Citing falling mortgage rates and an upsurge in consumer activity, Columbus Board of Realtors president Gary Parsons said Monday that several factors point to a positive future in the real estate market.

Citing falling mortgage rates and an upsurge in consumer activity, Columbus Board of Realtors president Gary Parsons said Monday that several factors point to a positive future in the real estate market.

That prediction came on the heels of a less than impressive February home sales report that showed 1,123 homes changed hands during the month, a decrease of 23 percent from February 2008.

Parsons said he is encouraged by increased activity following the announcement of the new first-time homebuyer tax credit of $8,000.

"In the last several weeks we've seen an increase in phones ringing as people are realizing the extra buying power they have with the new $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit and other incentives," Parsons said. "We expect the credit to make a significant difference for first-time homebuyers in central Ohio."

He said he also is encouraged by mortgage rates that translate into additional buying power.

"Mortgage rates continue to be near 40-year lows and housing affordability has increased dramatically," Parsons said. "There are some amazing opportunities out there for first-time or move-up buyers."

Parsons said the average sale price of a central Ohio home in February was $133,604, the most affordable average price in years. He noted the buying power of the typical family has risen over the last several months to the point that average buyers can now afford a home costing $20,000 more than a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index.

"That figure is a national number and it will vary among individual buyers, but traditionally central Ohio has always been among the most affordable markets nationwide," he said.

"Home sales continued to lag 2008 levels, reflecting recent layoffs and economic uncertainty, but I'm hopeful historically-low mortgage rates, historically-high housing affordability and the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit will combine to increase sales this spring," Parsons said.

jdonahue@thisweeknews.com