The number of house sales edged up last month as first-time buyers looked to beat the stamp-duty holiday deadline but house prices continued to drop across the country, it has emerged.
A balance of 12% of estate agents reported rising sales in January, said the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), as the March 24 deadline for the end of the stamp-duty free period for first-time buyers on properties under £250,000 approaches.
However, the improvement in sales has done little to support prices with a balance of 16% of estate agents across the UK reporting falls rather than increases, Rics added.
Michael Newey, Rics housing spokesman, said: "Many problems with the market still exist and the lack of affordable mortgage finance is still preventing many from getting on to the property ladder."
The biggest decline in prices came in Wales, closely followed by the West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside, Rics said.
However, the strongest level of newly agreed sales in January was in the West Midlands and East Anglia, with only the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside reporting a decline in newly agreed sales.
The improved sales led to a lift in optimism over prospects in the near term as 19% of surveyors predicted transaction levels to pick up over the coming three months, in the strongest reading since May 2010.
The survey said the supply of homes was relatively steady during January, with 7% more surveyors reporting increases rather than decreases in new homes coming onto the market.
And despite the improved level of sales, overall new buyer demand dipped slightly in the first month of the year, as new buyer enquiries fell in January.
This demonstrates that the recent lift in activity has been driven by one-off factors, such as the drive to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday.