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Jan 08, 2024 PropStream

What Is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in Real Estate?

Imagine having a backstage pass to all the homes for sale in your area—along with each property’s description, photos, and seller contact information. That’s what the multiple listing service (MLS) is in a nutshell. But there’s more to it than that.

Key Takeaways:

🔑 The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) serves as a private database crafted by and for real estate professionals. Its primary purpose is to facilitate the sharing of comprehensive information about homes for sale, creating a centralized tool for real estate transactions.

🔑 Contrary to the commonly used term "the MLS," there are approximately 540 regional MLSs in the United States, each typically owned by local real estate associations. 

🔑 The MLS operates as a collaborative platform where seller agents share property listings, and buyer agents utilize it to identify available homes. Access to most MLSs is exclusive to licensed brokers who are dues-paying members.

🔑 The MLS provides a wealth of information, including listing details such as price, address, square footage, and contact information. Combining MLS access with tools like PropStream enhances its power.

What Is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)?

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a private database of property listings created by and for real estate professionals. It’s a tool to help them share information about homes for sale and to facilitate home sales.

Though often referred to as “the MLS,” there are actually about 540 regional MLSs across the U.S.—typically owned by the local real estate associations or groups that formed them. In other words, there is no single, overarching MLS. Furthermore, “MLS” can’t be trademarked or branded because it’s considered a generic term in the U.S.

History of the MLS

The first MLSs were formed in the late 1800s to help real estate brokers share information on properties they were trying to sell. Initially, they met in person before circulating listings via catalogs. However, today, most MLSs are published online.

How Does the MLS Work?

Now that you know what an MLS is, here’s how it works:

Seller agents share their listings on the local MLS, and buyer agents use it to see what homes are for sale. If the buyer agent and their client find a property they’re interested in, they can negotiate a deal with the listing agent.

Keep in mind that most MLSs are only accessible to licensed brokers who are due-paying members of that particular MLS. Consequently, you must work with a local agent or broker to access MLS listings, which can include the following details:

  • Listing price
  • Address
  • Square footage
  • Year built
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Property photos
  • Showing times
  • Seller contact information

Benefits of the MLS in Real Estate

You may wonder why using the MLS is necessary when you can find information on homes for sale on other publicly available real estate websites. Well, most of these sites pull their listing data from MLSs nationwide. So, your local MLS will likely have more current and comprehensive listing data.

Furthermore, using the MLS can benefit everyone involved. Seller agents can increase their listings’ exposure to potential buyers, and buyer agents can give their clients a broader view of what’s on the market. According to the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), over 80% of homes sold in the U.S. are sold on the MLS.

The MLS also helps level the playing field among brokerages. For example, smaller firms can show their clients all the listings on the market instead of just their own.

Finally, most MLSs enforce ethical standards protecting buyers and sellers. This helps prevent violations of fiduciary duty and other industry standards, ensuring a smooth transaction for all involved.

Combining MLS Access with PropStream

MLS access is vital for agents, and it can be especially powerful when used with PropStream’s advanced filtering capabilities and marketing tools.

Don’t have your real estate license or MLS access? PropStream also offers MLS Sales Estimates to help you run comps more accurately and efficiently. Our estimates are guaranteed 99% (or more) accurate based on our proprietary algorithm.

You can even browse MLS Sales Data and Failed Listings from your phone to compare deals on the go.

If you haven’t already, sign up for our free 7-day trial and get 50 leads on us!

Multiple Listing Service FAQs

How are online listing sites different from the MLS?

Online listing sites aggregate listing data from MLS feeds and make them publicly available. Consequently, their listings may not be as complete or current as MLS data.

Do I need a real estate license to access the MLS?

Yes, only licensed real estate brokers and agents can access the MLS. However, some discount brokerages will list your property on the MLS for a flat fee. 

What is an MLS number?

An MLS number is a unique identifier assigned to a property on the MLS. It helps real estate professionals quickly locate and reference particular listings. 

Note: MLS number is not to be confused with NMLS number, which stands for Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System number and identifies mortgage loan officers. 

Do sellers need to list their property on the MLS?

No, you don’t need to use the MLS to sell your home. Other options include listing it as a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) or having an agent market it off the MLS (aka a pocket listing).

Can buyers access the MLS directly?

No. Some MLSs have a public-facing side that provides limited listing information to anyone. However, you’ll still need to be (or work with) a licensed agent or broker to get all the available listing information. 

How accurate and up-to-date is the information on the MLS?

Real estate agents regularly update the MLS to reflect changes in their listings’ status, pricing, and property details.

Published by PropStream January 8, 2024