Most consumers think U.S. homes are affordable and the time is ripe to buy as many expect prices to rise in the next year, a new survey showed on Wednesday.

U.S. home buyers remain worried about the economy. But with average home prices down about 30 percent nationally from 2006, mortgage rates low and federal tax credits still in play, more than 80 percent of buyers see this as a good time to purchase, a Century 21 Real Estate LLC poll found.

The First-Time Home Buyers and Sellers survey by the Realogy Corp. unit polled consumers who bought or sold their first home within the past year or planned to do so within the next year.

Today's market presents a generational opportunity for home buyers and current home owners looking to leverage their market position, Rick Davidson, president and CEO of Parsippany, New Jersey-based Century 21, said in a statement.

The housing market is showing signs of stabilizing after its deepest plunge since the Great Depression, though a rapid recovery is highly unlikely with unemployment hovering just below 10 percent.

Recovery will be sporadic and slow, most analysts agree, constrained by restrictive lending standards and a stockpile of foreclosed properties that must also be sold.

Almost half of first-time home buyers and sellers expect home prices to increase over the next year, the survey found.

Such indications of improved sentiment have been in short supply and eagerly sought in the midst of the important spring home sales season. Spring sales are especially important this year as some major government backstops are yanked.

The Federal Reserve on March 31 ended its purchases of more than $1.4 trillion in mortgage-related securities aimed to hold down mortgage rates, rejuvenate housing and the economy.

Meantime, buyers eligible for an $8,000 first-time home purchase tax credit or a $6,500 repeat-buyer credit need to sign contracts by the end of this month and close on loans by the end of June.

Eighty-four percent of first-time buyers surveyed by Century 21 are aware of the credit and 64 percent of those who are in the market for their first home said they qualify.

The same percentage of sellers were aware of the move-up buyer credit, though just 33 percent said they qualified.

Home prices, the tax credit and low interest rates were the top three reasons first-time buyers decided to enter the market.

Personal/family reasons and home prices were the main factors leading owners to sell their house for the first time.

Home prices also drove about half of the sellers surveyed to move up to bigger homes, and about 37 percent to change neighborhoods.

Losing money and getting offers near their asking price were the main concerns for sellers.

About 40 percent of those polled were more worried about the economy than a year ago, Century 21 said, and market conditions generally favor buyers. However, about half of first-time buyers see prices rising by next spring, helping reestablish a balance between buyers and sellers.

Almost 80 percent of those polled said mortgage rates are either somewhat or very affordable. Low rates influenced 46 percent of owners to sell for move-up reasons and another 43 percent to change neighborhoods.

Thirty-year mortgage rates have averaged around 5 percent through the first three months of this year, rising slightly in April, according to home funding company Freddie Mac.

But as many banks have tightened lending practices, the vast majority also said that getting a home loan is either somewhat or very difficult.

Century 21 said that most of those who moved or plan to move are staying between 10 and 50 miles of their current homes, suggesting market conditions may be spurring the transactions rather than demand for big geographic changes or job relocations.

The on-line survey was conducted with 708 respondents from March 12-16 by MarketTools, Inc.