Pool builders across the country are reporting new activity on the commercial front.

The final quarter of 2011 brought a slight uptick in calls and closings compared with 2010, and traffic appears to be holding steady throughout the first weeks of the new year, they said.

“I’ve had three new commercial leads in the past three days,” said Jeff Robinson, sales manager at Dolphin Pools and Spas in Salt Lake City. “Clients seem increasingly willing to spend some of the money they’ve been sitting on for the past few years. Their confidence is definitely up.”

Companies across the Sunbelt place the year-over-year increase in the 15- to 20 percent range, with some even pushing that number into the upper 20s. Though many agree that it’s still too early to predict any overall seasonal trends, numbers such as these already are generating considerable optimism.

“I feel like we’re getting off to a much better start this year,” said Steve Santoro, sales manager at Adams Pool Solutions in Pleasanton, Calif. “A lot of new apartment complexes are going up in my area, and health clubs and hotels are also showing a lot more interest in adding new pools. There’s a lot more work going on in the public sector right now.”

The tight credit that has complicated financing over the past few years seems to be holding steady, but the recent freeze on spending appears to be thawing nonetheless. Builders chalk this up to an economic climate that, while it still may be somewhat tense, offers more wiggle room for private developers with money in the bank.

“Over the past few years, everybody seemed to have developed this philosophy that they had to keep their hands in their pockets,” Robinson said. “But lately, clients are becoming more comfortable with the idea of spending the cash they’ve been sitting on.”

Though not all those clients have signed on the dotted line yet, builders agree that serious buyers, rather than tire-kickers, represent the majority of these new leads. In fact, potential clients have increasingly been initiating sales inquiries, over the phones and on the Web. Many companies report that one or more strong new leads are calling in every day, which is a significant improvement from the trickle that many had grown accustomed to in the past few years.

Residential construction also seems to be off to a stronger start.

Though this year’s credit situation is still unfolding, calls for new residential construction are on increase nationwide.

“You can usually tell if somebody’s kind of ‘just wondering’ or if they‘re actually ready to buy,” said Dave Allen, owner of Erickson Pools in Clermont, Fla. “And the people who’ve been calling us this week seem to fall into that ‘ready to buy’ category.”

If these trends keep holding steady — and so far, all signs are pointing that way — builders are looking to a stronger quarter for new construction and remodels. No one’s expecting a pot of gold yet, but there’s no question this year’s mood is an upbeat one.