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What is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)?

Behind the scenes of the real estate market in the US is the Multiple Listing Service or MLS. The MLS is a database exclusively for real estate agents that allows them to share information about properties.


4 minute read

Whether you are looking to buy or sell your home, you’ve probably viewed data from Multiple Listing Services, or MLS for short. You may not know it but local real estate agents and websites like Zillow all use data collected on the MLS. The MLS is the backbone of information that builds the US real estate market behind the scenes.

What is the MLS

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a database of agent-listed properties that are available for sale in a given area. Although the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is generally referred to as a single entity, it comprises around 600 local databases across the country. The MLS database is exclusively for real estate agents and allows them to share information about properties.

The MLS works by allowing real estate agents to list and search for properties for sale in the database. Agents can input or view information about the property, including the address, the price, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the square footage, photos, a detailed description, and any other relevant details.

MLS Benefits and Drawbacks

One of the main benefits of the MLS is that it provides a centralized location for real estate professionals to access information about agent-listed properties. This exclusivity is also one of the main limitations of the MLS. The database is not available to the general public. This means that all For Sale By Owner (FSBO) properties are excluded from the MLS.

Each MLS has its own rules, fees, and regulations. Real estate agents or brokers pay for yearly access to their local MLS. If you want to access your local MLS, you have to have a real estate license.

Is Zillow the MLS?

Zillow is not the MLS but it provides access to MLS data and homes for sale. Zillow is a forward-facing website that allows the general public to view homes listed on the MLS. Zillow has agreements with many MLSs across the United States, allowing them to access the data in these databases and display it on their website. This means that when a property is listed for sale on the MLS, it may also appear on Zillow's website, along with information such as the price, photos, and property details.

Unlike the MLS, Zillow allows homeowners in many states (excluding Wisconsin and Montana) to list their properties directly on the website, without going through the MLS or working with a real estate agent. It takes a little maneuvering for buyers to find these properties on Zillow but they are available.

What are Flat Fee MLS Services?

Flat fee MLS services are a way for homeowners to list their property on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) without having to pay a traditional commission to a seller’s real estate agent. These services allow homeowners to take more control over the selling process, reach a larger audience, and save money on commissions.

Flat fee MLS services work by allowing homeowners to pay a one-time fee to list their property on the MLS, typically ranging from a hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the service and the location. The homeowner retains control over the sale of the property and can handle inquiries and showings themselves.

One of the main benefits of flat fee MLS services is the potential cost savings. By paying a flat fee rather than a traditional seller agent commission, homeowners can save thousands of dollars in transaction costs. It is important to note that homeowners are still required to designate a buyer’s agent commission fee when using flat fee MLS services.

How is Realtyless Different?

Realtyless is an exclusively FSBO marketplace. There are no real estate agents or commissions. Buyers and sellers can access exclusive homes listed by owner that are not available on the MLS. Sellers still have the option to use flat fee listing services and post their home for sale by owner on sites like Zillow.


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