Today, he will unveil a beta-test version of Zillow.com, the latest website to offer property information that has until recently been beyond the reach of the average buyer or seller who didn't engage a real estate agent.

As Barton sees it, Zillow can be the real estate equivalent of the auto world's Kelley Blue Book. By typing in an address, the user gets an instant valuation of one home or all homes on a street or neighborhood.

To get that information, Zillow would pore over county records and other government data on 60 million homes nationwide. It then would use proprietary computer analysis to determine current values, which the company calls "zestimates."

The Seattle-based company's objective is to create as complete a record as possible on individual properties. Providing a home's history, including all past sales transactions, tax assessments and other details, should help put buyers and sellers on better footing during a real estate transaction, Barton says.

By cracking open the real estate process, "consumers will make better decisions and become smarter," Barton said during a brief demonstration of his website. "People want to be empowered with information so they can take control of what is scary and difficult and fraught with frustrations."

Giving consumers more access to information could lead them "to negotiate more economically sound prices with real estate agents," he said. Many people don't know values even in their own neighborhoods, he said.

Zillow could even lead to lower commissions — much like Expedia did with travel fees, Barton said.

Get the full story at the Los Angeles Times