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What Is The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) In Real Estate?

Josephine Nesbit5-Minute Read
November 22, 2021

The multiple listing service, or MLS, is more than just a database of property listings. The MLS provides buyers with more homes to choose from, and helps sellers get their homes in front of the eyes of a bigger pool of buyers. For real estate brokers, this database allows them to provide a better experience for their clients, even if it means teaming up with their competitors.

The MLS is an invaluable piece of real estate technology. Whether you’re searching for your dream home or looking to hand over the keys to a serious buyer, your local multiple listing service will be an essential part of that process.

What Is The Multiple Listing Service (MLS)?

In real estate, the multiple listing service is an online network of local databases for real estate brokers to share information about their properties for sale with each other. MLSs are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals, allowing brokers to more easily connect buyers to sellers for mutual benefit.

The database provides information on properties for sale, including pictures and detailed descriptions, along with confidential documents like Seller’s Disclosures. The MLS is updated throughout the day, so brokers can find new listings for their buyers almost immediately after they’re listed.

Not everyone can view the MLS. The multiple listing service is a private database only accessible by licensed real estate agents working under a broker who participates in that local network. To gain access to the most up to date MLS listings, you must work with a licensed real estate agent or REALTOR® in your area.

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How Does The Multiple Listing Service Work?

A multiple listing service only covers a specific geographic region or area. A real estate broker who participates in that MLS lists properties within that area for other brokers to see and market to their clients. Brokers can also participate in multiple MLSs. If a broker wants to view a home on a different MLS, then they’ll need to join the MLS for that area.

A licensed real estate agent or listing broker must also pay a membership fee and meet certain requirements set by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) to gain access to an MLS. That means sellers cannot list their homes on the MLS on their own and buyers cannot search through the database.

Instead, a seller’s agent will list their clients’ homes for sale on the MLS, and buyer’s agents can search the database to find potential homes their clients may like based on their criteria.

How The MLS Works For Buyers

When a buyer’s agent works with a buyer to find homes to buy, the agent will ask about the wants and needs of the buyer to help narrow down their search for a new home.

The agent will use these criteria to search for a home on the multiple listing service. While this information may be available on other real estate listing sites, the MLS also includes additional information that is not always made available to the public on these other sites, such as private contact information and home showing schedules.

When they find homes that match the buyer’s needs, they can use information in the MLS to schedule showings or notify the buyer of open houses.

How The MLS Works For Sellers

A listing agent – or seller’s agent – works with a homeowner who wants to sell their property. To help market the home, the agent will gather data about the property and upload that data into an MLS listing.

Each listing on the MLS will be different, and the information it provides will depend on what the listing agent chooses to include. Here are a few pieces of information most listings will include:

  • The age of the home
  • The size of the home
  • The number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Any unique or standout features of the home
  • Pictures of the interior and exterior of the home

Benefits Of Using A Multiple Listing Service

The multiple listing service provides advantages and value to:

  • Real estate agents: Real estate professionals can easily share information about homes listed in that market and earn commission by assisting in a property’s sale. The MLS also allows real estate agents or REALTORS® to provide the best experience to their clients, whether that’s marketing a seller’s home or helping buyers find the right one.
  • Sellers: The widespread sharing of information through the MLS also helps simplify the selling process for homeowners trying to sell their homes, because the MLS gets more potential buyers looking at their property. The MLS can also help sellers price the home strategically by providing information on local market conditions.
  • Buyers: Buyers looking to purchase a home will be able to better find what they’re looking for when buying a house. They may find more options for what they want, especially if they’re picky. They may also be privy to any new homes as soon as they hit the market, and could possibly beat other potential buyers to a home they like.

Multiple Listing Service (MLS) FAQs

What’s an MLS listing?

An MLS listing is a property listed for sale on the local multiple listing service. Each MLS listing typically contains pictures and a detailed description of the home for sale, as well as private contact information and details about showing times.

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

While an online listing site might pull information for an MLS, there are notable differences. Unlike online listing sites, an MLS has the most up to date information on home listings, as well as non-public information only visible to real estate professionals.

Do I have to use an MLS?

No, you don’t have to use an MLS to sell your home. For instance, properties that are for sale by owner (FSBO) are sold by homeowners without using the help of a listing agent or broker and do not require an MLS listing.

How do I access the MLS?

To gain access to a multiple listing service, you will need to enlist the help of a licensed real estate professional. The agent must also work under a broker who participates in the MLS you wish to access.

Who owns the MLS?

The majority of MLSs are owned by the NAR or local REALTOR® associations. However, there may be MLSs that are not affiliated with the NAR and are instead operated by local groups or brokers.

How many MLS’s are in the U.S.?

According to the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), there are 597 MLS’s in the U.S. as of 2020. This number decreases annually due to the regional consolidation of MLS databases.

What information is in the MLS?

An MLS provides information on properties for sale, including pictures, detailed descriptions, confidential documents like Seller’s Disclosures, private contact information and home showing schedules. The MLS is updated throughout the day, and can also include private comments meant for other agents about the property.

The Bottom Line

The multiple listing service can help real estate agents or REALTORS®, sellers and buyers in a real estate transaction by providing important information on homes for sale and giving those homes more exposure. However, it’s only accessible to real estate professionals, which is one of the many reasons why you should work with a licensed real estate agent.

While the multiple listing service provides invaluable information that can help move buyers and sellers forward in a home sale, educating yourself on home buying and home selling can also assist you with your transaction, making it easier to navigate the real estate world.

To get started on your home buying journey, find a real estate agent in your area through Rocket HomesSM.

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Josephine Nesbit

Josephine Nesbit is a freelance writer covering real estate and personal finance topics, including home loans, homeownership, real estate investing, building credit, and paying down debt. She attended The Ohio State University and has been published in Fox Business, GOBankingRates, U.S. News & World Report, and Bankrate.