First-time buyers often find out too late that buying a home can be an emotionally-charged experience.

Once they plunge into the process, they find out how addictive it can be. Suddenly, instead of seeing a couple of houses in the neighborhood on a Sunday, they’re circling everything that might be a possibility. They’re tuning into the Sunday morning television infomercials, where local brokers advertise current listings. They’re calling friends and family to see if they’ve seen any “for sale” signs on houses that look interesting.

By the time they look around, they’re head over heels in the thick of it – and there’s almost no turning back. So when it comes time to make an offer, they can hardly think straight.

Sound like a fate worse than cramming for a mid-term exam? It doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips for first-time buyers on how to handle some of the most common emotional and family-related problems that crop up throughout the home-buying process.

-Problem: Should I buy or should I rent?

Even if you know you’d be better off financially if you buy a home, you might still be better off renting. Here are some legitimate reasons to rent: You don’t know where you want to live; the neighborhood you want is too expensive; you’re at risk for a job transfer; your company seems to be on shaky ground; if you carry a large amount of personal debt (credit card, car or school loans); or, if you don’t have enough cash for a down payment.

If you can’t deal with the potential risk of an investment in real estate, you should also consider renting for awhile longer. While real estate has steadily appreciated over the years, there have been some serious bumps along the way, most recently in California and the Northeast. For much of the 1990s, a lot of folks who bought in 1988 or 1989, when the market was at its high, lost a significant amount of equity; essentially, what they owed on their mortgages far exceeded what they could get if they sold their homes. While some

of these markets have since recovered, it took 8 to 9 years, and dips in the market could always happen again.

-Problem: I feel like I’m being talked into buying a home I can’t afford.

The idea behind homeownership isn’t to bankrupt you. If you do it right, you can set yourself up financially for years to come. Of course, not every real estate agent or mortgage lender will be able to advise you correctly, and it might sometimes feel as though the agent might be encouraging you to spend more than you’re comfortable with.

The answer is simple. It’s called “underbuying.” Basically, you spend less money than you can afford to. That will leave you with more cash for other investments, and to treat yourself and your family to a few meals out and perhaps a vacation or two.

-Problem: It’s depressing to save for my down payment.

While many first-time buyers can afford to make the monthly mortgage payments on a home, they find it difficult to save cash above and beyond their monthly payments for a down payment.

If you regularly (every week or every paycheck) pay yourself first, you’ll soon start to see your house fund rise in value. That sense of accomplishment, and your increasing ability to reprioritize your budget should give you the extra incentive you need to get yourself over the down payment blues.

Remember, saving the first $1,000 is toughest. After that, it seems to add up more quickly.

Also, if you’re having trouble saving, you may be a good candidate for a low-down payment loan. Today, you can buy a home with as little as 3 percent down (plus a little money for closing costs and fees). Talk to your lender about the different options available to you.

-Problem: My divorce wrecked my credit.

Rarely does a divorce end happily for all. More likely, everyone ended up with a collection of tattered emotions.

If you have a credit problem, you need to talk to a lender about which problems stand in your way of getting approved for a mortgage. Purchase a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Trans-Union, and Equifax).

Start writing to creditors and try to negotiate an end to the finance charges and a workout schedule.

If you haven’t canceled your joint cards, do so immediately. Pay of whatever bills you can. Even if your ex-spouse set out to maliciously hurt you, don’t take it out on your kids. If you owe spousal or child support, continue making your regular payments, or you could find yourself in even worse trouble.

-Problem: I have a great job and lousy credit, and my fiancé has great credit and a lousy job history.

Mismatched careers and credit histories is more common than you think. In the real world, rarely do two spouses or partners bring in exactly the same amount of money. Often, our self-esteem gets caught up in the jobs we hold and salary we earn.

From a lender’s point of view, mismatched careers and credit histories mean no single person in the relationship can qualify to buy a home. The best thing you both can do is to stay put at your jobs for at least a year, and work on improving the credit history that needs help. With diligent work, you should be able to resolve your problem within six months to a year.

-Problem: I don’t know how to approach my partner about a partnership agreement.

Often, first-time buyers are overwhelmed by any talk about money. At the first mention of debt and obligations, they clam up. But if you’re buying a house with someone you’re not married to, or borrowing their signature so that you can qualify, you must face all the tough issues upfront – or they could come back to haunt you.

Find a quiet, relaxing time to bring up the issue of a partnership agreement. Together, you should find a real estate attorney who can review your various options and help you outline the goals of the partnership. If the conversation gets sticky, and you find yourself unable to resolve even the most simple of conflicts, you may want to rethink your choice of a home-buying partner.

-Problem: We can’t agree on what we want to buy.

You and your spouse or partner should each write up a wish list and a reality check. A wish list is everything you’ve ever wanted in a home, from size, shape and amenities, to school district and the ideal commute to work. The reality check is everything you can’t live without. Once you’ve completed your separate lists, sit down and put them together.

The wish list and reality check are your road maps to a successful home purchase. If you and your spouse or partner aren’t in synch before you approach a broker, you may convey mixed signals which could wreak havoc with your home search.