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Builders have grown more confident since last fall, in part because more people have expressed an interest in buying a home. In May, builder optimism rose to the highest level in five years, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index.

Last week, the Commerce Department reported that builders started work on more homes and apartments in April, pushing housing construction to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 717,000 homes. That figure was near a rate of 720,000 homes and apartments being built in January, which had been a three-year high. But even with the recent strength, housing starts remains at roughly half the pace that economists consider healthy.

Many economists believe that 2012 could be the year that housing finally makes a positive contribution to overall economic growth. That hasn’t happened since 2005, shortly before the housing boom went bust.