1) What Unemployment?
Black gold and golden grain keep housing hopping in North Dakota.

North Dakota’s housing market provides evidence that full employment equals home sales. The land of verdant valleys and mineral-rich badlands includes the three metropolitan areas in the U.S. with the lowest unemployment rates: Bismarck’s rate was 2.6 percent, Fargo 3.1 percent, and Grand Forks 3.2 percent in October. Total home closings were up 5.63 percent for the first nine months of 2010 in the three combined metro areas. But Bismarck led the pack with closings up 28.4 percent compared to 2009. Median home prices were up, too, 3.6 percent in the metro areas.

Courtesy Del Webb

2) No Golf Cart Traffic Jams
Del Webb community boasts activities without the crowds.
How do you sell against The Villages, arguably the most successful active adult community in the country? Del Webb is doing it by promoting its Stone Creek community as uncrowded compared to the iconic Central Florida behemoth development just down the road, yet still full of must-have active adult playgrounds—golf courses and pickleball courts. “Stone Creek offers a refreshing alternative for active adults making the move to Florida or for residents of The Villages who are looking for a more intimate, less crowded community,” Del Webb said in announcing the opening of its new $4.2 million model park in mid-February. 3) Zero to 2,000 in Two Years
Volkswagen opens new auto plant in Tennessee.

Volkswagen’s new Chattanooga, Tenn., plant is poised to begin production of the company’s new Passat this year. The new car, designed specifically for the U.S. market, was unveiled in January. The state-of-the art auto plant already employs more than 1,000, and the employment roll is expected to climb to 2,000 soon. Thanks to the multiplier effect, 9,500 more jobs indirectly related to the automaker’s presence are also expected to be created.

Courtesy FivePoint Communities

4) 10,000 Pages of Plans
FivePoint Communities finally submits plans for stalled Great Park.

FivePoint Communities, a joint venture between Emile Haddad and Lennar Corp., has kick-started the stalled plan to develop a community surrounding a 1,347-acre park that’s twice the size of New York City’s Central Park on the former El Toro Marine base in Irvine, Calif. FivePoint recently delivered 10,000 pages of rolled maps, folded packets of plans, and three-ring binders to Irvine City Hall providing details of the proposed development. The paperwork made a foot-high pile across two 6-foot tables, The Orange County Register reported. And that’s only for the first phase. The project calls for 4,895 attached and detached single-family homes ranging from 1,000 to 3,700 square feet with prices ranging from $400,000 to more than $1 million. FivePoint Communities said it expects approvals by summer’s end. “We are going to roll up our sleeves and go to work very quickly, hoping a couple of years from now, when the market is really healthy again, that we will really be the only game.”

5) Vertically De-Integrated
PulteGroup returns to hiring subcontractors to build Phoenix homes.

PulteGroup is shutting down the last of its manufacturing facilities started with the idea that it could vertically integrate and build portions of its homes itself without subcontractors. Pulte Building Systems operations in the Phoenix area, which employed 230 workers who built, delivered, and installed trusses and other home components, is winding down and will be shuttered by August. “Although the company has the largest market share of home closings in the Phoenix metro area, current volumes did not allow us to continue to leverage in-house production operations,” says spokeswoman Jacque Petroulakis. The operation started in 2006. Pulte closed a smaller Las Vegas plant in 2010.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Ocala, FL, Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles, CA.