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What Is The MLS? All About The Multiple Listing Service | Real Estate Skills

Real estate brokers & agents provide a convenient way of searching, buying, and selling properties. That’s because brokers & real estate agents have unique skill sets and access to industry-specific listing services like the Multiple Listing Service.

 

What Does MLS Mean in Real Estate? 

In real estate, the ‘MLS’ stands for Multiple Listing Service. The MLS is an online software that brokers & agents utilize to establish contractual compensation offers, accumulate, and even disseminate the information required for appraisals. In simpler terms, it is a database of relevant information on homes or properties for sale in a particular region. 

Using this database, real estate agents find the right properties or homes to show prospective buyers with ease. The information contained in this database also plays a very crucial role when it comes to making offers and negotiating real estate deals. 

 

When was the First Multiple Listing Service Created? 

According to the National Association of Realtors, real estate brokers gathered at their local associations’ offices in the late 1800s to share information on the properties they were selling. These brokers agreed that each broker would be compensated whenever they helped sell a property. That’s when the first multiple listing service was born. Essentially, the service was born on the basis of the fundamental principle that was unique to the real estate organization. A broker would help another sell their inventory and in return they would help them sell theirs. 

Nevertheless, there is no universal format for data or authoritative multiple listing service so far. However, multiple listing service systems have a data standard known as the real estate transaction standard. This is deployed across different multiple listing solutions. Private and local MLS use XML-based feeds to update or generate listings. Associations’ groupings or one association of realtors that represents brokers in a specific area or community can control the disseminated listings. 

 

What is MLS Access? 

MLS Access is the ability to find and use the database of relevant information on properties or homes for sale in a specific region. Any real estate investor wants to have access to this information to stay ahead of their competition.

The information on this database makes conducting research easier rather than waiting for realtors to run reports for you as an investor. 

Did you know that on the San Diego MLS there are 8,000+ active properties on the market? This is a gold mine of motivated seller leads if you’re a real estate investor, wholesaler, or fix & flipper.

 

What is an MLS Listing Sheet?

An MLS Listing Sheet is the data sheet that displays all of the information about the property you are analyzing. Other names for this are: “Listing Form,” "Listing Sheet," or “MLS Listing” for short.

Regardless of the name, this sheet is typically a page or two additional photos of the property, square footage, bed/bath counts, the address, and all of the other details of the property. There is also a written description of the property from the Listing Agent.

 

Here's an example what the MLS Listing Sheet looks like from the Bay East Association of Realtors in California:

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So, What's A Listing Agent?

For every property that is listed on the MLS, there is a “Listing Agent.” The Listing Agent is the Real Estate Agent who is hired by the seller of the property to sell their property.

One of the benefits of the MLS is that the contact information of the Listing Agent (Phone Number & Email) is on the Listing Sheet! There's no need to skip trace for contact info as it is all right there from your MLS Access.

 

How Can I Find MLS Listings? 

In order to find MLS Listings, you need to have access to the Multiple Listing Service in your specific area.

Some wholesalers & investors believe that websites like Zillow.com are comprehensive enough to be an elite real estate investor, but this is not the case. No website provides comprehensive data like the multiple listing services do. This is why many people request real estate agents to set them up on private property searches in order to access this information. 

Once a property and it’s relevant information is uploaded to the MLS, it is made available to the market. The information about the property is posted in a multiple listing service and now becomes an “MLS Listing.” It’s also given an MLS number. Consumers, real estate professionals, & investors can easily find that specific property using this number. 

You can visit our resource page here to find the different Multiple Listing Services across the  nation. This page was created by us here at Real Estate Skills & provides an easy way to find the MLS in your location. 

 

Can I Get Access to the MLS? 

Yes. There is a common belief that the only way to access the MLS is as a licensed Real Estate Professional such as a broker, agent, or appraiser. However, while the vast majority of people on the MLS are licensed, there is a legal way to gain access to the MLS without being licensed.

This legal way to get access to the MLS is called “MLS Assistant Access.” Assistant Access to the MLS typically provides you the same functionality as having Licensed Access to the MLS, with the only restriction usually being that you cannot upload new properties to the MLS. 

MLS Assistant Access is typically significantly less expensive than having Licensed Access to the MLS.

 

Should I Get Access to the MLS if I want to be a Professional Real Estate Investor? 

Yes, absolutely. This is the database of all leads available for sale on the real estate market in your particular area. Real estate agents and brokerages depend on this database to catalog properties for sale, property histories, and sold properties. 

Being the most accurate database of listings in your local area, the MLS is a great way for any investor to be ahead of the game when looking for new potential deals. 

This service enhances consolidation of information instead of fragmenting it. Access to the MLS for an investor saves both time and marketing dollars. It is one of the most efficient ways to collect information on real estate deals all in one place.

If you are a wholesaler, house flipper, or an investor, then having MLS Access will put you ahead of the curve.

Look at this quick survey asking a group of real estate investors where they get most of their deals from:

 

Survey Question: Where are most of your deals coming from right now?

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As you can see, the majority of members marked the "MLS" as the place where they get the bulk of their real estate investment deals from!

 

How to Get MLS Access with a Real Estate License?

The first step is finding the MLS that coincides with your specific area in which you do business. Since these services are privately owned, they can have unique rules on who can be granted access and who cannot. 

It’s important to note that getting a real estate license doesn’t mean you can automatically access a multiple listing service. In most cases, you have to join a local brokerage in which you can access a listing service. 

Once you follow these steps, you will be able to pay for access to the MLS as a Licensed Real Estate Agent or Broker.

 

How to Get Access to the MLS Without a License?

You can access a multiple listing service without a license via unlicensed MLS assistant access. 

Not all people in real estate offices are licensed real estate agents. A lot of the time assistants, bookkeepers, and secretaries are not licensed realtors. These “assistants” can’t help with real estate tasks like showing houses and discussing property information with prospective buyers. However, they can help with local market research.

As such, they may be allowed access to multiple listing services. Therefore, you too can be granted assistant MLS access just like one of the unlicensed assistants of a realtor.

 

Here's an example of the Multiple Listing Service Application Form For Assistant Access In San Diego, CA:

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Getting unlicensed MLS Assistant Access is the go-to strategy to access all of the leads on the market in your area as an investor.

 

How Much Does MLS Access Cost to Join? 

The cost of accessing a multiple listing service is different across the country, but can from $20 to $375 per quarter. Keep in mind that you usually pay more for access if you are licensed.

In San Diego, the cost for MLS Assistant Access is about $25 per quarter (every 3 months). This means that it practically can cost only 25 cents per day to use the MLS! 

In most cases, the access is only allowed if you keep paying the associated MLS fees each and every quarter, or annually.

 

How to Access the MLS for Free?

There are two ways to access a multiple listing service for free. 

  1. Talk to a real estate agent to give you their login details - A real estate agent can share their login details with you to allow you access to a listing service. Though many people take this approach, it’s often frowned upon because it goes against the rules. A realtor may also be fined if you are both logged in at the same time so be very careful with this strategy.
  2. Get Assistant Access to the MLS & have the Broker or Agent pay for it - You can also talk to a friendly real estate agent to grant you access like their other assistants. 

 

How to List Your House on the MLS with a Real Estate Agent?

There are tricks required to make a house shine in the listings and that’s where an agent comes in. The majority of the fields that you are required to fill are pretty standard. The listing information required includes legal house description, address, contact information, number of baths and bedrooms, and number of levels. This information provides a comprehensive property view to prospective buyers. Essentially, you should paint a picture of your house from the ceiling to the floor and from one fence to another. 

The general house description section allows you to highlight the most appealing parts of the house. You should use attractive words but be honest without embellishing. The general description is basically what prospective buyers will read first. Therefore, make it the best marketing pitch. 

You can also add photos of the house. Consider hiring a professional photographer that has been working on the real estate industry for years. A professional that knows the best way to light and position a camera in order to shoot pictures that make rooms look bright, fresh and large is the best. Photos taken with a mobile phone make a house look subpart when compared to other houses posted with professionally taken photos. The real estate agent that helped you access the listing service can also help you list your house. 

 

What is Flat Fee MLS Listing? 

Flat fee MLS is a real estate industry practice where a seller enters a la carte service agreement with a broker that accepts a flat fee instead of a percentage of the total sale price for listing transaction side. With this practice, real estate brokerage firms unbundles their traditional services to lost properties in multiple listing service without requiring sellers to use their other services. 

The main objective of this listing is to provide exposure while reducing the listing commission by dealing with buyer’s agents directly. Property sellers save almost half of the commission they would spend by using all services offered by brokers while maintaining the right to sell their properties.

 

How to Get an MLS Listing without a Realtor - For Sale by Owner - FSBO 

To list your house with a listing service without a realtor and sell it as for sale by owner, you have to use a flat fee MLS listing. This service is offered by licensed real estate brokers. To use this service, you have to choose the broker to work with. The broker will establish an “Entry Only” service with a local listing service platform. 

That way, you will list your property with the broker but you will only get a listing in a listing service only. The broker does not provide other service. That means you reserve the right to sell the house as for sale by owner. 

Here are the steps to follow to get a listing without a realtor: 

  1. Conduct some research to identify the best local flat fee MLS broker
  2. Buy a flat fee listing with a multiple listing service 
  3. Provide information about your house 
  4. Upload the interior and exterior photographs of the property 
  5. Sign an agency listing agreement 
  6. Have the house posted on the multiple listing service 

 

Flat Fee MLS vs. Realtor 

When selling a property, you may have to decide whether to use a flat fee listing service or a realtor. A flat fee listing service often means you will pay a flat fee for the provided service. In this case, the provided service is basically including the property on a listing service only. That means you will be responsible for staging the house, scheduling property shows, taking calls from potential buyers, and doing any other work necessary. If you want the flat fee listing provider to provide more services, you will have to pay a higher price. 

A realtor on the other hand will list your house on a local listing service, market the house via traditional advertising methods, and show potential buyers the property. Thus, you reduce the amount of the work you will do to sell your property. Another benefit of working with a realtor is the fact that they are licensed professionals, this means they will be your trusted advisor throughout the entire selling process. Overall they're knowledge of the industry will allow you to sell your home faster and with less hassle while making sure all documents are recorded and filled in correctly. Selling a home may be a tricky process if you have no previous experience in real estate and hiring a realtor may be the best way to avoid ‘rookie mistakes’ or even lawsuits. 

If you a seller with an inclination and disposition to handle more tasks, a flat feel listing service might be ideal for you. However, if you don’t have time to market the house or don’t want to answer calls and address issues that relate to property marketing and sale, a full service realtor is the best option for you. 

 

Zillow vs. MLS 

When you visit the Zillow website, you will find pictures and information on properties for sale. This can make you wonder whether Zillow is a multiple listing service. Basically, Zillow is different from multiple listing services. When you list your property for sale on Zillow, you can get calls from telemarketers or real estate agents and not buyers. These people calling you will be interested in signing a listing agreement that comes with a traditional 6% commission. Serious buyers will rarely call. 

To ensure that agents learn that you are selling a property, we recommend use multiple listing services. The MLS is used by 99% of realtors to find the properties their buyers are looking for. Since up to 86% of property buyers use realtors to purchase properties, chances of selling your property faster when you use a listing agent are much higher than when you use Zillow. 

Generally, realtors use multiple listing services because they provide more accurate and reliable information. Even more, the information is non-public and more relevant to buyers and agents. While Zillow can have information in 40 to 90 fields, multiple listing services tend to have more than 200 fields. Information on properties sold few years back can be limited in Zillow. On the other hand, multiple listing services have all listing information including details of unsuccessful listings, market times, and pictures that date 15 to 20 years back. Talk about a data rich source!

Additionally, Zillow provides inconsistent information depending on chances and frequency of data sources. There is also no mechanism for correcting information and the customer service is non-existent or minimal. Multiple listing service on the other had has a participants’ community that is always looking for errors. There is also an effective mechanism for easy identification or errors and reporting them. Most importantly, participants that enter incorrect data or fail to fix errors upon identification can be slapped with monetary fines. 

 

Trulia vs. MLS 

Trulia is a real estate website like Zillow whose mission is to connect property buyers and sellers, real estate professionals, and renters. It operates like a search engine for real estate with listed homes for sale in the United States. The site offers pictures, value estimate, and comparable prices for the listed properties. 

However, the information of the listings on Trulia is not updated, inaccurate or simply wrong when compared to the information on multiple listing services database. Perhaps, this can be attributed to the fact that Trulia gets information on properties for sale from aggregators. Aggregators are companies that get information from their agreements with brokerage houses and listing providers that provide notices on property foreclosure and default as well as other places. 

Since aggregators have different data streams and information gathered using different software programs, it becomes hard to avoid inaccuracies and missing information. 

On the other hand, MLS are updated regularly. Multiple listing services have been around for many years. Realtors use this listing platform to work with property sellers and get listing agreements signed. This gives them the right to sell properties and post information about them on multiple listing services for members to learn about the properties available for sale. Multiple listing services information is the most accurate, updated, and valid because changes in property status are updated by real estate agents on a regular basis. 

 

Can I Wholesale a House on the MLS? 

Yes. In fact, having access to the multiple listing service is extremely profitable for a real estate wholesaler. However, you should know how to move a house from a listing service to a buyer in order to make steady income. Here are the steps to follow when wholesaling a house on the multiple listing system. 

1. Find a Reliable Realtor 

Without a realtor, you can’t access a multiple listing system or even make an offer on the properties listed there. Therefore, identify a realtor with an open-mind and willing to do business with you. The real estate agent that you choose will make commissions from the properties you purchase while working with them. As a real estate wholesaler who wholesales houses, you can make offers on listings that you’ve seen in the system for a minimum of three months. That’s because such listings are about to expire. As such, you will help the agent by introducing investors to the homes.

2. Establish a List of Investors 

Real estate agents are always selling properties. However, real estate wholesalers are mostly building lists of investors. These are the buyers that form the basis of real estate wholesaling. A good wholesaler spends a lot of time establishing a cash buyers list.

3. Find Properties that Meet Your Criteria 

Ask the realtor that you have chosen to work with to provide properties for sale in your area. Ideally, choose only properties that have descriptions. For instance, the properties can feature descriptions like “Motivated Seller” or “Make Offer”.

4. Get the properties under contract 

Once you find properties that meet your criteria on the MLS, now you need to submit offers to get the wholesale deal under contract.

5. Assign the contract rights to your cash buyer

When you have a property under contract, you now have equitable interest in the property. This equitable interest is what you are able to assign to your end cash buyer to whom you are wholesaling the real estate deal to. Once you assign the contract, you can now be paid a wholesale or consulting fee for the said assignment. The typical, average wholesale profit we’ve seen for the last 8+ years has been $10,000.

 

Is it Easy to Flip Houses on the MLS? 

We always like to say that anything in real estate is simple, and not necessarily easy. When it comes to flipping houses, where you find properties is not a major issue provided it’s legal.

The numbers of a deal are the most important factor. If the numbers look great for a property in a multiple listing service, go for it. But, if they don’t, skip the property and find another one on the MLS.

Nevertheless, using multiple listing services to find the properties to flip has its advantages. For instance, multiple listing services enable you to find several properties listed together. The listings also provide more information than you can find in other places. At the end of the day, utilizing multiple listing services is a must for house flippers. 

As always, you should do your proper due diligence to get the information you need to make informed decisions without spending a fortune. 

 

How to Find Investment Properties on the MLS?

To find an ideal investment property on multiple listing services, you have to conduct some research on every property you find appealing there. It’s important that you look at each property individually. Remember that you can easily not like a property for a minor reason. But small indicators that investors often pass over can make significant profits. The listing price of any property should just be the starting point. 

However, the seller could be waiting for any offer even if it is not close to the listing price. Therefore, make offers on several properties to increase your chances of having at least one accepted.

Work with a realtor that can discern what motivates the seller and whether they can accept cash offer to ensure a quick closing. Also check the listing sheet while reading the description & any comments. Reading listing and comments alone can tell you more about the property. This is usually private information that is only available to those who have MLS Access. 

Keep in mind the fact that some sellers will work with you to get the deal done, while others will simply reject your offer. Therefore, be ready to support any offer you make with repair estimates, market data, and always have the ability to close on a property quickly if you want to be competitive!

 

I’m on an MLS Email List - Is this MLS Access? 

No. An email list is not the same as a multiple listing service access. Being on an email list will not propel your business forward the way having MLS Access will.

 

The Bottom Line of the Multiple Listing Service for Real Estate Professionals!

In the current digital age, property buyers can look through many brokerage and real estate websites online. But, even with this exposure, multiple listing services still remain highly relevant. Brokers that work with multiple listing services search all properties available for sale by the participating agents conveniently and quickly. In most cases, the listings contain private information such as contact details and showing times. This consolidation of information saves brokers and agents the time they would spend searching different websites to find the properties their clients are looking for. 

As a real estate investor, wholesaler, & house flipper, having access to the MLS is incredibly necessary. Each & every day new properties are being uploaded to the market on the MLS in your area. There are hundreds, if not thousands of properties, for sale in your area that you can be making offers on right now. And, believe me, if you’re not making offers on these properties that you can potentially wholesale, flip, & buy - then others will!

Hope you enjoyed learning all about the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)!

Keep taking action & keep arming yourself with the right knowledge for your real estate endeavors! 

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