These are the quarters that the homebuilders will remember. The surge in orders. The power to raise prices. Earnings per share declared in dollars, not cents. So it really comes as no surprise to see M.D.C. Holdings (NYSE:MDC) post earnings of $7 per share for full-year 2003. If you're in the business of making new homes and not announcing record results, stick to building birdhouses and lawn gnomes.

Selling homesteads under the Richmond American Homes banner, M.D.C. rocked. Historic interest rates have stretched the value of the financing dollar, while higher home prices have given sellers more money to use as a down payment on a new home. Our Home Center has been jumping as rates hover near historic lows.

For investors, the biggest concern is that this may end sooner rather than later. Because of the significant backlog of new homes, you can't rely on record quarterly reports to gauge the future. Those may continue even after the fundamentals have started to crumble like defective drywall.

Shareholders are already skeptical of the sector. M.D.C., along with competitors Lennar (NYSE:LEN) and Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL), among others, have seen their stocks slide since their early December highs.

After some heady gains, it's understandable for cold feet to start playing hot potato. However, you will find some encouragement in M.D.C.'s numbers. While new orders climbed 28% in 2003, they soared 39% in the December quarter. That is momentum -- accelerating.

So, sure, when the house party ends, it's going to end with a thud. However, with an improving economy giving more potential homebuyers the visibility to make a move in 2004, no one's calling the cops to crash this party. Yet.

If our Home Center has you ready to make a move in 2004, remember that a furnace is not a housewarming gift! But why are rates this low? Does that make this an ideal time to tap into your home's equity to remodel if you plan to stay put? All this and more -- in the Building/Maintaining a Home discussion board. Only on