Photos: 500 gls

The forces that aligned against new-home sales retreated in 2010, producing positive results for many of the industry’s largest builders. Yes, sales were miserable by historical standards, and buyers remained MIA. But foreclosures hit a 30-month low in December, despite an astonishing 2.9 million filings for the year. New-home prices stabilized to where some builders could raise prices. Our annual report card for the housing industry’s largest players shows that the Builder 100 exploited thawing business conditions. Fighting off Pulte, which had merged with Centex in 2009, D.R. Horton maintained its position as the No. 1 builder, employing its strategy of monetizing construction as quickly as possible. Builders of all sizes were relieved that growth was possible again. Land and finished lots, where they were available, could be picked up for a song. Long-awaited private capital began flowing into the sector. Even some banks started lending again, if stingily. But success didn’t come easy. Builders redrew their house plans to match buyer demand for flexible and energy-efficient spaces. And some now compete with short sales and foreclosures after painfully lowering costs, thanks to cooperation and concessions from subcontractors and suppliers.