House prices fell in February, a report has said, but at the slowest rate in 18 months as sales continued to rise.
A balance of 13% of estate agents reported falling prices in February, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said, with London being the only part of the country to register an increase in property prices.
The softer fall in prices came as a balance of 16% of surveyors reported an increase in the number of sales, which despite being historically low is the best reading since September 2010.
The market has seen an upturn in activity as the March 24 deadline for the end of the stamp-duty free period for first-time buyers on properties under £250,000 approaches.
Alan Collett, RICS housing spokesman, said: "With the recent upturn in activity brought on by the end of the stamp duty holiday, it seems that a renewed sense of optimism may be slowly returning to the property market."
He added: "However, with affordable mortgage finance still out of reach for many potential first time buyers, it remains to be seen whether the more optimistic outlook for future sales can be sustained beyond the expiry of the stamp duty holiday."
The report comes as the Government launches a NewBuy scheme to help as many as 100,000 people get on the property ladder by bringing back 5% deposits rather than the 20% typically demanded by lenders since the credit crunch.
Elsewhere, expectations for future house prices were more optimistic during February with a net balance of 0%, compared with minus 14% in January, reporting positive expectations for prices. This is the first time since May 2010 that respondents have not been predicting further price declines, Rics said.
Fresh interest from potential buyers was nearly flat during February with a net balance of 3% more respondents reporting increases in demand.
Surveyors report that problems accessing affordable mortgage finance continue to hinder many first time buyers who would otherwise be looking to get onto the property ladder.