List research by Loretta Williams.

Click here to download a PDF of the 2007 Fast Track

Ah, the glory days of summer. Buyers camping out for new releases, backlogs stretching for months, and profits creeping higher and higher with every new phase that opens for sales.

Unfortunately, things have changed.

With starts down and cancellations up, builders no longer expect a home run with each new community. Now, they'll settle for base hits, for doubles, and even for walks that finally get that languishing spec house and its shrinking margins off the field. Veterans look at the rookies and shake their heads. “They've never been through a downturn,” they say, wise from years of ups and downs. “They'll never make it.”

The veterans are right, of course. Many of the rookies won't survive. “You didn't have to be a good builder” during the recent boom, says accountant Steve Maltzman of SMA Consulting in Redlands, Calif. “You just had to be in the right place at the right time.” Some new builders will go under, their companies buried by carrying costs for houses that won't sell. Others will go back to computers or sales or whatever it was they did before they decided home building was the way to get rich quick.

But they won't all disappear. Some rookies will stay, seeing this down market as a rebuilding opportunity. Even a losing season offers the chance to improve skills, reduce on-field errors, and learn from those who have played the game for much longer.

And those rookies can surprise you. As you'll soon discover on the following pages, companies led by experts and novices alike made this year's Fast Track list of the 100 fastest-growing builders in the country, as based on their three-year compound annual growth rate for revenue. To many, the presence of so many newbies will be cause for serious head-shaking. After all, the first sign of a slump was supposed to send these young, inexperienced builders running.

Talk to them, though, and you'll discover that these new builders have ideas worth considering, no matter how many years you've been in the game. The veterans also have valuable advice to share. As a group, this year's Fast Track team achieved an average three-year compound annual growth rate of 36 percent between 2004 and 2006, even as a serious slump began for many in 2005.

PAY ATTENTION TO THE GAME

What do the rookies and the veterans on this year's Fast Track list all have in common (besides three-year compound annual growth rates of 10 percent and higher)? Sharp attention to market trends, from new competitors to signs of weakness, and quick responses to those discoveries.

For Cassidy Homes, the first wake-up call came in 2002, with the arrival of big builders—both public and private—in neighboring counties. “It alarmed us, because we know big companies go in to grow market share at other builders' expense,” admits Steve Cassidy, president of the Winter Haven, Fla., company, which was founded in 1980 by his father and brother. “We didn't want to be a victim in our own market.”

In response, the firm shored up its land positions, accumulating thousands of lots at reasonable prices by partnering with another builder. That decision proved to be a smart one for Cassidy Homes. With more than 5,000 developed home-sites and 18,000 undeveloped lots under control, the builder has had the land supply it needed to grow. (The firm achieved a three-year compound annual growth rate of 83 percent between 2004 and 2006.)

Learn more about markets featured in this article: St. Louis, MO, Washington, DC, Greensboro, NC, Charleston, SC.