The rise of online services like Trulia, Zillow, and Redfin loosened the real estate industry's stranglehold on property information. Now these sites are adding Web 2.0-style social-networking features to further democratize the buying and selling process.
Perhaps the best of the Web 2.0 apps is Trulia Voices. Launched in May, it's something like a Yahoo Answers for real estate. Questions about local housing trends are submitted by home sellers and buyers, and answers are provided, for the most part, by real estate agents. "It taps into a deep knowledge base about local real estate that's already out there," says Trulia CEO Pete Flint. "Today, people are asking more questions."
The housing downturn has made buyers and sellers even hungrier for information about their local market, while prompting previously Web-phobic real estate agents to offer free advice in the hope of attracting clients. Questions range from "Should I increase the buyer's agent's commission?" to "In what neighborhood are the best elementary schools?" Experts are ranked according to who provides the most relevant answers as judged by the participants. "The real estate industry has been late to adopt technology," Flint says, "but now we're seeing a real turnaround."