I’ve been using Redfin to look for a house, and it’s pretty great. Its listings seem comprehensive, it gives you powerful search and comparison abilities, it reduces your realtor fees, and it in general does what you would want a web-based realty service to do.
And it’s a great example of and template for web-mediated service industries, and a good reason for why you shouldn’t imagine that you can keep service-related jobs onshore in the way you couldn’t keep manufacturing jobs. As far as I know, Redfin employees are in fact all local, but there’s no real reason they have to be. There can be a few low-paid people in your area to get you into houses, and then everyone else could be located in India.
These kind of web-mediated services are on the rise, and though they can be tricky to figure out precisely how to implement, the really good ones are powerful and disruptive. As I look forward into house ownership, I find myself wondering how to do web-mediated contractors. A Redfin-like model for general contractors, part DIY with web tools, part less-hands-on experts, seems like it has some real potential.