A multiple listing service (MLS) is a database (typically electronic) established by real estate brokers to record and provide data about listed properties. An MLS allows brokers and agents to see other properties for sale to connect home buyers with sellers. The system is based on the real estate principle of, “help me sell mine, I will help you sell yours,” which allows for cooperation in an otherwise competitive industry. Both sellers’ agents and buyers’ agents benefit from a transaction through this arrangement by sharing property information and commissions. The data on MLS databases are updated regularly, to ensure that buyers and sellers are informed correctly about what is currently available on the market. MLS had its early beginnings through catalogs in the 1800s, and today there are more than 800 electronic MLSs that are used by brokers.
There is no governing MLS body, so regional MLSs are created by brokers in local areas. This has resulted in hundreds of regional databases, including listings all over the nation, listed on various real estate websites. To gain access to an MLS, licensed agents and brokers must pay a membership fee. After paying this fee, they then gain access to information on listings in the area such as photos, home features, square footage, price, and purchase history. While each MLS is different regarding procedures, each typically follows the rules prescribed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Each listing on an MLS has an MLS number, which is like a serial number that allows brokers and agents to differentiate between and search for properties easily.
MLS allows buyers’ agents to quickly and conveniently search for all available properties according to the buyers’ needs and allows sellers’ agents to gain increased exposure for their listings. MLSs are also needed to level the playing field in the competitive realm of real estate since listings are consolidated, and not separated solely by the brokerage. By using an MLS system, listings by the smallest brokerage in town can receive the same awareness as listings by the largest brokerage in the region. No matter who a buyer or seller chooses to work with, they can be assured that they will have full access to all properties in the market. Ultimately, MLSs allow for collaboration among agents and brokers, which produces greater benefits on both ends of the transaction.
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