A multiple listing service (MLS) is a database of current and historic real estate listings in a local area. This database is created, maintained, and paid for by either the National Association of Realtors (NAR) or local real estate professionals. In this MLS guide, we answer “what is MLS in real estate?”, explore how it promotes greater cooperation between listing and buyer’s agents who work at different brokerages, and dive into its other benefits and alternatives.
Did you know?
Real estate agents commonly refer to their specific system as “The MLS.” However, there is more than one active database in the United States. Although numbers fluctuate, there are currently 952 MLS systems certified by Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). Each regional MLS has its own listings; agents pay dues to list and access other agents’ listings on the MLS.
How the Multiple Listing Service Works & How to Get Access
Real estate brokers and agents must pay dues or a membership fee to access each MLS, ranging from $20 to $200, depending on your location. In exchange, the agents receive data about the houses in a neighborhood, including listings, pictures, and information on each home’s square footage and features. Only licensed brokers and agents have access to an MLS. Even though each MLS may have its own practices, most adhere to the guidelines established by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
When agents sign an exclusive listing, they enter photos and property information like price, commission, square footage, and other details into the multiple listing service. Once a property listing is on the MLS, buyer’s agents can access the information and arrange showings for their clients. This ensures that key data about a property is always shared between the two parties.
All (or any) agents who are members of the multiple listing service can co-broke any listing on the MLS. For instance, two agents or brokers can view a shared listing and work together to complete the transaction and split the commission. This involves one agent representing the seller and the other representing the buyer.
Information the MLS Provides to Agents & Brokers
Although it’s easier to get property details today than in the 1800s, the MLS is typically the hub for the most accurate, up-to-date, and comprehensive property details. Agents find details like the square footage and type of property on the MLS. Furthermore, they can also learn about a home’s appliances, annual taxes, utilities, showing procedures, renovations, and expired and foreclosure listings that agents and appraisers can research to calculate home valuations and prepare comparative market analysis (CMA) reports.
The multi-listing options include details about a home’s or property’s history on the market. Real estate agents can see when it was listed, past sale prices, the owner’s name, and the seller’s listing agent’s name and contact information. Although not all fields are required and may not be available on each listing on the real estate multiple listing service, it’s still an excellent tool to research a property to prepare it for sale or answer a buyer’s questions.
History of the MLS
Before the MLS, real estate brokers and agents would gather regularly at offices of their local association to trade information about homes they were trying to sell, hoping this network could help connect them with buyers. After discovering that this ad hoc system lacked efficiency, they agreed to compensate the listing brokers, and the first MLS was born in the late 1800s.
At that time, the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges (now known as the National Association of Realtors, or NAR) endorsed the use of this system by all agents in 1908. From then, it evolved into the modern system in use today—a comprehensive property listing database that is online and fully searchable by several filters, including price, neighborhood, and home features.
Today, through nearly 1,000 MLS databases, real estate brokers share information on listed properties and invite other agents to cooperate in the sale in exchange for compensation if they produce the buyer. It benefits buyer and seller agents in various ways (listed below) and has become a cornerstone for real estate agent success.
Benefits of Using a Multiple Listing Service
The original MLS was designed to help speed up the information-sharing process between buyers’ and sellers’ agents. However, there are many other reasons successful agents rely on an MLS today. Click on the examples below to learn more about the benefits:
The most apparent benefit for real estate agents who use the MLS is gaining access to the most extensive data on any given property. Provide your clients with more accurate and in-depth information about individual properties or your local real estate market.
MLS listing agents can also use MLS data to create comparative market analysis (CMA) reports and develop pricing recommendations. You can use CMAs to help gain listing leads, accurately price seller properties, and help buyers determine if a home is reasonably priced. By using the data available on the MLS, you can build trust and provide a premium service to your clients that lead to referrals and repeat business.
MLS databases are intended to be the most accurate and authoritative sources for property information. Because they are managed and regulated by local state or county real estate boards, you can be assured that the real estate agent listed on the MLS is the one working with the sellers. Plus, there are often additional forms and details attached to MLS listings. This is particularly important for property disclosures like floor plan diagrams and neighborhood reports.
Check out our 9 Strategies on How to Get More Real Estate Listings article to get more real estate listings based on cost, difficulty, time, and agent experience for various points in the homeseller’s journey. Also, read the 9 Ways to Get Real Estate Referrals article to grow your business effectively.
Since the MLS was created as a tool for real estate professionals, it isn’t available to the general population, including homeowners. To access the MLS, you must have a real estate license and pay the appropriate membership fee. This makes it more challenging for a for sale by owner (FSBO) to buy or sell a home without an agent, giving you a significant marketing advantage.
In addition, many MLS systems connect to multiple third-party advertising platforms like Zillow, Redfin, or Realtor.com to display listings. Any agent with a listing feed plugin enabled on their website will automatically display your MLS listing on their site. This makes your property available to agents and potential clients as they explore the internet for the perfect home.
The MLS provides the same property information to all licensed real estate professionals. That means it doesn’t give advantages to large real estate brokerages over small or individual brokers. As long as you have access to the MLS, you have the best real estate market information and are eligible to assist in real estate transactions.
Since you can feel confident the agent and contact information listed on the MLS is correct, you can schedule showings without messaging multiple numbers. Save time and energy because as you won’t need to manually call each lead and verify if the provided contact information is accurate.
Additionally, feedback is crucial during real estate showings as it aids in understanding how buyers view the property. A fresh pair of eyes can help you see things differently and guide you in making changes that will increase the property’s marketability.
Many agents use the ShowingTime app to simplify the process further. This app allows buyers’ agents to automatically schedule appointments, communicate with clients, and add feedback for listing agents. Also, ShowingTime provides members with the tools they need to succeed, including online scheduling, in-depth reports, and analytics.
Alternatives to Using the MLS
While the MLS is vital to a real estate agent’s toolkit, it isn’t the only real estate listing platform available. Whether you are a licensed real estate professional or not, it’s wise to use the reach of each available platform to your advantage, which will often mean using them in combination for maximum reach.
A few popular alternatives to the multiple listing service are:
Real estate agents who want to generate sales leads per location
Agents and brokers looking to generate leads and advertise on a single platform
Real estate professionals seeking affordable pricing structure for property advertising
Depends on the ZIP code, but typically around $20 to $60 per lead
Depends on the ZIP code, but pricing starts at around $200 per month
$29 per lead
Don’t forget about the power of social media. Maximize your reach by listing a property on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. You can also find highly targeted audiences and generate real estate leads with Facebook groups and Instagram hashtags.
What is MLS in real estate? It is a shared database of property listings created, maintained, and paid for by real estate professionals for the exclusive use of real estate agents and brokers. Although there are alternative real estate platforms, the MLS provides incomparable data accuracy and exclusivity, making it a vital tool for real estate professionals.