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Strong finish to year giving home builders optimism

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Home builders are hopeful heading into 2013 that improving activity they're seeing this year will result in a sustained rebound of the local housing market.

Last month, the number of single-family building permits filed in the nine-county area climbed 43 percent, marking the fifth straight month of year-over-year increases, according to the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis.

Home builders filed 322 permits in November, up from 225 in the same month of 2011, the trade group said.

The year-over-year increase in November was the second-biggest this year, trailing only the 46-percent spike in October.

Though the monthly increases are impressive, home builders have their eye on the bigger picture. They say the yearly figure is what's important. And 2012 is shaping up nicely.

Through November, area builders have filed 3,907 permits, a 16-percent increase from the same period last year. A strong December could push the number to as high as 20 percent, said Curtis Rector, founder and president of locally based Arbor Homes, the area's third-largest home builder based on permits filed in 2011.

"Monthly figures can be deceiving," he said. "What I really focus on is that 16-percent increase, and I fully expect December to be up as well."

Permit filings through the first 11 months of 2012 already exceed the 3,614 filed in all of 2011, marking just the second yearly increase in area home construction since 2005. That year, 13,202 permits were filed, up from 13,046 in 2004. Permit filings rose just 3 percent from 2009 to 2010, to 3,720. But generous federal tax incentives available to home buyers likely contributed to the increase.

Builders say recent sales have picked up, demand is steady, and sales prices are rising again. Higher sales prices gave Ryland Homes the confidence to purchase land west of Zionsville slated for a 65-lot development called Blackstone, where homes will be priced from $350,000 to $400,000.

"The market wouldn't have allowed that a couple of years ago," said Alan Goldsticker, the Indianapolis president for California-based Ryland Homes. "Now market prices have come back to allow us to do things like Blackstone."

Just 20 building permits were filed in Boone County last month, but that was good enough for a 54-percent increase from last November.

Strong activity, particularly in Hamilton and Hendricks counties, helped drive the increase in November. Builders in Hamilton County last month filed 137 permits, a 43-percent increase from the same time last year. Builders filed 45 permits in Hendricks County, up 73 percent.

The number of permits in Marion County rose 10 percent, to 45.

The numbers add up to good news for builders like Rector at Arbor Homes.

"It says I can breathe a little easier and sleep a little better at night," he said.

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