IF YOU'RE LIKE THE REST OF US, this is the time of year when you look back and take stock of what went right and what went wrong over the last 12 months. Looking back is a good way to learn from mistakes, but getting a glimpse of what could be coming is an even better way to be prepared for the future.

What you need, then, is helpful information you can use tomorrow—and the editors of BUILDER have it today: new uses for sales centers; effective business strategies; what's hot in home technology; design features that are likely to turn heads; and better marketing for the products you build.

For example, many buyers are tired of sitting on interstates and highways with millions of other motorists, listening to deejays prattle on. That is wasted time—time spent away from work or family. Battle-weary veterans of long commutes just might be willing to trade in a big house in the exurbs for a smaller one closer to the city. Is it any wonder that more national builders are forming infill divisions to cater to this market? Those buyers are out there. Go get 'em!

And then there are some important questions to consider going into the new year: Is there a housing bubble? If so, which markets are most vulnerable? And how high will oil and energy prices go?

Talk of bursting bubbles is enough to make average buyers nervous, especially if they live in markets that are considered overheated. This is why savvy builders will start to concentrate on affordable solutions such as smaller homes, higher density, or fewer options packages.

Meanwhile, as prices for fossil fuels soar, your buyers will want to know that you are not building energy-hogging houses that will run up their utility bills. This means that the appliances, windows, and HVAC systems you use had better be more miserly with energy and thus easier on the wallet.

Think of this report as a guide or blueprint for how to negotiate the year ahead. Things look good, but the balance is delicate. The advice you'll find in the following pages could come in handy when storm clouds start gathering.