What is the MLS and How Does it Work?

Whether you’re a newbie buyer or seller or have bought and sold homes a few times over the years, you’ve most likely heard of the MLS, or Multiple Listing Service.

In today’s competitive real estate market, it’s important for sellers to take advantage of all effective marketing platforms to get the word out there about their homes, and the MLS is the most widely known online database out there. For buyers, the MLS serves as a platform to find out about all of the properties that are listed for sale in a particular area within specific price ranges. For both buyers and sellers, the MLS plays a central role in a successful real estate transaction.

What Exactly is the MLS?

The multiple listing services (MLS) is basically a private database of property listings that are upheld, used, and paid for by a group of real estate professionals who use the database to share their listing agreements with each other. Buyer agents use the MLS to find homes that meet their clients’ criteria and listing agents use it to market their listings to prospective buyers.

The MLS actually has a long history, even long before the internet came about. Back in the early 1900’s, real estate professionals would gather on a regular basis to exchange information about properties they were selling. What is known as the National Association of Realtors today was first established as the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges in 1908. Eventually, this entity and its evolution brought about the MLS.

How Does the MLS Work?

It is the goal of the MLS to provide accurate, up-to-date information about residential and commercial properties for sale. It allows users to search for properties based on specific features, such as location, type of property, and price, among others.

Essentially, the MLS provides both real estate professionals and consumers with access to the largest database of properties on the market, giving sellers maximum property exposure and buyers all the information they need to find their next home. The MLS also helps real estate professionals keep their finger on the pulse of trends in the housing market, both on a local and national scale. 

In order for buyers and sellers to gain full access to the MLS, a real estate agent that is a member of the MLS will need to be hired. Only agents who keep up with certain courses and classes, maintain their license and pay their membership fees are allowed to have access to the MLS.

With such access granted, real estate agents are able to obtain detailed information contained within the MLS database that is updated regularly. Published listing information typically includes a description of the property, address, price, images, virtual tours, and the number of days on the market. Listings stay on the MLS until properties are sold, or until the listing has expired or has been removed.

Real estate agents can use the information contained within the MLS to pull a list of “comps” (or comparables) of homes that have recently sold in a certain neighborhood to help sellers establish a listing price or to help buyers come up with a sound offer price.

A lot of the information in the MLS is accessible to the public, but not all of it is. Data that is isn’t made public includes information that would compromise the privacy or safety of sellers, such as their contact information and dates/times when the home is available for showings (and therefore potentially vacant).

The Bottom Line

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a fundamental component of buying and selling real estate, which is why it is typically used throughout the buying and selling process. Sellers can use it to market their home to the masses, and buyers can use it to make it easy for them to find a home that meets their specific criteria. When you use the services of a real estate agent, you’ll be afforded with this invaluable database.