The greater Atlanta area, which recorded 53,750 single-family housing permits last year, led the nation in housing activity for the 13th consecutive year beginning in 1991, according to the Commerce Department.

Rounding out the top five housing markets for single-family permits were the metropolitan areas of Phoenix-Mesa with 46,590, Riverside-San Bernardino with 35,730, Houston with 33,970 and Washington, D.C., with 30,760. The total issuance of single-family permits across the country for 2003 was 1.444 million, according to the Commerce Department.

“We are excited to be the most active housing market in the country once again. It has been a long run,” said David M. Smith, president of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and a builder/developer in the Atlanta metropolitan area. “Overall, housing demand has remained strong and the market has been vibrant, but we are seeing changes in buying activity.

“The market for higher-end homes has fluctuated during the last two years, though it has been gaining strength in recent months. The first-time buyer and first-time move-up markets have not slowed since 1991,” said Smith, who is also president of Hedgewood Development Corp. “Low interest rates continue to fuel the market and are a major factor behind the strength of our entry-level market. Coupled with the recent increase in job growth occurring throughout the Atlanta area, we are optimistic about 2004.”

During Atlanta’s 13-year reign as the hottest housing market in the country, total annual building permits in Greater Atlanta have ranged from a low of 24,684 in 1991 at the start of the reign, to a high of 66,550 in 2002.

The Houston metropolitan area, which 15 years ago ranked 32nd in the country with 6,788 single-family permits, moved up to fourth in the nation last year.

“Houston is hot, and that is not just the weather,” said Mike Karm, president of the Greater Houston Builders Association and of Larus Builders Inc., a builder in the greater Houston metropolitan area. “New home starts have broken records and pumped billions of dollars into the local economy over the past few years.”

“Due to the strong and diverse economy here, low interest rates and the fact that the Houston housing market is truly synonymous with value, we are experiencing a truly preeminent building market. When high-end housing slowed, the affordable market took up the slack. We are excited here in Houston about the future,” said Karm.

Across the country, the top 20 most active metropolitan areas accounted for 33 percent, or 480,330, of the 1.4 million single-family permits issued nationwide during 2003.

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