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Portland-area homebuilders, anticipating brighter days ahead, pulled permits for 73 percent more homes in May than the same month a year ago. According to survey data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday, area homebuilders received 444 permits for single-family homes in May, more than any month since the same month in 2008. Those houses, based on square footage and construction type, would be worth $111 million.


Also in the works are 402 new apartments in 12 buildings that were granted permits in May.


Permits show builders' plans six months to a year before construction starts, and the increases suggest they're expecting more business. A National Association of Homebuilders survey found builder confidence nationally hit a five-year high in June with a reading of 29, though it remains well below the threshold of 51 that indicates a positive outlook.


Brad Hosmar, the chief operations officer at Arbor Custom Homes, said the Beaverton-based builder is beating its expectations for sales this year.


"We've always been hopeful it was going to happen, but we've been surprised with how sales have increased," Hosmar said. "We're busier than we have been in probably three to four years."


New-home construction has been a bleak industry since the housing market collapsed in 2007. Many overextended builders continued building as demand collapsed, leaving a massive inventory of unsold new homes.


But much of that surplus has finally been absorbed, along with many of the competing foreclosures and existing homes on the market. Builders are revving production back up to meet new demand.


Tom Liesy, owner of TA Liesy Homes NW in Clackamas, said his company built 88 homes last year and expects to maintain that number this year. But he's noticed that in 2012, he's not the only one building in Happy Valley.

"A lot more competition has been a big change," he said. "Last January there wasn't anybody production-wise in Happy Valley. Now all the hot builders in town are back."


Year-to-date numbers have surpassed 2010, when increased construction in the year's early months collapsed midway through the year. That means builders are headed for their most productive year since 2008.


Still, builders have a tough job ahead. They have to compete with the stock of cheaper existing homes, since new homes typically sell at a premium.


New-home construction makes up a small slice of the housing market, but it has an outsize effect on the economy. In addition to construction work, there are jobs created indirectly through building materials and supplies.


Supplier ProBuild has seen an uptick in business, said Nate Bond, the company's Portland-area vice president for sales. He recently visited a number of area job sites in an outreach effort for the company.


"I was encouraged by the amount of construction going on here," he said. "The home building industry is very much alive -- if not well, on the way to getting well."


Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 11:04 AM Updated: Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 6:25 PM By Elliot Njus, The Oregonian