Real estate agents are next

Take a few more bricks out of the anticompetitive walled garden real-estate agents have built around their unearned 6 percent commissions. The Times reports today on the imminent and much-anticipated launch of Zillow — a site from the founder of Expedia with big backing that will provide more open data on home prices — and throws in other sites aiming to break up the real-estate gang: Redfin, which will allow online bidding and negotiation, and PropertyShark, which takes listings in 15 cities. Add these together and you have the means to knock agents out of pricing and listing and negotiation.

There’s just one thing left: Scheduling visits and accompanying the buyers. I’d love to see someone start a concierge service to do this (and many other tasks): They don’t market or sell the house (hell, real estate agents don’t really, either) but only schedule appointments and accompany prospective buyers. Sellers and buyers can figure out pricing via Zillow; they can bid via Redfin; they can list via PropertyShark or Craigslist; they can handle closing and the next ripoff dying for a competitor — title insurance. And maybe we spend 2 percent on the cost of sale. And we keep 4 percent.

That day is coming — slowly, but it’s coming. The days of businesses that make their money by getting in the way are numbered.