Experts warn public not too place too much weight on the surprise figures

House prices rose by 1.6% in January on the previous month, according to the latest figures from mortgage lender Halifax.

However, the mortgage lender cautioned that not too much should be read into the surprise rise. It said that despite encouraging signs in January the three monthly figure was still down 5.1% on the previous three months, and that the average January price was still 17.2% lower than the same month last year.

The rise reverses ten consecutive months of price falls.

Martin Ellis, housing economist, said it was important not to place too much weight on any one month's figures. “Historically, house prices have not moved in the same direction month after month even during a pronounced downturn. There are some very early signs that market activity may be stabilising. Nonetheless, continuing pressures on incomes, rising unemployment and the availability of mortgage finance are expected to mean that 2009 will be a difficult year for the housing market."

Ellis said that prices fell for seven successive months in 1989, only then to increase in three of the first ten months in 1990, despite the fact the overall trend in prices was still downwards.