-- Buying a home can prove to be a trying experience for even the most seasoned homeowners. But for a first-timer, the emotional roller coaster is especially gut-tugging.

First-time buyers go through a series of emotional highs and lows in the home-buying process, based on 11 key "satisfaction milestones" identified in research from www.RealEstate.com. Those milestones include everything from the initial dreams of homeownership and what that might entail to the harsh realities of home-inspection reports.

The home-buying transaction usually ends on the proverbial high note, with new owners saying they are most satisfied on the first night they spend in their new home.

"What's amazing in many ways is that completing the process is the absolute emotional high. You might have thought it was finding the right house or closing the deal. But that first night in the house the real 'aha,' " said Holly Slaughter, senior marketing manager for RealEstate.com, who oversaw the study.

Before that point, however, it's something of a roller-coaster ride.

When first-timers initially begin thinking about buying, their sense of satisfaction is relatively high. They may be dreaming about the traditional single-family home with the white picket fence and looking at enticing photos of homes for sale on the Internet.

But when they being to grasp what level of purchase is realistic, what the study identified as the "scaling" stage, the satisfaction meter hits its nadir.

"Once you start looking at what you can afford, specific neighborhoods, and getting pre-approved for a mortgage -- things you don't think of when you're in the dreaming phase -- that's when there's a big drop," Slaughter said.

In fact, follow-up interviews with first-time buyers found that the most important lesson learned was that they should have gotten that mortgage approval early in the process, she said.

Once buyers come to grips with reality, emotional satisfaction increases again as they begin viewing properties for sale. Satisfaction sinks again as they "rescale" their expectations based on what they see and then takes off again when they find the house they want to bid on.

Negotiating the deal causes another emotional tumble, which is quickly reversed if the bid is accepted. But reality intrudes again during the inspection process, as emotions take another big drop.

The limbo between inspection and closing is also a down time, and the closing itself does nothing to lift the spirits. It's not until that key goes in the lock of the new home that satisfaction peaks.

"Going from renting to first-time homeownership is quite a bit different than going from apartment to apartment, which you can do in a weekend. The home-buying process involves more time, research and patience," Slaughter said.

"We know consumers feel a little anxious and ill-equipped to handle this whole process," she said. "But once they get into it, consumers really understand that that have to be patient with the process, that it's not something you just jump into, like going into Best Buy and buying an MP3 player."

The Internet has helped level that playing field, as 41 percent of first-time buyers in the RealEstate.com survey reported they used the Web to research home listings, school data, real estate agents, mortgage rates and other housing data.

"The Internet provides consumers, especially first-time homebuyers, with a wealth of information that can help set their expectations and prepare for the ups and downs of the entire process," said Jeff Lyons, general manager of RealEstate.com. "Whether they're looking at listings, finding a Realtor or searching for the best mortgage, it's all at their fingertips."

The study involved hundreds of hours of interviews in surveys and focus groups with more than 2,000 first-time home buyers.

Sixty-two percent of homeowners cited "being patient with the home-buying process" as paramount to staying sane throughout the process, an accomplishment that's easier said than done.

Additional survey findings:

* Forty percent of new homeowners said window coverings were the priority for their first night in a new home.

* Repainting walls is the first home improvement 38 percent of new homeowners make.

* Although 15 percent say they're too broke after buying to make any changes, 14 percent start renovating the bathroom or kitchen.