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Multiple Listings Service - FAQs

If you are planning to buy or sell a home, you have probably heard about the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), but have a lot of questions about what the MLS really is, and how you can search homes on your local MLS. We hope the following Frequently Asked Questions and answers will help.

What is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)?

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a database of homes for sale. There is not actually one MLS, but rather hundreds of MLS systems across the country that each serve a particular market area. In some markets, there can be more than one MLS service the same or overlapping areas.

MLS systems were originally established so that real estate brokers and agents had a common system for advertising home listings, and for establishing the fees and conditions for the agents/brokers who represent the buyer and seller of a property. The MLS is thus an important part of how real estate brokers do business - it is the common database of listings, and it lets each agent and broker know not just the price and characteristics of a property, but also the basis for how they will be compensated if they represent a buyer for that listing.

How Can I Find My Local MLS?

It is difficult to find websites that have complete MLS listings. Many websites claim to have comprehensive listings, but do not. Also, many broker and agent websites only advertise their own listings.

One way to find your local MLS is to use Home Listings Finder (www.homelistingsfinder.com). HomeListingsFinder tries to locate a real estate broker in each market area who provides free access to MLS listings.

Who Owns and Controls the MLS?

Ownership and control of each local MLS will vary, since there are hundreds of MLS systems. In general, a given MLS is owned and controlled by local real estate brokers. This is because the MLS systems were created as a way for local brokers to advertise listings to each other, and to establish fees, conditions and compensation should one broker bring a buyer of a home that is listed by another broker. Thus, real estate brokers tend to own and control the MLS systems because they set it up to help facilitate their business. Even though brokers compete with each other, they cooperate through the MLS system to make it easier for them to do business.

Who Provides the MLS Listings?

MLS listings are usually provided by local real estate agents and brokers. When a seller uses a real estate agent or broker to sell their home, the agent/broker will enter information about the home, and the broker's fees and conditions, into the local MLS system.

Some MLS systems allow parties who are not agents or brokers to place listings in the MLS. However, this is rare.

If a home seller wishes to put a listing on the MLS, but does not wish to use a real estate agent to represent them, they can still ask an agent to place the listing in the MLS for a fee. Many agents and brokers are happy to do this, especially since many sellers end up asking for more help once the listing is active.

Are All Listings in the MLS?

No, but most are. Sellers who do not use a real estate agent usually do not have their listings in the MLS, and agents and brokers may not necessarily put a listing in the MLS. In most markets, agents and brokers are required to put listings in the MLS, but they will often wait a few days before doing so in the hope that one of their own agents will bring a buyer for that home. When this happens, that listing broker will receive both the buyer and seller commission, so it is in their interest to wait and see if they can find a buyer. This is called a "pocket listing". Most MLS systems have rules that limit the amount of time a broker can wait before putting a listing in the MLS, so most listings are posted eventually, though some may already be sold when they show up on the MLS.

Why is the MLS the Best Source of Listings?

The MLS is typically the best source of listings because it is the most complete source of listings, and the listings are most up to date. In most markets, agents and brokers must put their listings on the MLS before they appear on any other medium, and they are required to enter details about the property, so the MLS tends to have the most complete listings. Almost all other listing services either get their data from the MLS, or aggregate their data from multiple, incomplete sources. Thus, almost every other source of listings is either less up to date than the original source MLS system, or has only a subset of listings.

Can Consumers (Buyers and Sellers) Access the MLS?

In most areas, consumers can access MLS listings, though there are still a few areas where MLS listings are restricted to access only by real estate agents and brokers. Many years ago, MLS listings were only available to agents and brokers, and consumers had to go into the broker's office to view MLS listings in a book. With the emergence of the Internet, many brokers have learned that they should make listings available to consumers online.

Online Internet access to listings will vary by market. Typically, MLS listings are available through broker websites, and/or through a single MLS website sponsored by the MLS and local brokers. There is no one source for MLS listings - you have to find the local broker websites or MLS website that has the listings. Note that not all MLS listings are available to consumers, even if the MLS listings are shown online (see "What is IDX" below for an explanation).

What is IDX? What is Broker Reciprocity?

When you view MLS listings on a real estate broker website, you may see the terms "IDX", "Internet Data Exchange" or "Broker Reciprocity". This refers to an arrangement by local real estate brokers for sharing and displaying MLS listings on a broker website. Basically, IDX is a system that determines which MLS listings appear on broker websites. If a broker does not want their listings to appear on the websites of other real estate brokers, they can "opt out" of IDX. However, when brokers opt out, they cannot show listings of other brokers on their website, reducing the value and utility of their website.

The IDX system was set up to allow brokers to control where "their" listings are displayed, since many brokers were threatened by the idea of "free access" to listings on the Internet, and there are home sellers who do not want their listing publicly displayed. Because of IDX, there are MLS listings that you cannot access online. However, in most markets, this is a small percentage.

In some areas, brokers are allowed to show complete listings to consumers who register with that broker, or who work with a real estate agent who can give them a special login that provides access to full listings. This is often known as "VOW" (Virtual Office Website). This system was introduced since many agents felt that since they could provide full MLS listings to consumers who visit them in their office, they should be allows to show complete listings when the consumer visits their website (their "virtual office"). Where VOW is allowed, consumers can see complete listings, and are not limited by the IDX rules.

Are MLS Listings Available on Other Web Sites?

MLS listings are often available on websites other than local broker websites or the locally sponsored MLS website. Many websites that "aggregate" listings will get their data directly from local MLS systems, or from individual brokers in each market. Because these websites have to go to each MLS and/or broker, and because many MLS systems and brokers refuse to share their listings, these websites tend to have incomplete listings.

Do I Have to Register to Get Access to MLS Listings?

This will depend on the website showing the listings (usually a real estate broker website), and on the rules of the local MLS. Many MLS systems and brokers allow full access to listings without a registration, while others will require you to register. Some will show limited data without a registration, and then ask you to register to see the detail data.

You should feel free to register to see MLS data, since there are rules that brokers must follow for privacy and email spam. Registering will not obligate you to use that broker, and you can ask to be removed from their email and calling lists so you will not be bothered.

Do I Have to Pay A Fee to Access MLS Listings?

In almost all cases, MLS access is free (though you may be asked to register). At this writing, only one MLS system has tried to charge for MLS access, and they have retreated from this rather bad idea. If you are asked to pay a fee for MLS access, don't do it. Instead, contact a local broker and ask if you can get free access to the MLS.

How Do I Put My Home in the MLS?

In general, you will need to ask a local real estate agent or broker to list your home in the MLS. In almost all cases, the agent/broker will place your home on the MLS for no extra fee if you have engaged them in a standard agreement for them to represent you to sell your home. Often, agents will do this for a fixed fee (a few hundred dollars) if that is the only service you want from them.

Can For Sale By Owner Listings Be Put in the MLS?

Usually MLS rules prevent For Sale By Owner (FSBO) listings. However, in most areas you can pay an agent a fixed fee to place your listing in the MLS, and not provide any other service.

However, note that by placing your listing in the MLS, you will likely have to specify what compensation is provided to a real estate agent who brings a buyer for you home. If you do not provide compensation, agents who represent buyers are not likely to show that home to their buyers.

Who Sets the Rules For Each MLS?

The rules for each MLS are set by local real estate brokers. This could be a few brokers who "control" the local MLS, or by all brokers in the market who are members of that MLS.

In addition, there are a number of local and national laws and regulations that MLS systems must follow, and also rules set by the National Association of Realtors. These laws, regulations and rules are put in place to protect consumers, and provide some level of consistency between market areas.

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