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Real estate agents turning back to traditional sales

When the recession hit and many real estate agents quit the business, Jason Stockwell’s sales kept going up.

His strategy was basic: Follow the market. He started with traditional deals but quickly shifted to short sales and foreclosures when the industry began to slump.

“I’ve never had a year that I haven’t improved,” said Stockwell, 35, who has been a Realtor for nine years.

Now the nimble Re/Max Results agent, who was recently named the top-selling Realtor in Minnesota for 2012 by consulting company Real Trends, is shifting his strategy again. He’s turning his attention back to traditional sales as the market moves away from distressed properties and regular homeowners are in a position to sell.

It’s a key switch being seen by Realtors nationwide, and could ultimately bolster a profession that took a major beating during the recession.

“The percentage of business that is related to distressed (housing) has declined over the last few years,” said Steve Murray, editor of trade publication Real Trends, which tracks and ranks agents nationwide. “We still see a lot of teams and agents who do a lot of units; a lot of that is still distressed and REO property, no question about it. However … the mix of their more traditional, regular business has come up quite a bit in the last few years.”

Like Stockwell, who sold more than 300 properties worth a total of $41 million last year, many agents have spent the past few years focusing on distressed sales, but are adjusting as the market quickly changes course.

Earlier this month, RealtyTrac reported that foreclosure filings during June fell to their lowest level since the end of 2006, suggesting that fewer homeowners are having trouble staying current on their house payments.

It’s a welcome change for agents, many of whom had no choice but to turn to distressed properties during the recession. The economic downturn forced thousands of Realtors out of the industry, and those who remained had to find a way to stand out.

Many of them, like Stockwell, began to work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which sells reclaimed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac properties and then contracts with agents to handle those transactions. Agents also work directly with banks that deal with distressed properties.

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