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

March 08, 2024 3-minute read

Author: Miranda Crace


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 home sellers need a buyer. A multiple listing service (MLS) maximizes the potential for real estate brokers and agents to help these two groups get connected.

The MLS is a real estate tool professionals use to share information with each other about homes on the market. Let’s take a look at how it works and the many benefits it provides.

What Is A Multiple Listing Service (MLS)?

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.

Often referred to as “the MLS,” the multiple listing service is actually a network of local databases for areas around the country, not a single entity. In fact, there are currently more than 800 multiple listing services across the country, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). That number fluctuates as neighboring databases come together to form larger, regional ones.

The History Of Multiple Listing Services

It might seem like an MLS is something derived from technological advancements, but the concept has actually been around since the 19th century, according to the NAR.

In the late 1800s, real estate brokers would get together and trade information about properties they hoped to sell, agreeing to compensate each other with brokerages when a successful sale was made.

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How Does The Multiple Listing Service Work?

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

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 systems.

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.

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Perks Of Real Estate Agents Using A MLS

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

There are benefits for home sellers and buyers, as well. 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.

Multiple Listing Service FAQs

Still have questions about what an MLS is, how it works and how it can benefit you? We’ve got you covered with these frequently asked questions.

How can I get access to the MLS?

It’s important to be aware that the MLS isn’t available to the general public. To view and use a MLS, you’ll need a real estate license or to work with a real estate professional. Real estate agents must work under a broker who participates in the MLS they want to access.

MLSs also require users to pay regular dues for continued access.

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 listing 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 does MLS stand for?

MLS stands for multiple listing service, which is a tool real estate professionals use to view and share information regarding property listings.

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?

Real estate websites (think Rocket HomesSM, Zillow  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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Miranda Crace

Miranda Crace is a Senior Section Editor for the Rocket Companies, bringing a wealth of knowledge about mortgages, personal finance, real estate, and personal loans for over 10 years. Miranda is dedicated to advancing financial literacy and empowering individuals to achieve their financial and homeownership goals. She graduated from Wayne State University where she studied PR Writing, Film Production, and Film Editing. Her creative talents shine through her contributions to the popular video series "Home Lore" and "The Red Desk," which were nominated for the prestigious Shorty Awards. In her spare time, Miranda enjoys traveling, actively engages in the entrepreneurial community, and savors a perfectly brewed cup of coffee.