Welcome to Good News & Bright Ideas. Each month,NFTshowcases stories that point to a general strengthening of the economy. Additionally, we are always on the lookout for stories from within the industry that show how companies are not only surviving, but also thriving. Have a story you’d like to share? E-mail ChmieleckiM@bnpmedia.comfor consideration.

Existing home sales in Calif. jump 64 percent from last year

In March, sales of existing single-family homes in California increased 64 percent over last year, according to the California Association of Realtors. Additionally, the state’s inventory of unsold homes dropped to five months (a three-year low), compared to a 12.2-month level in March 2008.

While home prices in March were still 39 percent lower than last year, the median price hit $253,000, up from $247,590 in February. This represents the first rise in monthly median home prices since August 2007. According to CAR, the increase could point to a general thawing of the housing market.

Construction spending, pending home sales rise

Spending increases for commercial projects and government buildings helped offset the soft housing market, resulting in a construct spending increase of 0.3 percent in March, according to the Commerce Department. This marks the first month of increases in five months.

The gain was led by the building of power plants, hotels and factories. Commercial construction increased 2 percent.

Pending home sales also rose in March. According to the National Association of Realtors, the index rose 3.2 percent, which was not only higher than the previous month but also 1.1 percent higher than last year. “This increase could be the leading edge of first-time buyers responding to very favorable affordability conditions and an $8,000 tax credit,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Consumer confidence levels at their highest since November

In a sign that consumers are becoming more optimistic about the economy, the Consumer Confidence Index skyrocketed 12 points to 39.2 in April, up from a revised 26.9 in March. According to the Conference Board, the latest reading is the highest index level since November 2008.

The group also reported that its Expectations Index, which measures how shoppers feel about the economy over the next six months, soared to 49.5 from 30.2 in March.

Survey: Homeowners ready to spend on their homes

A home remodeling and repair survey from ServiceMagic.com has found that more homeowners are looking to improve their homes despite the economy. Compared to last year, about 68 percent more homeowners are likely to consider a project they were putting off, and 33 percent more are looking to start any type of home improvement project.

The data was compiled from one million service requests received by ServiceMagic.com in the Q1 2009, compared to the same quarter of 2008. According to the company, the data suggests that homeowners are viewing their homes as “a longer-term investment.”

Economy closer to recovery, according to recent NABE survey

The latest quarterly survey by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) shows the economy may be nearing a turning point. The survey shows companies are slowly seeing a rise in demand for their products, the need for fewer job cuts and a small increase in profit margins.

The survey, which polled a range of companies and trade associations, said that the economy is not in recovery yet, but is inching closer. While some sectors are still posting low numbers, indexes raised slightly for the finance, insurance, real estate and services sectors.