Put more than 65,000 home builders, lenders, appliance giants, stain masters, and concrete pourers under one roof for a convention and, as James R. Irvine, president of the National Association of Home Builders, says, "It's sure to be a humdinger."

Besides an outdoor barbecue pit and more beer stands than you can shake a baby back rib at, this year's Builders Show was host to several in-booth entertainment acts, including a comedy singing trio ("Heat your home electrically, and make it better, better, better"), a nail-driving championship, and a female golf pro targeting the predominantly male audience with tips on improving golf swings.

Veterans at the convention were quick to judge the year by the turnout - a little less than last year - and the freebies.

"You can always tell what kind of year the builders had by the buffet," said one journalist during an open house for "the New American Home," a manse built on the outskirts of Houston. "This year, there's no shrimp." The buffet did feature sliced sirloin, though, which was judged a close second to seafood.

Dynamic personalities in the lending field made strategic appearances at educational sessions. Seat Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of Countrywide Funding Corp., Leland Brendsel of Freddie Mac, and James Johnson of Fannie Mae next to each other on a panel and sparks are sure to fly.

Mr. Mozilo, sitting on the far left, cracked. "This positioning is pretty funny. I've spent most of my life being wedged between Fannie and Freddie. ... That was a joke."

The good humor continued when the trade group's chief executive, Kent Colton, introduced Mr. Brendsel.

"We're lucky we've got not just one, but two secondary markets," Mr. Colton said, "because they keep each other honest."

His comments were greeted by raised eyebrows from Mr. Brendsel and a chuckle from Mr. Mozilo.

A reconciliation followed, with Mr. Colton passing a pack of Life Savers down the line. Mr. Johnson declined, but Mr. Mozilo and Mr. Brendsel shared the pack.

The panel tossed around the concept of eliminating loan limits at Fannie and Freddie. Mr. Brendsel supported the concept and Mr. Johnson said it might make sense farther down the line. Mr. Mozilo waxed pragmatic on the issue. "I would like to see Fannie and Freddie invest in all loans," he said. "But there's a constituency out there, namely portfolio lenders, who would get less margin. The likelihood of that happening is about the same as the flat tax passing."

Builders traded tips outside the Astrodome. If it's quick cash you want, Utah's your place, they said. "I hear you can get $20 an hour there - and you don't even need to speak English," said one.

All in all, for Texas, more than 65,000 people gathered under one roof is no big deal. "You think this is big, wait till you see the rodeo," said one builder in a cowboy hat to another.

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