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What’s the MLS, Why Does it Matter, and How Do You Optimize for It?

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, there’s a good chance you’ve heard your real estate agent talk about the MLS. A multiple listing service is a private database of home listings created by a cooperating group of real estate agents. This real estate technology facilitates the transaction process and has created efficiency in the industry.

The goal of a multiple listing service is to provide accurate data about properties for sale. It delivers up-to-date information about home listings and allows users to accurately search for homes based on features, location, price, and more.

But if MLS is designated solely for real estate agents, why should it matter to you?

MLS provides access to the largest pool of properties for sale in the marketplace, meaning sellers receive increased property exposure. They can also keep an eye on housing market trends and see what other houses are listed close by.  Buyers get detailed information in real-time which can help make better-informed decisions about properties.

Source: (Samantha Hurley/ Burst)

The History of the Multiple Listing Service

While the real estate database resides online, multiple listing services have been used in the industry for quite some time. Dating back to the early 1900’s, real estate agents would meet regularly to trade information about homes they were trying to sell. In 1908, the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges (which eventually became the National Association of Realtors) endorsed this system by all agents and the MLS was officially born.

There are a few other key events that shaped the modern real estate system agents use today.

The Code of Ethics was adopted in 1913 and entailed the obligations real estate professionals must carry out in their role. Aside from the duties, brokers must adhere to for their clients, a framework was created to control how brokers cooperated with each other.

Computerized multiple listing services became available in 1975 and quickly began to replace the traditional paper MLS directories. Several programs were launched in the ‘80s to promote the online database, which includes:

Because the MLS has been able to adapt with technological trends, it’s one of the most useful tools for real estate agents. Today, agents can access real-time data about home listings and have the ability to search for homes by location, features, and neighborhood.

Real estate agents are getting creative and the purpose of MLS continues to evolve and expand. The database is now used for things like lead generation tools and real estate transaction management.

How does the MLS work?

To gain access to the MLS database, you need to hire a real estate agent that belongs to one (or an agent that belongs to more than one!) A licensed real estate agent must take a series of ethics classes through the board of realtors every few years in order to maintain MLS access. Brokers in the same area can also band together to create their own MLS and can grant brokers access from other areas, as needed.

Once granted access, the MLS displays an electronic database with all the affiliate brokers’ home listings, which are published listing date order and can be updated at any time. A home listing is composed of a brief description, home price, location, photos, virtual tours, and mapping options. A listing will remain in the MLS until the home is sold or the listing is removed.

A user can search through the MLS database by filtering specific requirements like home features, pricing, neighborhood locations, and much more. Agents can also create a hot sheet which generates home listings based on customized specifications.

Expert Tells-All: MLS Property Databases

Understanding the basics of MLS is just the first step to fully maximizing the system’s capabilities. Charlotte Ferguson, a real estate agent who ranks in the top 1% of agents in the Atlanta metropolitan, provides actionable tips you can apply:

Use notifications as a buyer.

If you’re currently in the market to buy a home, MLS can be an extremely favorable tool. Ferguson says, “once a buyer is pre-qualified, [he or she] can get notified about home listings daily, as they come on the market.”  Due to low inventory in the real estate industry, this can be extremely advantageous.

Hire a professional photographer as a seller.

“Pictures are worth a million words,” says Ferguson, so it’s important to hire a professional who will capture the best photos of your home. Professional photography and videography can also be used to create virtual tours, be promoted on social media, or showcased at open houses.

Source: (markusspiske/ Pixabay)

Don’t create a listing without pictures.

Some agents will create a listing and add photos later, but Ferguson says that can be damaging in the selling process. Other Real estate sites  “source their information from MLS in the real-time” so an absence of pictures on MLS will also be reflected on other various websites. Listings without pictures are at a clear disadvantage and will often be overlooked.

Create a hot sheet.

“All home pages are the same for every agent, but agents can create a hot sheet for better usage,” says Ferguson. A hot sheet is a customized display within the homepage that provides listing information based on specifications. Your real estate agent can create a hot sheet based on zip code, new listings, pending sales that day, and much more. This will allow you to have better access to homes you want to keep an eye on as both a buyer or a seller.

Know MLS database limitations.

Because MLS limits the number of characters on a listing, limited verbiage can be a drawback. When crafting your listing, be sure to include keywords buyers would be searching for better optimization. Other listing features you can focus on in order to create a better listing include: photos, virtual tours, mapping options and location.

Use other databases in your search.

Regardless of your real estate agent’s MLS status, there are other search processes you can use in the process. For example, many real estate websites source from MLS, so you can pull data from a few to compare and contrast listings.

Article Image Source: (James McKinven/ Unsplash)