It all started after 9/11. The economy needed a good kick in the pants, and the government gave it one by dropping the floor on interest rates. Money came cheap and easy, and there was no better way to spend borrowed money than on a home; your money was more productive on Main Street than Wall Street.

Meanwhile builders, brokers, bankers, and Congress thought they were staring right into the long-lashed eyes of a cash cow. It was an era of build more, buy more, pocket more; everyone along the food chain was fed from the bounty in manufacturing the American Dream.

Good deal followed good deal until deals were too good to be had. Fast money and loose lending practices had many people, from the first-time buyer to the global investor, buying into riskier mortgages.

As flaws in the system became exposed, home builders were the first to hit the wall. Buyer demand stopped short as interest rate resets caused foreclosures to mushroom, flooding inventory and sending home prices south. Continued price declines dragged additional homeowners underwater on their mortgages. As mortgages shrank in value, lenders that bundled and sold them to investors were called to the carpet. And before long a sector slump had grown into a full-fledged financial crisis.

As the housing correction turned cataclysmic, the government stepped up to the plate. An economic stimulus bill morphed into a housing rescue, which then snowballed into a $700 billion bailout of the U.S. financial system that's predicated on transferring troubled mortgage assets from banks to the government's balance sheet.

However, the big question is whether home prices will continue their tumble, keeping the vicious cycle in motion. The challenge for builders in either case is to be prepared for whatever the market may throw at them next.

The boom times left most builders sitting back on their heels as the market soured around them. This is a time laden with regrets, but it also is one charged with possibility. How well builders can adapt to the market challenges will determine whether they will be players or pawns in this drama.

So without further ado, here's BIG BUILDER's retrospective look back at how the housing industry got here and what it means for your company tomorrow and moving forward.

Check out the Boom to Bust Timeline[Download PDF]