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

Hanna Kielar3-minute read

June 15, 2023


The success of a real estate market depends in large part on the cooperation of the professionals working in it. Home buyers need a seller – and sellers need a home buyer. The multiple listing service maximizes the potential for real estate brokers and agents to help these two groups get connected.

The MLS is a tool real estate professionals use to share information with each other about homes on the market.

What Is A Multiple Listing Service?

Multiple listing services (MLS databases) are created and maintained by cooperating real estate professionals to share information about properties on the market. This data usually includes details such as the listing price, bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and other similar data points relevant to potential buyers.

Though often referred to as “the MLS,” which sounds like a single entity, the multiple listing service is actually a network of local databases for areas around the country. No single, overarching MLS exists.

Local MLS databases consist of real estate brokers who operate in the area. Real estate firms will list for-sale properties they represent on the local MLS, where buyer’s agents can find them.

It’s important to be aware that the MLS isn’t available to the general public. Instead, if you want to access the MLS in your area, you’ll need to have a real estate license.

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How Does The Multiple Listing Service Work?

An MLS covers a specific area. Real estate agents and brokers who participate in that MLS list the properties they’re selling within that area for other real estate professionals to see and market to their clients.

If a broker wants to list or view homes in an area that isn’t covered by the MLS they’re currently part of, they’ll need to join the MLS for that area as well. So, it’s possible and sometimes necessary for brokers to participate in multiple MLS databases.

Just under 600 MLS databases are available across the country. That number has trended downward over the years as neighboring databases have come together to form larger, regional ones.

When an agent or broker joins an MLS, they’ll need to pay for that access. Each MLS sets its own prices, fee schedules and rules for using the database. MLS access can cost as much as several hundred dollars each year, in addition to a one-time registration fee.

Perks Of Using A Multiple Listing Service

The MLS is beneficial to everyone who participates in it. From a business perspective, working together to form an MLS means that real estate professionals can offer their selling clients maximum exposure while ensuring that buying clients get a complete view of what’s on the housing market.

It also ensures that the industry remains competitive and equitable, since smaller firms have access to the same listings as larger ones.

For sellers, having their home listed on the MLS can help it sell faster and for more money. For home buyers, working with an agent who utilizes the MLS means they can be confident they’re getting a full picture of what’s for sale in the area.

How can I get access to the MLS?

To view and use an MLS, you’ll need a real estate license. Real estate agents must work under a broker who participates in the MLS they want to access.

MLS databases require users to pay regular dues for continued access.

Multiple Listing Service FAQs

What is an MLS listing?

An MLS listing is similar to any other standard public real estate listing except for a few additions. A typical MLS listing will include all the basic information an agent or their buyer would need to know about a home: price, address, property type, square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and information about utilities and other basic features.

MLS listings also feature photos of the home’s interior and exterior, along with any notes the listing agent made about the property. These notes can include private comments meant only for other agents, such as showing instructions or information on how to access the property.

What is an MLS number?

The MLS number is the string of digits used to identify each property in the MLS database. Real estate agents and brokers use the MLS number to quickly find individual properties and tell them apart.

What is the main value of the MLS for sellers?

When a seller has their home listed on the MLS, their property will be visible to every other agent and broker who participates in that MLS, significantly boosting their ability to find a home buyer.

In fact, access to the MLS is one of the main benefits for sellers who use an agent. Not being able to list a home on the MLS can be a significant disadvantage for FSBO (for-sale-by-owner) sellers.

Are online listing sites different from the MLS?

Online listing sites (think Rocket HomesSM and aren’t MLS databases, though they pull their data (with permission) from various MLS feeds across the country. These sites aggregate those listings and make them publicly available.

The Bottom Line

Because real estate agents have access to the MLS databases and other valuable tools, opting to work with one is often well worth the price of commission. This is especially true if it means getting an MLS listing – one of the best ways to market a for-sale property.

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Hanna Kielar Headshot

Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto, RocketHQ, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.