First-time buyers rushing to beat the end of the stamp duty holiday helped house prices jump 2.2% in March, the Halifax revealed today.
The bank said the average UK house price in March 2012 was £163,803, as the number of completed sales rose to its highest level since late 2009 when the threshold for stamp duty fell from £250,000 to £125,000.
The price was 2.2% higher than February 2012 but still 0.1% lower on a quarter-by-quarter basis and 0.6% down on a year earlier.
Martin Ellis, Halifax housing economist, said: "Efforts by first-time buyers to beat the expiry of the stamp duty holiday at the end of March have probably increased sales in recent months and may have helped to support prices."
Recent research revealed that about four in 10 first-time buyers benefited from the stamp duty concession during the two years it was in place.
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs also said the number of sales in January and February 2012 was 14% higher than in the same period in 2011.
Despite March's rise, the average house price was the same as in July 2011 and still significantly below pre-recession peaks of nearly £200,000 amid weak availability of affordable mortgages. And there are fears the housing market will continue to suffer as demand falls following the end of the stamp duty holiday.
Nationwide reported a 1% fall in prices in March, reflecting a slowdown in demand, and predicted prices will head downwards or sideways over the coming year.
There is also added pressure on homeowners as several lenders, including the Halifax, have increased their standard variable mortgage rates.
Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said he still expects house prices to fall 3% by the end of 2012.
"While we are surprised by the 2.2% jump in March, it does not fundamentally change our view that house prices are likely to drift down modestly lower over the coming months.