As home vales remain stubbornly soft, more buyers are finally coming back into the market, according to a poll of its real estate agent network conducted by HouseHunt, an online provider of information about home availability and communities.

HouseHunt has agents or brokers in 1,500 communities in 46 states. Two-fifths of the agents who responded to its latest survey say they saw more buyers in the fourth quarter of 2011 than in the previous quarter, compared to 32% who saw more buyers during the same period in 2010.

“I’ve been just as productive now as I was in the heyday of real estate,” says Chris Cochran, a broker-owner in Riverside, Calif., whom HouseHunt quotes with the release of its data. However, Cochran notes that business has been a double-edged sword because home prices “are 50% less.”

Nearly three-fifths of the agents who responded to the survey said they were getting less than 95% of the listing prices, which is about the same percentage of agents who reported that in the fourth quarter of 2010. While 51% of the agents polled said they were seeing negative appreciation in the transactions they handled in the fourth quarter of 2011, that compares favorably to the 57% who saw negative appreciation in the same period a year earlier and 62% in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Michael Berden, HouseHunt’s president and CEO, tells Builder via email that he expects prices will continue to vary by community in 2012, with “most” areas incurring flat or negative appreciation.

“There is still a lot of real inventory as well as shadow inventory to be liquidated,” Bearden writes. “It is probably the best time to buy a home since I have been in real estate, and I started in 1978. Yet, with incredibly low interest rates and favorable buyer conditions homes are still not selling at a rapid pace because unemployment is high and job security is not a given.”

Bearden, though, remains confident that agents will sell more homes in 2012, and that prices “should begin to increase in the next year or two.”

Some markets have already turned upward. Dawn Amato, a broker in Marco Island, Fla., points to one local office of Keller Williams Realty that sold more than $200 million in real estate last year. Amato also notes discounting isn’t anywhere near as severe as it’s been in the past few years. Homes that once had to be reduced by as much as $50,000 to sell are now being sold for “a couple thousand [less], if that,” she states.

John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Riverside, CA, Naples, FL.