New home buyers, though fewer in number, are happier with their homes than they've been in recent years, according to a new J.D. Power and Associates' annual new home buyer satisfaction study released Wednesday morning. The average overall customer satisfaction score moved up a whopping 38 points to 779 on a 1,000-point scale.

"The big picture is builders have adapted really well in this downturn," said Paula Sonkin, vice president of the real estate and construction industries practice at J.D. Power. "The sales people were order takers. They have learned to negotiate and to offer incentives."

All those incentives, granite countertops, mortgage buy-downs, and lower prices have led to higher perceived value of the product, said Sonkin. Plus, with fewer homes to build, more are being delivered on time and are perceived to be of better quality, other factors in buyer happiness, she said.

Pulte and Centex were the highest scorers, with Pulte (including Del Webb and DiVosta) scoring highest in customer satisfaction in 11 U.S. markets and in new home design in six. Pulte and Centex each scored highest in new home quality in seven markets.

But despite the big players' lead in the survey, over the past few years, smaller local builders have been raking in the higher scores, said Sonkin.

Overall satisfaction increased in 28 of the 28 markets that were also surveyed in 2007. The markets that had the biggest customer satisfaction improvements were Palm Beach, Fla., Tampa, Fla., and Albuquerque, N.M.

Customers were happiest in places where market conditions were the worst, such as Nevada, California, and Florida, and consequently where builders were lowering prices the most and offering more incentives.

"It's a great time for consumers to consider buying a home," said Sonkin.

With fewer homes to build and more spec. homes selling, the proportion of homes delivered both completely finished and on time increased to 70%, up from 58% in '07. Consumers who reported their home was finished when they signed the sales contract increased to 39% from 32% in the last year.

Power added two new survey topics this year: Green home features and sales incentives. The study found that 28% of new home buyers thought their homes are environmentally friendly even though 75% of them said their builder didn't call it "green". The top "green" features they thought new homes should include were: energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning units, energy saving appliances, energy saving lighting and temperature-controlling windows.

More than nine in 10 new home buyers (92%) reported receiving sales incentives, with the average reporting they were worth more than $16,500. The most common incentives they were reported included base price reduction and credits toward options and upgrades.

2008 is the 12th year of J.D. Power's New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study. This year it surveyed 50,837 buyers of newly built single-family homes in 33 markets. Participants had been living in their homes of average of four to 18 months. The study was conducted between March and July of this year.

Nine factors, weighted by what consumers deigned to be most important to them, were considered in the survey including: builder's sales staff (15%); builder's warranty/customer service staff (15%); workmanship/materials (14%);price/value (14%); home readiness (13%); construction manager (13%); recreational facilities provided by the builder (7%); builder's design center (6%); and location (4%).

A market-by-market look at the results follows:

Albuquerque, N.M.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Pulte Homes

Centex Homes

Home Design:

Pulte Homes

Quality:

Centex Homes

Atlanta, Ga.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods

Sharp Residential Builders

David Weekley Homes

Home Design:

John Wieland Homes

Neighborhoods

Quality:

John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods

Austin, Texas

Overall Customer Satisfaction

David Weekley Homes

Centex Homes

Standard Pacific Homes

Home Design:

David Weekley Homes

Quality:

David Weekley Homes

Central Valley/Fresno, Calif.

Overall Customer Satisfaction

Granville Homes

Centex Homes

Wathen-Castanos

Home Design:

Granville Homes

Quality:

KB Home

Charleston, S.C.

Overall Customer Satisfaction

Centex Homes

Ryland Homes

Home Design:

KB Home

Quality:

Centex Homes

Charlotte, N.C.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods

Centex Homes

Pulte Homes

Home Design:

John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods

Quality:

C.P. Morgan Communities (tie)

John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods (tie)

Chicago, Ill.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Highest:

Cambridge Homes (tie)

Pulte Homes (tie)

Highest:

Lakewood Homes (tie)

Home Design:

Cambridge Homes

Quality:

Pulte Homes

Columbus, Ohio

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

M/I Homes

Dominion

Centex Homes

Home Design:

M/I Homes

Quality:

Centex Homes

Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Darling Homes

Huntington Homes

Fox & Jacobs

Home Design:

Darling Homes

Quality:

Darling Homes

Denver/Colorado Springs, Colo.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Shea Homes

John Laing Homes

Pulte Homes

Home Design:

John Laing Homes

Quality:

Classic Homes

Ft. Myers/Naples, Fla.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Pulte Homes

DiVosta Homes

Lennar

Home Design:

Pulte Homes

Quality:

DiVosta Homes

Greensboro, N.C.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Eastwood Homes

D.R. Horton

K. Hovnanian

Home Design:

D.R. Horton

Quality:

Eastwood Homes

Greenville, S.C.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Eastwood Homes

Lennar Homes

Ryan Homes

Home Design:

Eastwood Homes

Quality:

Eastwood Homes

Houston, Texas

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Trendmaker Homes

Highland Homes

KB Home

Home Design:

Darling Homes

Quality:

Trendmaker Homes

Inland Empire, Calif.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Del Webb

Shea Homes

Meritage (tie)

Standard Pacific Homes (tie)

Home Design:

Meritage Homes

Quality:

Standard Pacific Homes

Jacksonville, Fla.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Pulte Homes

KB Home

Mercedes Homes

Home Design:

Beazer Homes

Quality:

Pulte Homes

Los Angeles/Ventura County, Calif.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Pulte Homes

John Laing Homes

Standard Pacific Homes

Home Design:

Pulte Homes

Quality:

Pulte Homes

Las Vegas, Nev.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Centex Homes

Meritage Homes

Del Webb

Home Design:

Centex Homes

Quality:

Centex Homes

Minneapolis, Minn.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Centex Homes

Lennar

Mattamy Homes

Home Design:

Centex Homes

Quality:

Mattamy Homes

Northern New Jersey

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Del Webb

Home Design:

Del Webb

Quality:

Del Webb

Orange County, Calif.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Highest:

Standard Pacific Homes

John Laing Homes

Home Design:

Standard Pacific Homes

Quality:

Standard Pacific Homes

Orlando, Fla.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Highest:

David Weekley Homes

Pulte Homes

Centex Homes

Home Design:

David Weekley Homes

Quality:

David Weekley Homes

Palm Beach, Fla.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Highest:

Minto Communities

Lennar

Centex Homes

Home Design:

Minto Communities

Quality:

Minto Communities

Philadelphia, Pa.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Del Webb

Pulte Homes

Ryan Homes

Home Design:

NV Homes (tie)

Pulte Homes (tie)

Quality:

Del Webb

Phoenix, Ariz.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Shea Homes

Ashton Woods

T.W. Lewis Company

Home Design:

T. W. Lewis Company

Quality:

T.W. Lewis Company

Raleigh/Durham, N.C.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Centex Homes

Lennar

Drees Custom Homes

Home Design:

Drees Custom Homes

Quality:

Centex Homes

Sacramento, Calif.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Highest:

Tim Lewis Communities

Del Webb

John Laing Homes

Home Design:

Tim Lewis Communities

Quality:

Centex Homes

San Antonio, Texas

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Medallion Homes

Highland Homes

Centex Homes

Home Design:

Medallion Homes

Quality:

Medallion Homes

San Diego, Calif.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Shea Homes

Lennar

KB Home

Home Design:

Shea Homes

Quality:

Lennar

San Francisco Bay Area, Calif.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Del Webb

Pulte Homes

Centex Homes

Home Design:

Shea Homes

Quality:

Centex Homes

Tampa, Fla.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Centex Homes

Pulte Homes

David Weekley Homes

Home Design:

David Weekley Homes

Quality:

David Weekley Homes

Tucson, Ariz.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Pulte Homes

Lennar

Meritage Homes

Home Design:

Pulte Homes Quality:

Lennar

Washington, D.C.

Overall Customer Satisfaction:

Pulte Homes

Van Metre Homes

Winchester Homes

Home Design:

Winchester Homes

Quality:

Pulte Homes

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, Orlando, FL.