The world's biggest real estate supermarket has celebrated its first birthday, but nobody sent a cake.

Catcalls were more like it: The Resolution Trust Corp. (RTC), the federal agency created to clean up the savings and loan crisis, "is moving far too slowly {in selling its real estate} and is still too hard for the public to work with." This charge came from Norman Flynn, president of the National Association of Realtors.

Other real estate experts accused the agency of dragging its feet on awarding contracts to property managers and marketers.

"It is a travesty," said one industry leader, who requested anonymity, "that in one full year {after the RTC's creation} it has not been able to announce even a single contract" for professional management of the real estate assets under its control. The agency owns or oversees about $17.6 billion worth of real estate, with millions more tumbling into its portfolio every month.

The RTC's response to the birthday contempt? Gary P. Bowen, RTC deputy director for real estate asset disposition, takes the criticism seriously, but asks for understanding.

"Look at what RTC has been asked to do in this start-up year," he said, "going from ground zero with no staff, no computer systems in place to handle a vast and complex set of institutions and properties, and very detailed rules and public oversight mandated by our legislation. Look at all that, and I think you'll come away with a more balanced impression."

In 12 months, the RTC has sold nearly $2 billion worth of real estate nationwide, according to its latest data. These properties have ranged from ticky-tacky Texas town houses to high-profile golf resorts snapped up by Japanese investors. In recent weeks, the RTC said it has sold:

A Colorado estate with pool, pool house and guest house for $1.2 million.

A Pompano Beach, Fla., hotel on the Intracoastal Waterway for $5.8 million.

A 74-unit apartment building in Austin, Tex., for $1.8 million.

Dozens of small commercial, residential and industrial parcels throughout the Sun Belt.

Though the RTC's big-ticket sales get the public attention, its meat-and-potatoes real estate -- the bulk of its portfolio -- is in the form of lower-priced single-family homes and raw land. The RTC owns more than 17,000 one- to four-unit, low- or moderate-priced residential properties. That means price tags of less than $67,500 for one-family homes, less than $76,000 for two-family homes and less than $107,000 for four-family units.

That vast storehouse of low-priced property in warm locations prompts some real estate experts to call it a "treasure trove" for smart investors.

"Given what's happened with the Iraqi situation," said Joseph E. Robert, head of the J.E. Robert Cos., a real estate management firm actively working with the RTC, "I think that some of RTC's properties in the Oil Belt that were simply good deals three weeks ago are now excellent deals."

Real estate turnaround experts said that too many potential small-scale investors don't grasp the long-term economic recoveries already under way in Texas, Colorado and other states heavily represented in the RTC inventory.

By carefully targeting markets with solid prospects for rebounds this decade, investors can cherry-pick property via the RTC that "will make them look very smart five years from now," Robert said.

While real property values are likely to remain soft or experience only modest appreciation in large areas of the Northeast and other regions, prices in the long-distressed Southwest have hit bottom and have no place to go but up, according to Robert.

This makes carefully thought-out acquisitions particularly good bets now for pre-retirees, small investors, corporations and even pension funds.

Asked how best to work with the RTC on small investments, Bowen offered several pieces of advice. First, call the RTC's toll-free asset inventory number, 1-800-431-0600. Using a touch-tone phone, you'll be given a choice of ordering one or more of the RTC's real estate listings, complete with contact phone numbers. The four residential property books go for $15 each (Visa, MasterCard, check or money order). For another $15, you can order the RTC's national land and farm inventory. And for $25 you get its national commercial inventory.

Go straight to the real estate broker listed in the property book to check out specific houses or land parcels. You don't have to work through a government agency.

Under the RTC's appraisal procedures, unsold properties may be marked down later. But "I wouldn't sit back waiting {for a markdown}," Bowen said. "These properties generally are priced right for the market at the time."