The past 12 months saw 12% more first-time buyers take the plunge into the property market than in 2011, according to a report by the Halifax.
About 216,000 people got their feet onto the property ladder in 2012, the highest number since the credit crunch began.
But it is still almost half the 402,800 people who bought their first home in 2006.
The average age of a first-time buyer has increased to 30, from 29 a year ago, and the typical deposit required is now 20% – compared with the deposit of around 10% put down in 2007.
Halifax said the rise was due to more mortgages coming on the market.
The number available has increased by around a fifth since a multibillion-pound Government scheme was launched in August to kick-start lending to firms and households.
The Government also recently introduced the NewBuy scheme, which helps people to buy a new-build home with a fraction of the usual deposit.
Martin Ellis, housing economist at Halifax, said: “The number of first-time buyers has risen to a five-year high, boosted by the improvement in affordability resulting from the reductions in both house prices and mortgage rates in recent years.
“Conditions for potential first-time buyers, however, remain very difficult with problems raising the necessary deposit and concerns over the economic climate.”
He also said that first-time buyers have become increasingly reliant on extra help to give them a push onto the ladder.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) recently estimated that 65% of this sector of the market had financial assistance in mid-2012, compared with 31% seven years earlier.
First-time buyers in London put down the largest average deposit, at £62,356, while those in the north put down the smallest, at £14,936.
The average deposit needed across the UK is £27,984.
The average house price paid by a first-time buyer increased slightly to £139,921 in 2012 – representing a 3% rise compared with 2011.