Green shoots in the housing market are reported by Hometrack this morning.

It said there has been “a marked improvement in housing market conditions” this month.The number of new buyers registering jumped 18%, after two months of major declines, and represented the strongest level of demand seen since the start of the downturn. The rise compared with the 15% increase in potential buyers recorded in February 2009.

Property listings also grew, by 15%, whilst average time on the market crept down to just below the ten-week mark. Hometrack attributes some of the rise in demand to first-time buyers looking to beat the end of the Stamp Duty holiday on March 24.

While average selling prices have not changed at all since the start of the year, this is masked by a small increase in London offsetting price falls across six regions in the North and Midlands, and unchanged prices across the South-East, East Anglia and Yorkshire & Humberside. However, Hometrack points out that it is a scarcity of supply that remains a key feature of the market.

Hometrack director of research Richard Donnell said: “As investors and first-time buyers have no properties to sell, the growth in demand outpaced the increase in supply across nearly all regions.“Over the last six months, there has been only a small (1.5%) increase in the supply of housing and this scarcity continues to act as a support to pricing.”He added: “While the seasonal pick-up in demand is to be welcomed, the fundamentals facing the housing market remain largely unchanged: the average time to sell, for example, remains at relatively high levels and the balance of supply and demand remains in negative equity.“In the short term, a lack of housing for sale is set to underpin prices, while market activity will benefit from the support of first-time buyers as they race to beat the ending of the Stamp Duty holiday.”The Hometrack survey is based on responses from around 5,000 estate agents.