As many of home building's leaders disembarked from planes onto the tarmac in Santa Barbara, Calif., during the first week of May, many were let down by the lack of California sun. But the disappointment didn't last long, as they headed to the Bacara Resort for the 20th annual BUILDER 100 Conference, beginning May 2.

For two days, 89 executives from nearly 50 home building companies gathered with select industry experts to applaud home building's top 100 companies, at least by closings.

Eleven builders have dug their heels into the BUILDER 100, remaining on the list since its inception as more than 1,000 home and apartment building companies have slipped in and out of the rankings. True blues include Centex Corp., Hovnanian Enterprises, Jim Walter Homes, KB Home, Lennar Corp. M.D.C. Holdings, NVR, Pulte Homes, The Ryland Group, Standard Pacific Corp., and Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co.

New to the list this year were Snellville, Ga.-based Scenic Homes, Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based America's First Home, and San Antonio, Texas-based Armadillo Homes. Bill Clark Homes, Eastwood Homes, Pagentry Cos., Ryan Building Group, Vantage/Raylee, and Wood Partners all graduated from the “Next 100” list to the BUILDER 100.

The two-day conference was peppered with rousing state-of-the-industry program sessions. Holiday Builders' president and CEO Richard Hawkes painted a rather dreary picture of a slide in sales of as much 50 percent, while John Fels, president of Avatar Properties, said there “could be as many opportunities as disappointments in the next year or two.”

Hearthstone CEO Jeff Barcy, Warburg Pincus managing director Reuben Leibowitz, and Morgan Stanley executive director Laurence Pelosi guided attendees through the brave new world of builder financing. From new raw land bank structures to the arrival of hedge funds onto the home building scene to private equity financing, each offered perspectives on emerging trends.

Ara Hovnanian, president and CEO of Hovnanian Enterprises, tap danced his sockless feet around the pulsing immigration issue while Shea Homes' president and CEO Bert Selva met the issue head on, showing support of a guest worker program. “If that [issue] goes south, our industry will be screwed in a lot of ways,” Selva said.

Selva later received BUILDER 100's Executive of the Year award at a special dinner ceremony.

But arguably the hottest topic under discussion over glasses of red wine and port was which public builder might go private again—and no, they weren't talking about William Lyon Homes. Several companies seemed right for a leveraged buy out, but no one placed any bets on the table.

However, a recent article in the May 8 issue of Business Week came out with a usual suspects list, ranked by market value.

Out of the top 25 candidates, five home builders were on the list. The No. 1 builder—D.R. Horton—was also No. 1 on the list, followed by Pulte in third place and Lennar in fifth. KB Home came in at 20 while Toll Brothers rounded out the candidate list at 25.

Despite the serious discussions of cancellation rates, incentives, slowing markets, consolidation, cost cuts, and the like, local wine tastings, a cigar bar, and a competitive golf tournament created a convivial atmosphere, truly making the event a celebration of industry excellence.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Santa Barbara, CA.