining, and its extreme kitchen is a chef’s dream. It features a Sub-Zero refrigerator, a Sub-Zero two-drawer freezer, large double oven, two dishwashers, ice maker, level-5 granite counters, a chef’s special area for preparing meals, and a walk-in appliance closet. And all with spectacular water views.
In the home's foyer, stone columns reach to soaring ceilings. The ceilings rise even higher in its family room, which has a granite fireplace and remote-controlled blinds. The home's pool area has a swim-up wet bar and includes 1,300 square feet of imported stone.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 7.07 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.35 percent
Home Location: Oakland, Calif.
Price: $2.2 million
Sq. Ft.: 3,717
Oakland's price appreciation over the last year has been relatively modest compared to some of our other picks. But the market's rapidly clearing inventory identifies the area as a promising investment opportunity. From its hillside perch in Oakland, this Tuscan-style stunner presides over San Francisco Bay. The interior features custom finishes, Venetian plaster, pecan hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 14.34 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -34.16 percent
Home Location: Naples, Fla.
Price: $2.997 million
Sq. Ft.: 5,076
This palm tree-lined home nestles into a .60-acre lot blanketed with lush landscaping. Despite rising listing prices in the area, this home just got a price cut, with its ask now just under $3 million.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 17.53 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -36.87 percent
Home Location: Boise, Idaho
Price: $2.325 million
Sq. Ft.: 6,258
Boise's certainly a bright spot on today's sometimes-gloomy housing horizon, and if you dip into its sizzling market, you can bet on bagging a lot more space than you would in many coastal cities. That's the case with this Spanish-style, stucco beauty, which, beyond its 5.85-acre plot and 6,258-square-foot interior, offers elaborate finishes and decor.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 11.54 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -41.58 percent
Home Location: Orlando, Fla.
Price: $3 million
Sq. Ft.: 6,999
Orlando clocks in at a third on our list of the hottest markets out there. In the fast-recovering city sits this beautifully manicured property. The stone-built home is just over 10 years old and commands 1.27 acres of verdant landscape.
Amenities await wherever you go on this luxury property. Pictured here is a wine bar complemented by one of the home's pool tables. Outside there's a pool, boat ramp, slip and dock. Community amenities include a fishing pier, fitness center, golf course, playground and tennis courts.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 24.32 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.03 percent
Home Location: Miami Beach, Fla.
Price: $3 million
Sq. Ft.: 1,332
While foreclosure-saturated Florida has been walloped by the housing crash, the Miami-area market still costs a pretty penny per square foot. And considering that the market is really starting to heat up, local turf is not about to get any less expensive. If you're in a position to pony up $3 million, you can bag this swanky apartment.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 26.94 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.04 percent
Home Location: Phoenix
Price: $5.995 million
Sq. Ft.: 11,039
This French chateau rose shortly after the onset of the housing meltdown, and almost undoubtedly has seen its value tumble over the last few years in Phoenix's hard-hit real estate market.
But days ahead might be brighter for this 11,039-square-foot behemoth. Phoenix, like some of the other hardest-hit markets, is mounting a furious comeback. Realtor.com says prices have shot up nearly 27 percent in the last year.
The home's rear has a covered patio with fireplace that looks out on the property's expansive pool. Some of the home's notable amenities: a recording studio, spa, four-car garage, wine room, theater, guesthouse and giant master suite.