First-time buyers of Boston real estate for sale bought more than half of the existing homes sold in February, according to the National Association of Realtors, and helped add to the 5.1 percent increase in sales from the month earlier. Existing home sales in February rose to 4.72 million units in the biggest monthly jump since July 2003.

Lured by a combination of a drastic drop in home prices, expanded Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured loans, record-low interest rates, and an $8,000 federal tax credit, these newcomers are breathing new life into a beleaguered market. Their entry, many hope, will help slow the fall in home prices and sales.

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