House prices increased by 0.6% in February, according to the Nationwide building society, supporting indications that the housing market is going through a revival. The increase took the annual change to 0.9%, compared with 0.6% last month, and means the average price of a typical home in the UK is now £162,712.
Robert Gardner, Nationwide's chief economist, said: "Evidence that house prices picked up a little in February follows a series of data releases suggesting that economic conditions may not be quite as weak as feared after the UK economy contracted in the final quarter of 2011.
"Measures of activity in the housing market have also picked up, with the number of housing transactions rising by 23% year-on-year in January and the number of UK mortgage approvals – a leading indicator of sales – up 36%."
However, he warned it was still not certain the trend would be sustained: "Given the still challenging economic backdrop this increase in housing market activity may be the result of a temporary rise in first-time buyers entering the market to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday before it expires in March. If so, this may continue to support activity and prices in the near term before cooling over summer."
Nicholas Ayre, director of UK buying agents Home Fusion, said: "Whatever the domestic and global economies throw at it, the UK's property market carries on regardless. But the price rises we are seeing are wholly artificial and thoroughly unsustainable.
"A glaring lack of stock and low interest rates are keeping prices high, despite anaemic demand. Once supply and interest rates return to normal levels, or if the economy deteriorates, prices will come under real pressure."
He added: "Average prices are also being boosted by the more sought-after properties that are the only ones being sold right now. For 'just another property' on 'just another street' the picture is altogether different. A 0.9% rise during the year we've just had simply doesn't stack up and deep down people know that."
Yesterday the Bank of England reported that mortgage lending rose by £1.6bn in January, twice the average for the previous six months. Earlier in the week the Land Registry said house prices had grown by an average of 1.1% in January, although these figures are calculated on a four-month rolling basis. In contrast, Nationwide found that house prices fell by 0.3% in January.
Russell Quirk, director of estate agents emoov.co.uk, said: "These Nationwide numbers complete a hat-trick of upbeat assessments of the housing market in as many days. Nobody is getting carried away with the economy as it is, but the recent run of good news will be of genuine comfort to homeowners and sellers alike."
He said the news could encourage more sellers who have been waiting to market their home to get off the fence, but added: "National figures, of course, are volatile at best and misleading at worst. The danger is that sellers will overestimate what their property is worth. Your property is ultimately worth what someone will pay for it, not what an index says it is worth.
"Both buyer confidence and mortgage availability are improving, but progress is tentative and job insecurity is hanging over many would-be buyers."
Nationwide also revealed that although the British are known as a nation of homeowners, the rate of homeownership has fallen steadily in the past few years and a lower proportion of people own their home in Britain than in Ireland, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Spain or Hungary.