Market pressure is now beginning to push up prices on finished lots in the most desirable areas, Jonas said. Already, she said, 20 percent of the newly built homes in Maryland's subdivisions have seen price increases this year. The average price increase in the first six months of 2012 was about 2.5 percent to 3 percent, she said.

Homebuyers can "absolutely expect" new home prices to go up even more in the next six to 12 months because of the low supply of finished lots, Jonas said.

"Now that the market's starting to come back, people are coming to the realization that we didn't grow any more land, we didn't zone any more property," said John Kortecamp, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

Because of a failure to plan for the market to bounce back, there is now a "very significant shortage of new land for new housing," said Kortecamp, who agrees that the scarcity is causing new home prices to tick up in areas with good schools and plenty of community amenities.

"There's a recognition that if you do have finished lots in a good location, they're hot. Everybody's duking it out for those," said Jody Kahn, a vice president at John Burns Real Estate Consulting LLC, a company that surveys land brokers for their opinions of the homesite market.

In the Baltimore-Washington corridor, to the extent builders are finding finished lots, prices for those lots have moved up 5 percent to 15 percent in the first six months of the year, Kahn said.

"In what I call the 'A' areas, I don't know of any finished lots that have the infrastructure and are ready to go," said Bob Ward, the CEO of Bob Ward Cos., which builds homes in northern Baltimore County, Harford County and southern Pennsylvania.

Ward said that he expects increasing land prices will not have a significant effect on the price of new homes, however — at least as long as there is a healthy resale inventory. Homebuyers will always pay a premium for a new home, but comparable options from existing home stock generally keep new-home values in check, he said.

Nevertheless, the combination of many homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages and those who are unwilling to sell at current prices has created a smaller stockpile of homes for resale, he said.

If that supply of homes for resale isn't replenished, new-home prices may begin increasing with the rising cost of finished lots, Ward cautioned.

Michael DeStefano, president of Sturbridge Homes in Annapolis, said finished lots have long been hard to find in the most desirable parts of Anne Arundel County, like Severn. And unless developers start putting new subdivisions in the regulatory pipeline soon, DeStefano said, he expects finished lots in other parts of Anne Arundel to evaporate within the next few years.

Experts agree that the permitting process to turn raw land into finished residential lots in Maryland can take as long as two years, in large part because of storm-water rules intended to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

"Maryland is definitely a more restrictive place to do development," said Metrostudy's Jonas.

Because of the long lead time needed for a finished lot in Maryland, developers need to start investing in raw land now to prevent the lot shortage from worsening, she said.

"I think there's a tremendous amount of opportunity," Jonas said. "If you have land and you're thinking about selling it, this is the moment. They [builders] need it now and they need it for planning for the future."

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

twitter.com/stevekilar