Woman scrolling through home listing

What Is The Multiple Listing Service? (MLS)

Lauren Nowacki5-Minute Read
April 26, 2021

When it comes to selling a home, it seems like everyone works together toward one common goal: putting the keys of a home into the hands of its new owner. Every home buyer wants to find a dream home, and every home seller wants their home to go to the right person. On the same line, real estate brokers want what’s best for their clients, even if it means teaming up with their competitors. And that’s exactly what a multiple listing service (MLS) allows.

What Is An MLS In Real Estate?

In real estate, the multiple listing service is an online database for real estate brokers to share information about their properties for sale with each other. Through the MLS, brokers can more easily connect buyers to sellers for mutual benefit.

The database provides information on properties for sale, including pictures and detailed descriptions along with more-confidential documents like seller disclosures. The MLS is updated throughout the day, so brokers are able to find new homes their buyers may love almost immediately after they’re listed. 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 brokers, this database allows them to provide a better experience for buyers and sellers and may help the buying or selling process move quicker.

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How Does The MLS Work?

The concept of an MLS has been around long before the internet. In the late 1800s, brokers would regularly meet to share information about the properties they were selling, agreeing to compensate any broker who helped them with the sale. The same process happens today, but online across multiple regional MLS networks, instead of face-to-face with a select few. Because this is all done online, information can be uploaded or updated almost instantly.

Each network must follow the regulations set by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) and can only be accessed by licensed real estate professionals who pay a membership fee. 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 client’s 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. Both seller’s and buyer’s agents will also use the MLS to do a comparative market analysis.

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:

  • Age of the home
  • Size of the home
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Unique or standout features of the home
  • Pictures of the interior and exterior of the home

While this info 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.

Benefits Of The MLS

The MLS benefits buyers, sellers and real estate professionals alike. It helps level the playing field between competing brokerages by allowing small and large firms to compete with each other and earn commission by assisting in a property’s sale. It also helps real estate agents provide the best experience to their clients, whether that’s marketing a seller’s home or helping buyers find the right one.

Buyers, through the help of their agent, will be able to better find the home that suits their needs. They may find more options for what they want, especially if they are picky. They may also be privy to new homes that just go on the market and could possibly beat other potential buyers to the home. The widespread sharing of information the MLS allows also helps simplify the selling process for homeowners trying to sell their homes because the MLS gets more potential buyers looking at their property. For buyers and sellers, the MLS can also help them price the home strategically by providing information on local market conditions, too.

How Do I Find MLS Listings?

As stated before, the multiple listing service is not open to the public, but only to real estate professionals like agents, brokers, or REALTORS® who pay membership fees and dues. This type of invaluable access to information is one of the reasons it’s important to find the right agent for you. They will be on the frontlines of all your real estate transactions.

While all information on the MLS is private and only viewable by professionals, brokers will usually share listing information with the public free of charge, while withholding personal information about the seller. You can also find home listings for free online. However, those will not be as up-to-date as the MLS and may not include all of the homes listed on the MLS.

The Bottom Line

The MLS can help all parties involved in a real estate transaction, by providing important information on homes for sale and getting those homes more exposure. However, it is only accessible to real estate professionals, which is one of the many reasons why you should work with a real estate agent. While the multiple listing service provides invaluable information that can help move buyers and sellers forward in real estate transactions, educating yourself on home buying and home selling can also assist you with the transaction, making it easier to navigate the real estate world.

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Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.