Is real estate profession wearing 'For sale' sign?

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Don't be surprised if the greeter at Wal-Mart is the guy who sold you your house. The housing market's decline has sent once-successful realty agents scrambling for second jobs or dumping the profession altogether.

According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, Realtors, brokers and builders whose incomes rely on sales commissions, all took a beating these past few years as the housing market imploded.

The National Association of Realtors reports that the median income for Realtors and brokers fell to $36,700 last year from a high of $49,300 in 2004. Membership in the group dropped from 1.35 million to 1.14 million from September 2008 to September 2009.

Where have all the agents gone? Traditionally when the sales market slowed down, real estate agents would fall back on the related fields of doing appraisals or selling title insurance. But this recession has been so lingering and so deep, those options have been impacted as well and are less available.

Some agents, handy with a camera, have set up shop as real estate photographers -- shooting MLS photos for their colleagues with listings. Others, with an eye toward interior design, now provide home staging services. More than a few have jumped on the speeding train and become certified foreclosure agents.

One enterprising agent, Riverside Georgia's Cassandra Black, began Foreclosure Cleanup in 2008, a service cleaning out foreclosed homes for banks. She's also a leading seller of ebooks on how to do what she did -- or open any business in a down economy.

As for the rest of the displaced agents? A few who socked away their nuts for the winter -- make that nuclear winter -- may just be sunning themselves on a cheap beach in Mexico. Or filing out their application for Starbucks.
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