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LONDON, April 10 LONDON, April 10 (Reuters) - British house prices unexpectedly picked up speed in March and sales reached a six-year high, a survey showed on Thursday, suggesting the market is still firmly on the rise, after recent releases indicated a slight loss in momentum.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' (RICS)seasonally adjusted house price balance rose last month to +57 from an upwardly revised +47 in February.
The rise took the balance near to November's +58, which was the highest since June 2002. The March reading beat all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists, who on average predicted a balance of +44.
House prices rose in every area of Britain in March, and by the most in London and the South East.
This was accompanied by rising activity, with RICS's members saying they were at their busiest since February 2008.
The survey contrasted with one by mortgage lender Nationwide last week, which showed house price rises slowed in March for a third straight month, and other recent data.
Britain's housing market, buoyed by record low interest rates and government-sponsored schemes, has been a main driver of the country's consumer-led and surprisingly fast economic recovery.
As demand outstrips supply, contributors to the RICS' survey expected prices nationally to rise by 5.9 percent a year over the next five years, nearly double the 3.1 percent forecast this time last year.
Bank of England officials have played down suggestions that the housing market is overheating but have said they are vigilant about momentum in the market. The Bank refocused its Funding for Lending Scheme away from mortgage lending and dedicated it exclusively to business lending at the start of this year.
But finance minister George Osborne said last month that the government will extend its Help to Buy scheme of providing equity loans to buyers of newly built homes to the end of the decade, as the government trys to tackle shortage in supply. (Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Susan Fenton) (Reporting by Jeremy Gaunt)