New Zealand property prices may have bottomed out in March, and could recover some ground this year, said Chris Tennent-Brown, economist at ASB Institutional.

Monthly figures from realestate.co.nz, which claims to represent 93 per cent of all listings by New Zealand real estate agents, show asking prices on its website rose 1 per cent in March from February to a seasonally adjusted $421,940.

New listings rose 8 per cent to 12,247, and the number of unsold houses fell to 51,980 from 52,672 in the previous month.

"The fact that the amount of inventory has not been lifting significantly, and has actually declined in recent months, has meant that the overall market has kept the market in better balance than during the recession," Tennent-Brown said.

Property prices are "troughing" and may rise by about 3 per cent this year, helped by constrained inventory levels, positive migration and population growth, as well as the flow-on effect on mortgage rates of last month's cut in the official cash rate to 2.5 per cent, he said.

Consents to build new homes slumped to a two-year low in February, according to government figures, partly reflecting the Christchurch earthquake.

Prices may rise as fewer new homes are built, pulling the supply back into line with demand.

The sales figures from realestate.co.nz come after Real Estate Institute figures for February showed the number of sales rose 38 per cent to 4,502 from a record low in January, and the median sale price rose $10,000 to $350,000.

Tennent-Brown said any recovery is likely to be patchy.

The realestate.co.nz numbers show a turnaround underway in the major urban centres, while regional data lags behind.

The March figures show both Wellington and Auckland saw asking prices rise, with Wellington particularly strong with a 4.1 per cent increase, putting it within $2,500 of the peak price reached in 2007.

The Northland and Marlborough regions saw the biggest declines in the month, with prices now at record lows.

Canterbury, which accounts for 15 per cent of the market, continued to feel the effects of the February 22 earthquake which caused $15 billion in damage, with the level of new listings down 36 per cent compared to a year ago.

Prices slipped 2 per cent in the months to $357,986, and time to sell a property rose 16 per cent to 41.2 weeks.

Four regions posted an increase in March in new listings with Waikato the standout showing a 9 per cent increase to 994 new listings, the highest level in over 3 years, according to the realestate.co.nz figures.

Of the 19 regions, eight are now sitting at record high levels of inventory, namely Central Otago, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu/Wanganui, Nelson, Northland, Otago, Taranaki and the Waikato.

In total, provincial NZ, which excludes Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, reached a record peak of inventory of 76.7 weeks which compares with 36.6 weeks in the metropolitan areas.