When I was looking for an apartment in Manhattan, my broker was my best friend. Not only did I tour scores of places with him (this was during the pandemic, so I saw him more than anyone else), but when I finally found one, he managed the drama when the seller backed out — twice. My BBFF also spent many hours putting together my application for the co-op board, including strategizing with me about how to present myself, from what to wear to which promises to make.

As a first-time buyer with unpredictable income, I needed lots of support. And it helped that the seller paid his fee — if I’d had to pay him myself, I probably would have been a little less needy. The next time I buy an apartment, however, I may not need so much hand-holding.

The internet has transformed the market for services, just as mechanization changed the production of goods. There was a time when you could not buy a plane ticket without a travel agent. Now that you can shop flights yourself, there is less need for their services. Travel agents still exist, but there are fewer of them, and those that remain have to offer exceptional service and expertise.

Technology is also transforming the real estate industry. You used to need to be a licensed Realtor to view listings, for example. Now anyone can see homes for sale on the web. But the real transformation is yet to come — and it’s the result of litigation as much as technology.

It is remarkable that once the Internet became widely available in about 2000, the number of travel agents plummeted — but the number of real estate agents increased. (In fact, the numbers in the accompanying chart, which include just the number of people working in a real estate offices, may be an underestimate; the National Association of Realtors claims more than 1.5 million dues-paying members.)

Why didn’t the internet do to real estate agents what it did to travel agents? After all, real estate seems like it should have been a market ripe for disruption, and there were a lot of attempts to do so. The reason is a market distortion called the National Association of Realtors.

While the NAR has lost its control over listings, it still sets the terms on fees. That may be about to change. Last fall a federal jury ruled that the NAR colluded with several large brokerages to keep commissions artificially high. The NAR has a rule that sellers pay the fees of both buyer and seller; the total fee is usually about 6% of the sales price, split between the two brokers. And that commission rate is built into the sales price.

The result is that the buyer does not negotiate the fee, and there is an incentive to keep it high. The rule helps explain why commissions are much higher in the US compared to other countries, and have not fallen despite changes in the market and technology.

In other countries, where there is no such rule, buyers often don’t even use brokers; in the UK and Australia, fewer than 5% do. People their just look at the listings themselves and negotiate the price. And sometimes brokers unbundle their services: Sellers might pay for help staging a home or advice on how to price it, then show it themselves. When I was a student in the UK, I was renting a flat when it was put on the market. My fellow students and I were expected to be available to show it — the broker (buyers’ or sellers’) never did. No surprise, brokers in the UK typically are paid only 1.3% in fees.

The recent judgement against the NAR suggests that this kind of disruption is coming to the US market. Under the ruling, sellers are not required to pay the buyers’ broker. So far, not much has changed: The industry still expects the seller to pay. But New York is already changing how the rate is set. And the norm of the seller paying will not last in a market with tight inventory where buyers don’t have much leverage. Eventually, buyers will need to pay brokers themselves.

The implications for homebuyers are profound, because many of the services that brokers offer aren’t always necessary. There is no need for someone to find you listings and look at them with you. Sure, their perspective and market knowledge is nice to have, but it’s expensive. Services that may be more necessary — such as “a co-op board whisperer” in Manhattan — can be unbundled. For relatively straightforward transactions, some buyers may decide not to use a broker at all.

The result will be less work and money for brokers. Many agents who sell real estate casually — as a side gig, or to accommodate their schedules as they raise a family, or as a second career — may leave the market. Like travel agents, real estate agents will need to offer more value and be more available to those willing to pay. They can also be my friend, so long as they don’t charge too high a commission.

Allison Schrager is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering economics. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, she is author of “An Economist Walks Into a Brothel: And Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk.”