The housing market may be slowly recuperating, but home sellers are now in uncharted territory. Would becoming a real estate agent raise our game? For all their challenges, brokers remain undeniably influential—they’re still involved in the vast majority of home sales. That’s why we decided to join their ranks, getting trained as a salesperson so we could see how the industry’s big fish and small fry are adjusting to the new order.

The worst of the home-price nosedive may be over, but selling a home can still feel like an agonizing stalemate. Nationwide, the average home sits on the market for 150 days, up 43% from two years ago, according to Altos Research. In the Burlington, Vt., area where we’re working, the typical high-end house stays on the market for 284 days. To be sure, things aren’t as grim as they once were, with low mortgage rates and Congress’s now-expired tax breaks having lured bargain hunters into the market. But buyers have become ruthless nickel-and-dimers, the pros say, combing the web for sales data, tax records and any other clue that can justify a lowball offer. Homeowners, meanwhile, aren’t hesitating to pull properties off the market if offers are weak. And in many communities, this mutual wariness is slowing sales traffic to a crawl. The real estate cold war is putting unprecedented pressure on the people in the middle: real estate agents. Jackpot winners during the housing boom, these pros sometimes seem like a dying breed today.

By Alyssa Abkowitz, July 15, 2010 WSJ/SmartMoney

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