Maybe, just maybe, a silver lining of the housing recession is turning out to be the production of higher-quality homes.

At least that’s the perception of new-home owners, who reported significantly fewer problems with the houses they bought than a year ago, according to the J.D. Power & Associates’ 2009 New-Home Quality Study, which the market research firm released Tuesday morning, along with its New-Home Customer Satisfaction Study.

This year, the third that J.D. Power has produced a quality study, one of Pulte Homes’ brands ranked first in five of the 24 markets that the researcher tracks. Those markets are Chicago (where its Del Webb brand topped the list), Los Angeles/Ventura County, Calif., Philadelphia, San Antonio and Tampa.

In all of the markets where it surveyed builders’ customers, J.D. Power found that its 2009 index of new-home quality averaged 825 out of 1,000, which is an improvement compared to a reading of 799 last year. The company's index factors in the size of the house, the number of quality-related problems per house and the severity of those problems, according to a company spokesperson. (J.D. Power does not release that detailed data publicly.)

When owners reported problems with their new home, those complaints were most likely to be related to what builders contend are “cosmetic” or “comfort” issues, such as landscaping, heating and cooling controls, and the quality of kitchen cabinets. However, the study found that, overall, customer-reported problems were down in 2009 to an average of 9.55 per home, compared to 11.51 in 2008.

Paula Sonkin, J.D. Power’s vice president of real estate and construction practices, says these “unprecedented” levels of higher quality are the result of a recession that has left only the strongest survivors to compete.

Besides Pulte, other builders whose quality ranks first in their markets this year include:

• Ryland Homes in Charlotte, N.C., and  Jacksonville, Fla.

• John Wieland Homes & Neighborhoods in Atlanta

•Standard Pacific Homes in Austin, Texas, and San Francisco,

• Centex Homes in Charleston, S.C., and California’s Inland Empire (the survey was completed before shareholders approved Pulte's acquisition of Centex last month),

• Lifestyle Communities in Columbus, Ohio,

Ashton Woods Homes in Dallas/Fort Worth,

• Classic Homes in Denver,

• J. Patrick Homes in Houston,

• Pardee Homes in Las Vegas,

Toll Brothers in northern New Jersey

• Brookfield Homes in Orange County/San Diego

• Holiday Builders in Orlando

KB Home in Phoenix

Taylor Morrison Homes in Sacramento

• Lennar in Tucson, Ariz., and

Winchester Homes in Washington, D.C.

 A fuller listing of builders' quality rankings in 33 markets can be found by clicking here.

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

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