What is a Multiple Listing Service aka MLS?

Posted by Matthew Lahti on Monday, March 4th, 2013 at 9:26am

Multiple listing services, also known as MLS systems, is the database system real estate agents use to market homes, apartments, land or other types of property.

Multiple listing services, also known as MLS systems, are the database systems real estate agents use to market homes, apartments, land or other types of property. Without MLS systems, home shopping would not be possible due to the sheer volume of homes in the marketplace. Houses that show up on the Internet are due to MLS systems.

Let’s explore these systems, first from how homes enter the MLS. Houses, condos and apartments enter the MLS through a licensed real estate agent. Once the home owner signs a contract with a real estate agent, the agent inputs the home into the MLS. The home is now called a “listing.” Listings are reviewed by MLS staff members and are published on thousands of websites almost immediately. Most home shoppers start their home searches online, not realizing that properties posted online come for a local or regional MLS.

Computer technology has streamlined the listing process. The first MLS systems were large books that covered local areas. Data was often 5 or more days old between publishing cycles. In the early 1990’s computer technology had advanced and MLS systems across the country started abandoning MLS books in place of intranet systems. Internet systems completed the transition to today’s modern systems in the early 2000’s.

Most MLS systems are owned by local Realtor associations besides a few private owned entities. The largest MLS, at 50,000 members is MRIS which covers Maryland and most of Virginia. Other notable MLS systems include HAR in Houston, Texas and ARMLS in Tempe, Arizona. According to the National Association of Realtors, there are an estimated 450 MLS systems in the United States. Consolidation of systems in the last ten years has reduced the number from a peak of 900 systems in 2003.

As the number of systems decline, demand for a national MLS system increases. It is rumored that Realtors Property Resource, created by the National Association of Realtors, will someday become a national MLS system.

That is the MLS system in a nutshell. A last takeaway is that the most prized commodity of an MLS system is the data. How to keep the data safe and secure is an ever challenging feat in a changing digital landscape.


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