house pricesHouse prices have recorded their strongest quarterly rise in three years in a further sign that efforts to kick-start the market are working, Halifax said.


Prices in the three months to January were 1.9% higher than the previous quarter, showing the biggest increase in this measure of the underlying trend for three years, the latest study said.


On a month-on-month basis, prices edged down by 0.2% in January following increases in the previous two month

However, prices were 1.3% higher than a year ago, marking the first annual increase in two and a quarter years.

Halifax said quarterly figures tend to give the clearest indication of what is happening in the market as they "smooth out" month-on-month volatility.

The study said Government efforts to boost lending, which include a multibillion-pound scheme launched in August, are likely to have contributed to a pick-up in home sales and house prices.

Martin Ellis, housing economist at Halifax, said that despite the signs of improvement, the tough economy and the pressure on household finances will continue to weigh down on housing demand. He said: "Overall, we expect continuing broad stability in house prices nationally in 2013."

With average house prices standing at £162,932 in January, Halifax also pointed to recent increases in mortgage approvals to home buyers which have been reported by the Bank of England as an indication of what is to come.

Mortgage availability has increased and lenders have been slashing their rates since the Government introduced the Funding for Lending scheme, which aims to boost borrowing by households and firms by giving lenders access to cheap finance.

However, Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist for IHS Global Insight, said that despite the recent signs of improvement, housing market activity is still "muted" by longer-term standards. He said that although there were more than 55,000 mortgage approvals for house purchase in December, marking the highest number in almost a year, this is still way below the average of more than 85,000 approvals a month seen over the last 20 years.