The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which carried out the research, wants to see stronger regulation of estate agents to make sure that first-time buyers are not "flying blind" through the "biggest purchase of their lives".
At present, agents who are not members of a professional body do not have to meet minimum competency standards.
There have been recent signs that more first-time buyers are entering the market following Government efforts to improve conditions and give people with smaller deposits a leg on to the property ladder.
First-time buyers have consistently been making up around two-fifths of house purchases in recent months.
However, RICS said its research found that three in 10 (29%) first-time buyers said they did not have a good understanding of the sales process when buying a home.
More than three-quarters (77%) of first-time buyers believe that consumers' understanding would improve if compulsory regulation of estate agents was introduced and 89% think that buyers would be better protected, RICS said.
Peter Bolton King, RICS global residential director, said: "When making the biggest purchase of their lives, it's important that buyers - and especially those who haven't been through the purchase process before - understand precisely what is involved.
"This is particularly relevant now, with the market now seemingly over the very worst and more first-time buyers in a position to make a move. I would recommend that anyone who is buying or selling a house checks that their agent is a regulated member of a professional body."