Spring is upon us, and builders are battling amid the much ballyhooed spring selling season after a long—and fairly flat—winter.

Over the past year, Metrostudy regional directors from 36 housing markets have recorded new home and new building lot demand from the ground floor, providing local insight into market temperature for builders in the industry. The three-month composite scores for new-home demand during late fall/early winter and the late winter months (January, February, and March included) illustrate how each market fared during the winter lull, while March's raw scores hint at how each market might bounce back (or not) in the spring and summer selling season. Market scores in our illustration are grouped regionally by color and identified by state, making trends in the new-home market transparent at a national and state level. Scores over the past six months reveal whether market health at those levels is impacted by the winter months, or if new-home demand is weaker in general, weather aside.

The South Springs Back

Not surprisingly, decreased demand for new homes affected markets in the south most during the winter months, but they also bounced back more than any other region in March. Nine of the 18 southern markets averaged a demand score of 6 or below during the winter months, compared with five markets in March (when 16 of the markets received a score of 6 or higher). The Sarasota-Bradenton market jumped two points on the scale from winter to March, with expected strength through April.

"‘Snowbird season' is in full swing, and most sales will take place by April," says Tony Polito, regional director of the Sarasota market. He notes that traffic and contract pace are up from last year and prices are rising, but it still "has yet to impact demand."

The Rio Grande market maintains the lowest score of any southern market (and any market in any region), where new-home demand has sat at a 3 on our 10-point scale for the past 12 months. Regional director Jack Inselmann's take on new-home demand hasn't varied either, resigned to the commentary that Rio Grande is "still a slow market, [with] no change expected soon."

The Atlanta market experienced a dramatic seasonal slump, resting at a composite score of 5 for new-home demand over the six-month period. Atlanta regional director Eugene James reported an equally dramatic jump in new-home demand during March, however, moving up 3 points on the scale to an 8. Commentary from James in February indicated that "sales pace seems to have cooled off, especially at higher price points." In March, he reported that "demand has increased from the prior quarter, but buyers are finding out how the short supply of housing will prolong their move."

The San Antonio and Austin markets were the most stable southern markets, resting at a strong score of 8 for new-home demand for both composite scores and March's raw score.

"The year has gotten off to a good start in [San Antonio], though traffic remains inconsistent," states Inselmann. The market is "on pace for a very good year, better than last year."

Northeast and Midwest Markets

The Northeast and Midwest regions are least represented in Metrostudy's coverage across the U.S., and they're also least represented in the upper range of the scale when it comes to buyer demand for new homes.

The Twin Cities were the only market to break above a 6 for new-home demand of the five markets in the northeast and Midwest regions. Despite builder optimism about a strong spring selling season, regional director Chris Huecksteadt reports that the winter months were slower than usual, and the Twin Cities rested at a composite score of 6 for the past six months. In March, Huecksteadt raised the score for new-home demand to a 7, citing that the "Parade of Homes has had a big impact on immediate traffic and sales, [but] whether the momentum can be maintained remains to be seen."

Ambivalence about new-home demand also carried over in the suburban Maryland market, where the composite score stayed flat at a 5 for the past six months.

"This year appears to be off to a faster start than last year, but it is still too early to raise the demand reading above ‘average' without more evidence of an improving market," reported Ben Sage, Mid-Atlantic regional director, in January and February.