Joyce M. Rosenberg

NEW YORK: Real estate agents are flummoxed by a housing market that’s still trying to recover a decade after its historic collapse.

Agents are getting higher commissions as home prices rise, but have fewer houses to list because homeowners are reluctant to sell. Many owners don’t want to put their homes on the market until they have more equity to use toward higher-priced properties, agents say. And the uncertain economy has left owners inclined to hold on to their homes. Meanwhile, there are more agents in the market competing for commissions than even just a few years ago.

“Our team is doing well, but I think in general, if there were more houses to sell, we’d be doing so much better,” said Mark Ferguson, a sales team leader with the Pro Realty agency in Greeley, Colo.

Ferguson, who’s been selling real estate since 2001, focused on foreclosed homes during the housing crisis and the early part of the recovery, and went back to traditional home sales in 2013 after most of the foreclosure backlog was cleared. The current lack of inventory was a surprising turn, and is now limiting any expansion plans. Ferguson wants to add another agent to his team, but doesn’t have the jump in sales he’d need to justify further hires. He had nearly $5.8 million in sales during the first quarter of this year, up nearly 6 percent from the first three months of 2015.

The drop in supply can be seen in the latest monthly statistics available from the National Association of Realtors, an industry trade group. In April, the inventory of homes available for sale was down 3.6 percent from a year earlier.

Stiffer competition among real estate agents also makes it harder to make money, especially since the improvement in the economy has made selling real estate more appealing to people in search of work. Membership in the National Association of Realtors totaled 1.17 million at the end of April, up from the post-collapse low of nearly 1 million in 2012. The Realtors had 1.36 million members in 2006, the year that the housing market began its crash.

“Everyone was dropping out of the business in 2008. Now we’re flooded with real estate agents without a lot of inventory,” said Janine Acquafredda, a broker with House N Key Realty in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“The business is just not as much fun as it used to be,” Acquafredda said.