House price inflation fell back slightly in February, according to the latest survey from the Nationwide building society.
Nationwide doesn't expect big price rises this year
The average UK house price dropped by 0.2% in the month, bringing down the annual rate of increase from 4.4% in January to 3.7% in February.
The average house now costs £158,573, Nationwide said.
However, over the last three months prices have risen, indicating that strength remains in the market.
The building society's economist Greg Fuzesi said: "As we enter the all-important house buying season in March, the prospects for both house prices and interest rate policy will become clearer.
"It will also show whether February's fall is just a pause before the spring rush or the first sign of weak market fundamentals weighing down on prices.
"We expect the weaker economic factors to begin to dominate over the next 2-3 months and to prevent strong house price rises in 2006," he added.
Despite this cautious outlook, a closer examination of the Nationwide's figures show there has been a clear strengthening of house price inflation since last summer.
In the last three months, prices have risen by 2% compared to the previous three months.
This quarter-on-quarter comparison, the best way of examining short term trends, shows that prices have recently been rising at their strongest rate since September 2004.
Despite this, the Nationwide points to various factors that may subdue property prices in the coming months.
It argues that many potential first-time buyers are still being priced out of the market, unless they can rely on relatives to help them buy their first home.
And the building society says landlords taking out buy-to-let mortgages have been a big factor behind the market's recent buoyancy.
It reveals that in the last six months, the number of buy-to-let mortgages in existence has grown by 11% - a much larger increase than the 1.3% rise in the total stock of all outstanding home loans.