man smiles while looking at multiple listing service on computer

What Is Multiple Listing Service in Real Estate?

The term “Multiple Listing Service” (MLS) refers to hundreds of regional databases that contain information about properties for sale in a given area. If you want to become a part of the real estate industry, you may have a general understanding of MLS. Let’s go deeper into the topic and learn about the origins of MLS, its purpose, and how you will use it as a real estate agent.

Understanding Multiple Listing Service

It’s a common misconception that MLS is one extensive national database of all properties for sale in the U.S. In fact, MLS refers to approximately 600 separate regional databases. The actual number is difficult to pin down as local MLS associations constantly merge and change names.

MLS listings provide essential information about a property for sale, including price, square footage, types and number of rooms, exterior and interior features, and photos. Interested parties may also find information about property tax, utility options, and area schools.

While MLS databases typically offer this information to the public, a real estate agent can access additional information about each property on MLS. As a real estate agent, you will be able to access information about showings, property access, the submission of offers, and commissions. Real estate agents also may be able to access important documents, such as seller disclosures and HOA regulations.

How Does Multiple Listing Service Work?

Each regional MLS has its own listings. Real estate agents pay dues to access and post properties on each one. It’s common for real estate agents to purchase memberships to several MLS databases. MLS access fees typically range from $20 to $50 per month, which agents usually pay themselves.

Again, only licensed real estate agents can post information about homes for sale on the MLS. And it’s their job to make the post as complete, accurate, and attractive as possible.

It’s important to note that “flat fee” listing services exist. These companies market their services to property owners who want to save on real estate agent commissions. These companies will create an MLS listing for a flat fee, which agents and home buyers in the region can access.

History of Multiple Listing Service

You may be surprised to learn that MLS existed well before computers were commonly used. The term “multiple listing” was coined in the late 1800s to describe the practice of real estate agents gathering regularly to trade information about properties they were trying to sell on behalf of their clients.

In 1908, the organization that later became the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) endorsed this system. And the rest – as they say – is history.

Pros and Cons of Multiple Listing Service

Access to information about properties for sale is one significant benefit of MLS in real estate. Here’s why the MLS has been utilized for more than a century.

Benefits of MLS

The MLS ensures that a property for sale is seen by the largest number of people.

The MLS imposes rules regarding the quality and breadth of detail in each listing, making it a good source of information about properties for sale.

The MLS evens the playing field, allowing small brokerages to compete against large brokerages in a region.

Drawbacks of MLS

One of the most significant benefits of the MLS can be a drawback for some property owners. High-profile sellers, such as celebrities or those with high-end properties, may not want their home’s information listed on a public database.

A property not entered onto a regional’s MLS for privacy reasons is called a “pocket listing.” Real estate agents may only share details about these listings with select buyers.

Multiple Listing Service FAQs

Do you have additional questions about MLS? Here are some answers to FAQs.

Are all MLSs the same?

There are hundreds of MLSs in the U.S. Real estate agents may need to belong to more than one MLS to access information regarding properties for sale in a given geographic area.

What’s the difference between an online listing site and an MLS?

Online real estate listing sites may pull information from an MLS. However, MLS has the most current information about properties for sale. In addition, licensed real estate agents can access non-public information on an MLS, including buyer’s disclosures and information about showing the home.

Are all homes for sale on an MLS?

Some sellers use For Sale by Owner sites to market their properties instead of hiring a real estate agent to post their property on the local MLS. Homeowners may do so in hopes of saving money on real estate commissions.

Who can access an MLS?

Only licensed real estate professionals can add information to an MLS.

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1. Marquand, Barbara. “What Is MLS in Real Estate?” NerdWallet. Accessed December 11, 2023.

2. “Multiple Listing Service (MLS): What Is It.”, January 11, 2012.