Many builders across the nation reported that March saw an increase in leads for middle- to high-end pools over January and February.

While this is nothing approaching the spring leads seen during the housing boom, it represents a much-needed improvement.

“There w as an explosion of phone calls for us in March,” said Steve Toth, owner of Acclaim Pools, LLC, in The Woodlands, Texas.

While unemployment numbers continued a grim upward trek, there were still reasons for optimism. The stock market saw its best four-week run since 1933, jumping more than 20 percent. The Obama Administration announced relief programs for small businesses, car companies and banks. And the National Association of Realtors reported new-home sales up 4.7 percent in February, while existing home sales rose 5.1 percent.

While these are only slight improvements — many from record lows — perhaps some homeowners believe there’s cause for optimism.

“On the middle end to higher end, I think people are starting to soften up a bit, to make commitments and get projects started,” said Russ Watters, owner of Watters Aquatech Pools & Spas in Las Vegas.

Some builders believe the shock of last autumn’s historic market downturn may have worn off a bit. Others say people just want to swim come Memorial Day.

“It’s my assumption that people are getting more used to what’s happening and they’re not as frightened, and there’s a little more hope,” said Dan Essig, president of Essig Pools in North Miami, Fla.

“We didn’t sell a ton of pools, but we definitely did better than we have, and we had substantially more estimates than we’ve had in the last five months,” he added.

Builders also reported that their leads are more likely to buy than in the past.

“I think there’s pent-up demand,” Toth said. “The folks who are calling say, ‘Hey, we’ve been wanting to do a pool for a year, but we’ve been a little nervous about the whole idea, and maybe the worst is over.’

“We just sold a project and the family said, ‘We’re going to do the whole thing on credit cards.’”

Despite the signs, most pool professionals are cautious in their optimism. In the current economic environment, it’s hard to predict whether a customer can obtain credit. Additionally, many consumers are pitting one builder against the next as they try to squeeze every last dollar from the price. This creates a longer lead-to-conversion time than usual.

Other than the increase in leads, industry pros report the same trends of the past few months: Service and renovation remain strong; commercial and higher-end residential construction seem least affected; and lower-priced inground pool sales remain stagnant.