Buying a home can be confusing, time-consuming, and mentally exhausting. If you don’t feel like you have someone — or something — to help you through the process, it can be overwhelming.

Finding the right information can be an excellent first step toward buying a home. Good information is readily available, and much of it is targeted toward first-time buyers.

But you have to be careful about where you find your information. Everyone in the real estate industry, from real estate agents, to mortgage lenders, to Fannie Mae, a government-chartered private corporation that operates in the secondary mortgage market, has developed pamphlets and booklets, and worksheets that purport to tell you everything you need to know about buying a home.

The problem with such information is that some of these sources may only scratch the surface. They may or may not present information in context, and include everything you might have a question about. These companies provide this information as marketing tools designed to lure in home buyers and their business.

It’s best to go to a number of sources for a well-rounded portfolio of information. Here are some suggestions about where to start:

  1. Newspapers and Magazines. Generally, your local newspaper’s real estate section will have good articles about all phases of the home buying and selling process. They will quote experts, teach you how to run numbers, and discuss various issues relating to the process. Magazines like “Money” and “Smart Money” tend to have only one or two stories each issue relating to residential real estate. What they have, however, is usually solid information.

If you read the real estate sections of newspapers and magazines over a long period of time, you’ll eventually learn about almost everything related to the process. The problem is that you have to wait a long time for the information. The good news is that you can usually trust the information to be accurate.

  1. Pamphlets and Booklets. Your local real estate agent and mortgage broker will have lots of these lying around the office. The temptation is to pick them up and stuff them into a bag as if they were gold. While booklets, pamphlets, and worksheets can be helpful, they tend to barely scratch the surface. Still, the debt-to-income worksheet provided by the mortgage broker can help you quickly assess how much you can afford to spend on a home.

Fannie Mae (800-FANNIE-7) provides a free longer booklet that summarizes the home buying process rather succinctly. While it doesn’t delve into the problems you may encounter and solutions you’ll need, it does lay out the path you’ll probably take.

  1. Homeownership Classes. Consumer Credit Counseling Service is a non-profit credit counseling agency. With more than 1,600 offices nationwide, they provide consumers with help restructuring credit problems and setting up a budget. Many of the offices in larger metro areas also offer free or very low cost homeownership classes that are worth exploring.

Also, non-profit agencies that specialize in homeownership services will often offer classes for first-time buyers that teach how to save for a down payment, clean up your credit, and how to budget for the costs of homeownership. As a side benefit, those who successfully complete the program may be eligible for special programs and down payment assistance. Check your local housing agency for information on other non-profit homeownership agencies that operate in your area.

  1. Home Buyer Fairs. I spend a lot of time flying around the country to talk at home buyer fairs. Typically, these fairs are either free or very low cost ($5 per person) for a day’s worth of information. Often, the fairs will include a mini-trade show made up of real estate firms, mortgage lenders, personal finance companies, non-profit associations, and often some government agencies. The day is an opportunity to hear good speakers talk about the home buying process, and to ask questions about your own situation. There’s no obligation, just an opportunity to learn as much as you can.

  2. The Internet. There are more than 12,000 real-estate related web sites that you can peruse. A good place to start is the International Real Estate Directory (http://www.ired.com) which lists all of the web sites and rates the best ones out there. You can find local real estate firms, national and local mortgage lenders, and list of homes that are FSBO (for sale by owner). Before you start your search for a mortgage, check out Fannie Mae’s new HomePath site (http://www.homepath.com) for information about lenders, and the lending and home buying process.

  3. Books. If you visit your local bookstore (or go to the largest online bookstores at www.amazon.com), you’ll find a couple of shelves full of real estate-related titles. I’ve contributed to the collection with a couple of books for home buyers (100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and 10 Steps To Homeownership: A Workbook for First-Time Buyers) and one for home sellers (100 Questions Every Home Seller Should Ask). But there are others there as well worth taking a look at, including Alan and Denise Fields’ Your New House, 2nd Edition, which is a must-read for anyone buying or building a new home.

The nice thing about books is that you get the entire story about buying (or selling or building) a home at the same time. You can read the book at your leisure, refer back to it, and keep it with you as you go out and start to see homes.

Together, all of these sources of information, as well as the occasional radio or television show, will help you define what you want in a home, and help you figure out how to get there. Your biggest problem won’t be finding information, but knowing how to use it wisely.