THE number of homes changing hands in Scotland has gone up compared to this time last year, new figures have shown.

A report by Lloyds TSB Scotland found property sales during the first three months of this year were almost 10% higher than those in the first quarter of 2011.

Although the market is showing no signs of returning to the boom years before the economic downturn, experts are cautiously optimistic the upturn will continue.

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However, they are warning that overall the market remains "in the doldrums", and that confidence among house-buyers is still low. Higher-than-expected inflation continues to press already constrained household budgets, meaning there is less money going into the housing market.

A "holiday" from stamp duty on properties valued below £230,000 also helped fuel house sales, but has now been brought to an end by Chancellor George Osborne.

Donald MacRae, chief economist at Lloyds TSB Scotland, said: "Consumer confidence had been at recession levels at the end of 2011 but has since become less negative in the first quarter of 2012.

"A high level of retail price inflation in excess of the increase in earnings continues to squeeze disposable income. The Scottish housing market has shown a slight pick-up in sales at the beginning of the year influenced by the change in stamp duty.

"There is no sign of a return to the levels of prices and transactions of 2007 but equally no precipitous falls in either house sales or house prices. The Scottish housing market remains in the doldrums."

According to Lloyds Scottish House Price Monitor, house prices fell north of the Border by 2.7% between January and the end of April. Compared to a year ago, this represents an overall fall of 4.4%, meaning the average Scottish house price is now £148,024.

Michael Luck, managing director at estate agents Slater, Hogg & Howison, said two distinct sectors are fuelling the slow recovery in Scotland's property market. He said: "Property is still selling, and in some cases selling well. But it depends on two things. Either the property is in great condition and people can walk right in, or it is in very poor condition and will need a lot of work – and that is reflected in the price."

The Lloyds TSB report says the Scottish economy is expected to grow during the rest of the year, following a period of volatility towards the end of 2011. Property sales have halved since the start of the recession in 2008, and the average house price is now 89% of its peak three years ago.

Bob Cherry, head of residential property at CKD Galbraith, said the fortunes of the property market varied across the country. He added: "We have 12 offices across Scotland, and some are doing better than others. The market in Edinburgh and Fife, for example, is doing well but it is not so good in the west.

"Overall the market remains flat and although transactions are up on last year we are coming at them from a much lower base than we did five years ago."

Blair Stewart, partner in Strutt & Parker's Edinburgh office, said: "Along with most of the other agents we have noticed a marked increase in activity in 2012, although the activity fluctuates from week to week with no identifiable pattern and trading conditions are varied across Scotland.

"We saw a significant increase in viewing numbers in February, March and April with a number of high-end properties going under offer, notably three in excess of £2 million in the Grange area of Edinburgh through Strutt & Parker in March.

"Our analysis has shown there is a distinct lack of fresh property coming to the market but it is selling reasonably quickly when it does.

"Many prospective buyers are renting and waiting for their moment to get back on the property ladder."