A modest mini-surge in home building is under way and gaining strength as Dane County posted the highest June housing starts of the past five years.
And though totals remain historically weak, this year's positive trend in new housing is being steadily cemented.
Counting June, home starts have increased over last year in five of the first six months of this year. And the rise likely isn't over yet, industry observers said.
"We believe housing starts will continue to rise this year, based on trends in the larger market," said Dan Miller, a Madison-based Keller Williams real estate agent. "Locally, we are seeing a noticeable increase in the number of people who are opting to build."
There were 80 building permits issued in June for single-family homes and duplexes, compared with 56 in June 2011, for a 42.9 percent increase, according to MTD Marketing Services of Menasha, a company that tracks housing starts in most of the state.
June's 80 housing starts in Dane County also ranked the highest of any June since 2007, when there were 114. (June starts from 2008 to 2011 were 62, 76, 65 and 56, respectively.)
The rise in monthly housing starts also has been gathering strength as the year progresses, with increases of 6.5 percent in January, 15 percent in March, 22.7 percent in April and 26.5 percent in May, prior to June's jump to a 43 percent rise. The notable exception was February, when starts fell year-over-year by 7 percent.
That means Dane County home builders, hit especially hard by the housing crash and subsequent slow recovery, clearly are busier now — even if it's still not yet what anyone would call a big year.
Madison-area custom home builder Tom Zimmer, in the business since 1981, said the new home market remains weak.
"I don't see it getting a whole lot better," he said.
While moving in the right direction, Zimmer described the amount of building work available now as "barely" enough to keep his business going. He said he used to build about a dozen homes a year and this year will probably do only one or two, with remodeling jobs making up most of his work.
From January through June, Dane County had 384 housing starts, up 20 percent from 320 in the same period of 2011.
In comparison, there were at least 2,300 housing starts annually in Dane County from 2001 to 2005, and well over 1,000 in 2006 and 2007. For the past four years, though, the annual total hasn't hit 700.