Clearly, much of the growth in home building activity during the past five years has been concentrated in the top 50 markets. Consider that in 1999, the biggest metro regions accounted for 605,860 single-family permits, or 64.8 percent of total national activity. Five years and several starts records later, the top 50 still account for two-thirds of the new homes built nationwide, with a 66 percent share.

As might be expected, that growth hasn't been uniform, even within the Big Three states of California, Florida, and Texas, which accounted for 30.4 percent of all for-sale housing activity last year. A close examination of metro areas within those states shows activity migrating up the Florida coast; into the central valley of California; and to the hill country of Texas.

Plus, we have a new city atop the leader board: Thanks to a burgeoning market in the Southwest, Phoenix grabbed the top market spot away from Atlanta for the first time in Local Leaders history, issuing 56,896 single-family permits in 2004—10,305 more than in 2003. Its neighbor Tucson, Ariz., vaulted 16 places on the list, from No. 50 to No. 34, by virtue of issuing nearly 50 percent more permits in 2004 than the year before.

A closer look at the rankings reveals that more than one-third of the top 75 markets are concentrated in the Big Three states. Florida takes top honors with 13 metro areas on the list. But there are hot and cold spots in the Sunshine State.

Fort Myers and Sarasota, both on the state's west coast, were bright spots, with 58 percent and 39 percent increases in single-family permits, respectively, last year. Meanwhile, new permits fell in West Palm Beach, on Florida's east coast. For the second year in a row, Florida produced the rookie market of the year. The award, taken in 2003 by Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie, for 2004 goes to Lakeland/Winter Haven, which debuted at No. 42 on the list.

Finally, there's an interesting anomaly to report in Austin, Texas: The market zoomed ahead 20 spots on our list, to No. 20, with a 79 percent increase in single-family permits issued last year. But that increase spelled bad news for D.R. Horton's market share there, which fell from 29.9 percent in 2003 to 16.2 percent in 2004, despite the company's having closed roughly the same number of homes.