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Why do I need the Multiple Listing Service?

by Mel Metts

One word:  Exposure.

In the early days, each real estate broker advertised and marketed his own listings.  The listing office and selling office were usually the same.  If buyers wanted to search all the active listings, they had to work with an agent from each real estate office in the area.  This was very inefficient; for the seller, potential buyers, and the agents themselves.

Area brokers began to band together to form cooperatives called Multiple Listing Services.  The underlying premise was that agents from any office could sell properties listed by any other office.  This increased exposure and efficiencies exponentially.  The brokerages owned the Multiple Listing Services, and underwrote the expense to operate them.  Commission-sharing plans were established.

Not too long ago, listings were published in huge books.  Agents would fax the listing information to the MLS, who would send a photographer to shoot the property.  The information would be sent to the printer to be typeset and printed.  Lead times were lengthy; properties would be on the market for a matter of weeks before the MLS books were distributed.  If you had a relationship with a local realtor, you might be able to get your hands on an old, outdated copy from time to time.

With the advent of the Internet, MLS  listings became available almost instantly; information could be disseminated by email or fax, exposing the properties to a much wider range of potential buyers.  Market times were slashed.  Prospective buyers are now able to use the Internet to shop for properties that meet their criteria without leaving their homes.  Once the list has been narrowed, shoppers make appointments to view only the properties that closely meet their needs.

The Internet is a valuable tool for realtors, but it has also increased the competition among realtors and between realtors and other market outlets.

Should a property listing ever be withheld from the MLS?  Rarely is there a good reason to withhold a listing and skip the exposure the MLS provides.  Perhaps if the property is truly unique, or the terms being offered are unusual.  For example, Graff Realty was recently contacted to market an apartment complex.  Rather than an outright sale, the property was offered for lease with purchase option.  Due to the complex nature of the proposed transaction, it was agreed that the property should not be marketed through the MLS, where the majority of realtors and their clients are not well-versed in lease/options. 

Usually, though, the seller benefits immensely from MLS exposure.  Some brokers, especially commercial brokers, do not subscribe to the Multiple Listing Service.  Their argument is that avoiding the MLS keeps unqualified prospects from traipsing through the seller's property.  The tradeoff is that exposure is limited to that broker's clients; thousands of other real estate agents will not be able to present your property to their clients.

Can I list my property in the Multiple Listing Service without going through a realtor?

No.  The MLS is a service specifically designed for realtors to share listings with other realtors.  The MLS is a service provided and paid for by the local realtor association, and is not open to sellers who want to market their property without realtor representation.