Pulte Homes achieved the highest scores for customer satisfaction in 12 markets across the country, according to the 2009 New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study released Tuesday by the J.D. Power & Associates division of McGraw-Hill.

The market researcher, based in Westlake Village, Calif., has been conducting its customer satisfaction survey for 13 years. During March and July of this year, it polled 26,231 buyers of new homes in 24 markets nationwide, who had lived in their houses for between four and 18 months. The study found that overall satisfaction rose for the second straight year, to an average of 811 on an index scale of 1,000, from 779 in 2008.

The study also found that new-home quality in general had improved significantly between 2008 and 2009. Owners identified one of Pulte’s brands as the quality leader in five markets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the markets with the highest levels of overall customer satisfaction this year—Orange County/San Diego, Sacramento, Phoenix, California’s Inland Empire, and Tampa—are the same metro areas that have been besieged by foreclosures and unsold existing homes.

The survey asked owners to rate their satisfaction with builders’ and their products on nine factors: workmanship/materials, warranty/customer service staff, price/value, sales staff, construction management, home readiness, the community’s recreational facilities, the builder’s design center, and the location of the house.

This year, the survey found that customers weighted their satisfaction more on workmanship and materials than in previous years. That makes sense, given that many builders are still selling finished inventory homes, so buyers aren’t interacting as much with design center and job-site personnel. The study found that the proportion of homes delivered completely finished and on-time increased by six percentage points, to 76%, over 2008.

Pulte has stated publicly that its goal is to finish first in customer satisfaction in every market it builds in. One of its brands ranked first this year in 11 markets:

Pulte also tied with David Weekley Homes for top honors in Austin, Texas. Centex Homes, which Pulte acquired last month, finished first in Charleston, S.C.

Shea Homes, the industry’s largest private builder, ranked highest in customer satisfaction in Denver, Phoenix, and San Francisco. Trilogy by Shea, this builder’s active-adult brand, also finished first in customer satisfaction among plus-55 buyers and owners for the third consecutive year.

Other builders that lead their markets in overall customer satisfaction are:

• Lennar in Jacksonville, Fla.,

• Standard Pacific Homes in Charlotte, N.C.,

M/I Homes in its headquarters town of Columbus, Ohio,

• Pardee Homes in Las Vegas,

• K. Hovnanian in northern New Jersey,

• Darling Homes in Dallas,

• Brookfield Homes in Orange County/ San Diego, and

Ashton Woods Homes, which tied with Village Builders in Houston.

Ashton Woods recently reported that its divisional sales in Houston rose 330% in the quarter ended August 31. The builder’s vice president of sales and marketing, Dan Gezella, explained that jump by saying that many first-time home buyers there “are very interested in the energy-efficiency aspects of our homes, which help homeowners realize as much as a 45% yearly savings on their utility bills.”

J.D. Power found that only about 31% of owners it polled perceive their homes as being environmentally friendly. That doesn’t mean, though, that home buyers aren’t seeking greener houses, says Paula Sonkin, J.D. Power’s vice president of real estate and construction industry practices, who thinks that builders which aren’t stressing energy efficiency in their construction and marketing “are missing a very important opportunity.”

For the J.D. Power listing that ranks the top three builders in each market, click here.

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ, New York, NY, Houston, TX, Dallas, TX, Las Vegas, NV, Columbus, OH, Charlotte, NC, Jacksonville, FL, Charleston, SC, Tucson, AZ, Augusta, GA, Tampa, FL, Washington, DC, San Antonio, TX, Philadelphia, PA, Orlando, FL, Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, Atlanta, GA, Tampa, FL, Riverside, CA, San Diego, CA, San Francisco, CA, Oxnard, CA.