House prices are falling, but more homes are being sold, property professionals say in a new report.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) says more estate agents are reporting falls in prices than rises across the UK.

A balance of 13% of estate agents say prices are dropping, with more surveyors in the West Midlands and Northern Ireland reporting falls than anywhere else. London is the only region in the country where surveyors report prices rising.

But more surveyors are reporting an increase in the number of sales, which Rics says is down to the approaching deadline for the end of the stamp duty-free period for first-time buyers on properties under £250,000.

Alan Collett, Rics housing spokesman, says: "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 adds: "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."

House prices expected to rise

Elsewhere, February's survey shows as many surveyors are predicting house price rises as falls - compared with a balance of -14% towards price drops in January. This is the first time since May 2010 that respondents have not been predicting further price declines, Rics says.

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.

The report comes as the Government launches a NewBuy scheme to help up to 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.

Looking ahead, surveyors expect transaction levels to continue to rise, Rics says.