House prices rose for a fifth consecutive month in March, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), although the pace of increase has slowed.

The small stamp duty threshold rise in the Budget was seen to have little effect on the market, and buyer enquiries have continued their record breaking run, found the Institute?s latest report.

Even though sales agreed continued to rise, the number of new sellers continued to rise, at a pace unseen since June last year, although the overall amount of property for sale on surveyors? books remains relatively low, and is down 6% year on year.

All this information has fuelled speculation at RICS that predictions of price rises into 2006 should continue. However, regionally, a different picture could be seen, with some falls in London recorded.

Knight Frank, who deals with more top-end property sales, has reported that City bonuses were spent with gusto in the countryside, where they found growth in country houses running at 3.3% for the first quarter of this year. The agent also saw growth in the prime London market of 13.5% for 2006.

The general growth is mainly being led by the most expensive properties, found the report, with houses priced between £3 and £4m seeing values rising by 6% in the last three months alone.

Liam Bailey, Head of Research at Knight Frank said: ?There is no doubt that London purchasers are using their buying power this year ? with record bonuses being spent readily on property. Fundamentally demand for country houses is now determined by the health of the UK employment market ? especially the London jobs market.

?Even at the top end, the vast majority of properties are primarily bought with earned income rather than inherited wealth. Our forecast is that prices of prime country properties will grow by 4% this year, with price growth of up to 7% for the very best properties. This compares to our forecast of 2.5% for the UK market as a whole,? he added.