Virtually every home listed by a real estate agent is listed by the MLS, which stands for multiple listing service, the service Realtors® and other real estate professionals use to obtain comprehensive information about the specifications and cost of homes and other properties for sale.
And while the only way of looking at MLS listings was once to go to a Realtor’s® office and browse through thick bound printed copies of those listings, the Internet changed all that and now MLS listings in some form are available online.
How does MLS work?
When a house or other property goes on the market, its listing broker enters all the data he or she has about the property into the MLS database along with the offer to share the commission with the buyer’s broker. Information about the home includes its address, number of bedrooms and baths, square footage, school districts, type of heat, amenities, features and much more. Typically there’s a link to photos of the home and many times a link to a virtual tour of the home.
Although many homebuyers think they can access all of a property’s MLS data online, that’s not usually the case. And while they can access limited MLS data, that data can often be outdated, inaccurate or incomplete. Only a Realtor® or other real estate professional can access a property’s complete and current MLS listing.
MLS and For Sale By Owner properties
Although For Sale by Owner (FSBO) properties are not listed by a Realtor®, they can be included in MLS listings if the seller pays a discount real estate broker a fee to enter the property’s information. Still, the seller is not truly represented and often the FSBO listing’s instructions that all offers should be presented to the seller are discouraged or even disallowed by MLS authorities.
The selling commission from FSBO properties is also often less than what the traditional brokerage commission would be, meaning agents can be less inclined to show FSBO properties.
Who are the owners of MLS?
There are many forms of ownership for local multiple listing services located around the country. They can be privately owned and are also often affiliated with local board of Realtors® and subject to regulations from the National Association of Realtors®.
Obtaining MLS listings
While there are a variety of services that provide homebuyers with information on available properties on the market, few provide the comprehensive data of an MLS listing. And to get the full and most current MLS listing data, you need to ask your agent to set up a home search for you. Since there are a variety of different reports available, make sure you ask for the most comprehensive report. Don’t settle for a so-called “customer copy,” one that doesn’t provide enough information to really be beneficial in a home search.
To initiate a home search, your Realtor® will enter your name, email address, and then your home preferences. After that, the search engine on the MLS system can be set up to automatically send you emails of new listings or updates on existing listings.
The benefits of searching with MLS
While not all real estate agents will automatically set up a search of anything other than active listings, you can also ask them to search for additional information on pending sales, data on past sales and other parameters.
MLS listings can be customized by targeting specific zip codes, streets or subdivisions, and filtered according to price, number of bedrooms or baths, square footage and a variety of other specific features. But take care that you don’t limit yourself too much by the filters you set. Your dream home, for instance, might be one block away from the zip code you’re searching in or there might be other limits you put on a search that could block perfect properties.