ALEX VEIGA

LOS ANGELES (AP) ¿ The housing bust left homebuilders with plenty of red ink on their books as they walked away from swaths of land they no longer needed.

But now homebuilders are on the hunt again, vying for choice parcels even in foreclosure-riddled markets like Las Vegas, Southern California and Orlando, Fla., where prices are cheap and there are early signs of a recovery.

While not a full-blown land rush, experts point to a surge in land deals since early summer as home sales and prices began to stabilize. For the better lots, the competition is fueling bids well above the asking price.

"In the past (builders) had really been the ones that had been feeding the market and selling lots to investors," said Tom Dallape, a principal at The Hoffman Co., a land brokerage firm based in Irvine, Calif. "Now all of a sudden they are rushing back in."

Major players such as Ryland Group Inc. and Meritage Homes Corp., are among those that jumped into the fray.

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