Estate agents in the West Midlands are reporting the largest increase in demand in three years as buyers test the pre-Christmas market.

Firms in the region say they have been surprised by the upsurge in interest this autumn, and their claims are backed up by the latest Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) housing market survey, which shows a 35 per cent rise in members reporting a rise in buyer enquiries.

That represents the largest rise since 2009 - and the second largest of any region in the country - suggesting a renaissance in the region's housing sector could be on its way.

The RICS data shows the number of homes coming onto the region's market also saw an improvement, as supply rose at its highest rate since August 2010.

Gerard Smith, partner specialising in country homes and auctions at estate agents Andrew Grant, said the demand for rural properties had returned strongly.

He said: "I would say in the last quarter we are probably seeing the most remarkable resurgence in demand for countryside properties for the last five years.

"In the last five days we have agreed sales on over s5 million worth of properties. Buyers are up 20 or 30 per cent in terms of viewings."

Founder Andrew Grant added: "Prices are stable but there is consistent interest. I sold a house last week for s1.75 million but at the lower end there is strong interest - between s150,000 and s500,000, under that stamp duty band.

"It is not boom time, but there are consistent sales taking place."

But the RICS data showed despite demand seeing an upturn in fortunes, prices across the West Midlands continued to dip, with a net balance of 29 per cent more surveyors reporting drops.

This has now been in negative territory since May 2010.

Lee Wainwright, West Midlands managing director at Countrywide Estate Agents, said buyers are often surprised at the availability of finance, which means interest in homes is being converted into sales.

He said: "The last quarter has been surprisingly strong. The market has really come back strongly in September and October.

"It is great to be ahead of last year across the board - in inquiries and sales."

He added: "In terms of finance it is not as difficult as people think. The typical first-time buyer seems to think they need s30,000 or s40,000 but they probably need about s4,000.

"The media suggests the housing market is really difficult but if you are a law-abiding person with no CCJs, who has never been to prison, it isn't that difficult."

Meanwhile, The Co-operative Bank has provided finance to four developers to build homes in the region from its Corporate Banking Centre based in Colmore Row.

The developments being financed include seven, four-bedroom detached houses in Bournville by Orion Developments and a range of 13 properties on a former pub garden in Sutton Coldfield by Manor Homes.

It is also funding Hightown Homes to build two and three-bedroom semi-detached houses in Bridgnorth and seven four and five-bedroom homes are to be built by Hayward Developments in Coventry.

But lack of cranes suggests a tall order for construction firms

While there have been positive signs for the housing sector, the number of cranes on Birmingham's skyline - a barometer for construction activity - has dropped to its lowest point in more than two years.

New data shows that only seven tower crane notifications were received in the first half of 2012, compared to 14 in the second half of last year.

Infrastructure experts say the data is symbolic of the sharp falls in new commercial construction, deep cuts in capital spending being made by the public sector, and the current lack of a positive infrastructure policy.

Graham Robinson, consultant in the infrastructure sector at Pinsent Masons, said: "People often look at the number of cranes as a barometer of the health of construction in Birmingham. If that is correct, then we should be concerned.

"The lack of cranes on Birmingham's skyline is symbolic of the sharp falls in new commercial and public sector construction seen in the last year and the lack of a positive UK infrastructure policy. It is also a sign that construction projects are getting smaller, forcing larger construction companies to compete for smaller projects."

The data is from the number of crane notifications received by the Health and Safety Executive.

Mr Robinson said tower cranes are generally only required for major projects so their absence suggests construction companies are having to compete for smaller projects.

He added: "The stimulus of the Olympic Games is gone and we have to get clearer commitments from government on a whole raft of policy concerned with building the infrastructure that Britain needs."