Home builders are vying actively to buy land to buy in anticipation of a market turnaound.

There's been an absolute land rush, says Gregor Watson, a partner with McKinley Partners, a California-based real-estate fund.

Builders prefer land with improvements, including sewers and streets because it allows homes to be constructed quickly. Especially attractive are suburban lots in neighborhoods that are easy commutes.

Nationally, the price of finished lots are up about 20 percent from early 2009. Prices for attractive lots in Phoenix and Southern California have risen 60 percent. Nationwide, the best-located lots are fetching twice as much as they would a year ago, said Greg Vogel, CEO of Land Advisors Organization, a land brokerage firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz.