What Is the MLS?

The Multiple Listing Service, Explained

Whether you're looking to sell or buy a home, you will no doubt encounter the multiple listing service, or MLS. This is, in many ways, the very lifeblood of the real estate business. But just what is the MLS? Sure, it's a huge database of home listings, but there's a lot more to it than just that. Let's jump in!

What is the MLS?

Yes, the MLS seems like an invention of the modern age. But, in fact, the term “multiple listing”—and the overarching concept behind it—was first coined in 1907. Back then it described the old-timey practice in which real estate agents would gather regularly at offices or conferences to trade info about homes they were trying to sell, hoping this network could help connect them with buyers. In 1908, the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges (the organization that later became the National Association of Realtors®) endorsed the use of this system by all agents. It quickly caught on from there, evolving, stage by stage, into the modern system in use today—online and fully searchable by price, neighborhood, and home features.

While the MLS may look like one large national database, it's actually a suite of approximately 700 regional databases. And they're quite territorial: Each regional MLS has its own listings, and agents pay dues to access and post homes on each one. This is why agents who want a broader reach for their clients may become a member of more than one MLS.

How the MLS works

Home sellers can't post their home directly to the MLS, because access to this database is limited to licensed agents and brokers who pay for membership. Once they have a client selling a home, they gather the necessary details such as the square footage, number of bedrooms, and other noteworthy attributes—as well as photos—then post a complete (and hopefully eye-catching) listing on their client's behalf.

When agents log in, they have access to a wealth of data that they can pass along to their clients—or just help them do their business better and more strategically. And much of this goes far beyond whether a particular listing's driveway is made up of gravel or asphalt.

Agents are able to upload and download documents on the MLS, such as seller disclosures, HOA regulations and seller contact information.

  

 

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