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SOUTHLAKE When the Ross family decided to buy a new home, it involved more than just cash and a contract.

They're also camping out.

Bryan Ross and his wife, Lesley, traded shifts sleeping overnight in front of a model home so they could be among the first to buy in a new Southlake subdivision.

It's a small price to pay for a place that we might be in for the next 15 years, Lesley said.

By morning, two other families were also waiting for the builder, Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers, to open the doors of its model home and begin signing contracts on a first-come, first-serve basis.

To me, in my experience in homebuilding, it's highly unusual, said Ryan Bashaw, Toll Brothers' assistant vice president.

Toll Brothers only recently made 10 lots available in the Shady Oaks subdivision near Southlake Boulevard and Shady Oaks Drive. The prices of the homes start well above $500,000.

Housing in Southlake is in very high demand, driven partly by the strong school system. The Ross' real estate agent said empty lots for new home construction are very hard to find.

There's land, but it hasn t been released, said Realtor Pat Ranney. At this price point, there s not a whole lot of new construction.

Even then, insiders say it's unusual to see people in North Texas camping out in order to buy a house. Builders say it reflects an overall thawing in the North Texas home market.

New home construction has shown signs of some gains, albeit modest ones. The number of home starts and single family permits has been increasing year over year.

Still, new home construction in North Texas is down almost 70 percent from the peak five years ago, before the housing bust.

Nationally, construction began on 428,600 single-family homes in 2011, according to the Commerce Department. That's the lowest number on record, dating back a half-century. Dallas-area home prices are largely stagnant.

Yet Toll Brothers is currently building in 12 subdivisions in North Texas, with plans to build in six new ones this year. Bashaw said his company is taking an aggressive approach.

We re still being conservative, he said. We're just buying those good locations and starting to look on the outskirts of North Texas.

Bashaw said the company is cautiously buying only a handful of empty lots in high-demand locations, like Southlake, where the Ross family is anxious to move.

Bryan Ross, an energy trader who works in downtown Dallas, plans to spend $600,000 custom-building his family s home in the affluent suburb.

This might be our best chance for a while to build what we want at the price we want to pay, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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