During housing's run-up, strategic opportunity was most often defined by permits. If a market issued at least 10,000 permits a year, it was considered an attractive home building market. However, housing's decline has challenged that assumption. According to Hanley Wood Market Intelligence data, single-family permit activity for the top 10 markets ranged between21,547 and 4,807 permits for the 12-month period ending in November 2009.

Big Builder Online recently surveyed its readers on how their definitions of market viability and opportunity have changed.

More than half of the respondents--58.3%--said the biggest housing markets by permit, such as Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix, still hold as much appeal as they once did. "Job growth, cost of living, and cost of housing in these markets should continue once the economy picks back up," noted one respondent. However, 33.3% of respondents disagreed, saying the appeal is no longer there, while the remaining 8.3% said they were unsure.

When it comes to opportunity, half of the respondents said there's less opportunity for private builders in the top markets. However, 25% of respondents said they think there's equal opportunity for both privates and publics, while 16.7% said the opportunity favors the private builders. The remaining 8.3% of respondents said they were unsure.

When asked if they are considering entering any secondary or tertiary markets in the next 12 to 24 months, two-thirds of respondents--66.7%--said no, while the remaining third said yes.

Respondents tapped El Paso, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; Oklahoma City; Bradenton, Fla.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Charleston, S.C., as the most attractive secondary or tertiary markets.

Job growth and affordability also were tapped by respondents as the most important factors in determining market opportunity, followed by new-home sales, home prices, land prices, and median income.