MLS (Multiple Listing Service)

MLS Systems in Northern America, are Managed by Private Bodies

A Multiple Listing Service (MLS) (also Multiple Listing System or Multiple Listings Service) is a suite of services that:

  1. Allows brokers to establish contractual offers of compensation (among each other);
  2. Makes cooperation possible with other broker MLS participants;
  3. Acquires and distributes data to assist with appraisals;
  4. Provides a service for systematic relationship and distribution of listing data to enhance service of broker's customers, clients, and the general public.

MLS Logo A multiple listing service (MLS) provides software programs along with a property database and is is employed by real real estate broker members who represent their sellers through a listing agreement to share details about listed properties with other real estate broker members of the MLS who may be acting on the behalf of potential buyers or desire to use the MLS to find a for a listed property. All listing data deposited in the database of a multiple listing service is information belonging to the broker obtaining a contractual listing agreement signed by the seller of a property.

There is no such thing as single all encompassing "MLS", therefore no common collective data format exists. However, there is are data standards - Real Estate Transaction Standards - that is being used among a great many multiple listing systems throughout the North American Continent. There are numerous private and local databases--some controlled by single Realtor associations or groups of associations (which may represent brokers within a certain geographical area or community) or by a group of real estate brokers that are identified as the MLS collectively due to their sharing of data or reciprocal cooperation agreements.

Most widely seen in Canada and the US but proliferating in other countries using an array of fashions, the MLS combines listings of all properties listed by brokers that are members of that particular MLS service. The US Supreme Count as struck down the following sentence, who are both members of that MLS system and of NAR or CREA, (the National Association of Realtor in the US or the Canadian Real Estate Association).

A principal reason for the existence of an MLS is to make a service available to disseminate a "unilateral offer of compensation" by a particular member broker, to other member broker of that MLS service. Another way of stating, a commission rate tendered by a listing broker and made available through MLS to other brokers who may want to cooperate on listings. This compensation offer is a contractual obligation established by the MLS, however it can be negotiated between the listing broker and the broker representing the buyer. (Note: in The MLS in which I belong, it is clearly stated that the listing broker sets the selling broker fee and there is no other negotiation allowed between listing and selling brokers with regards to commission) Allowing that the commission on each sale along with the features of the property stored within in the MLS, It is therefore in the best interest of all parties to maintain timely and accurate records.

A huge advantage to the MLS is that a MLS member may search through the MLS to acquire information about every home listed for sale by every member broker. MLS systems may contain literally thousands of fields of data regarding various features of a particular property. These data fields are predetermined determined MLS committee members made up of by knowledgeable and experienced real estate professionals that given market area while real estate websites maintained for the public may provide a relatively small amount of property information (such as the public IDX feeds located on this website)..

MLS systems in Northern America, the are managed by private bodies, and by rules are set out by those organizations with no federal or state interference, beyond any particular state laws in reference to real estate. All MLS organizations set their own membership rules, accessibility, and information sharing, but are governed nationwide rules set out by the by CREA. or NAR. An MLS may be privately owned and managed by a real estate brokerage, by a regional or county association of Realtors, by multiple association of Realtors, or even by a trade association. MLS membership is generally considered essential to the process of operating real estate brokerage. through here Jan 19, 2011 

Limitations of access to the MLS

Most MLS systems restrict membership and access to real estate brokers (and their agents) who are appropriately licensed by the state (or province); are members of a local board or association of Realtors; and are members of the trade association (e.g., NAR or CREA). However, access is becoming more open as internet sites offer the public the ability to view portions of MLS listings (see below).

A person selling his/her own property - acting as a For Sale By Owner (or FSBO) - cannot put a listing for the home directly into the MLS.(Note: Under the MLS for Spain,  FSBO listing are allowed.) Similarly, a properly licensed broker who chooses to neither join the trade association nor operate a business within the associations's rules, cannot join the MLS.

However, there are brokers and many online services which offer FSBO sellers the option of listing their property in their local MLS database by paying a flat fee or another non-traditional compensation method.

MLS Systems in North America


In Canada, MLS is a cooperative system for the 82,000+ members of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), working through Canada's 99 real estate boards and 11 provincial/territorial associations. The website is a publicly accessible and allows consumers to search the MLS database of properties, providing limited details and directing consumers to contact a Realtor for more information.

United States

The largest MLS in the United States is currently the Washington, DC region's Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc (MRIS) covering Washington DC, most of Maryland (including the Chesapeake Bay counties) and suburban Virginia counties, and parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. As of late May 2008, it has about 55,600 active members, according to the public access sections of its website, although numbers vary according to when accessed.

New York City

Although the other boroughs and Long Island have an MLS, Manhattan does not, but it does have a database called RLS, which is governed by REBNY (Real Estate Board of New York). Many brokerages are members, but controversies surround it, especially since members are required to place listings on the system within 72 hours. Like many other MLS systems requiring timely inclusion of information into the system, this allows brokers to contact all potential clients before they list.

Policies on sharing MLS data in the USA

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has set policies that permit brokers to show limited MLS information on their websites under a system known as IDX or Internet Data Exchange. NAR has an ownership interest in Move Inc., the company which operates a website that has been given exclusive rights to display significant MLS information. The site is

Using IDX search tools available on most real estate brokers' websites (as well as on many individual agents' sites), potential buyers may view properties available on the market, using search features such as location, type of property (single family, lease, vacant land, duplex), property features (number of bedrooms and bathrooms), and price ranges. In some instances photos can be viewed. Many allow for saving search criteria and for daily email updates of newly-available properties. However, if a potential buyer finds a property, he/she will still need to contact the listing agent (their own agent, or the agent running the website) to view the house and make an offer.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit in September 2005 against the National Association of Realtors over NAR's policy which allowed brokers to restrict access to their MLS information from appearing on the websites of certain brokers which operate solely on the web. This policy applied to commercial entities which are also licensed brokerages, such as HomeGain, which solicit clients by internet advertising and then provide referrals to local agents in return for a fee of 25% to 35% of the commission.

The DOJ's antitrust claims also include NAR rules that exclude certain kinds of brokers from membership in MLSs. NAR has revised its policies on allowing access on web sites operated by member brokers and others to what might be considered as proprietary data.

The case was settled in May 2008, with NAR agreeing that Internet brokerages would be given access to all the same listings that traditional brokerages are.

Origin of the MLS

The first Multiple Listing Service was started in the United States in 1968 by a small group of dedicated brokers in Traverse City, Michigan. Lead by its conceptionist, Roland M. Habrecht (1925-2009), these brokers together compiled the initial guidelines and data for this listing service. Upon submission and approval from the NAR, it became the first service of its kind in the field and shortly after became an industry standard. Today it is universally accepted and used, both in the United States and internationally in various forms.

Alternatives and changes to the MLS system

Up until 1968 almost all brokers involved in transactions represented the seller, either as the seller's agent or as the sub-agent of the listing broker. The seller paid the listing broker who, in turn, was responsible for compensating the broker working with the buyer. The MLS was intended to be a simple system that benefited everyone, including both the buyers and sellers.

The 2005 Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors threatens the exclusivity MLS services in the US. If this case undermines MLS exclusivity, open internet MLS systems may begin to thrive, perhaps combined with Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking, allowing buyers and sellers to interact without the need for an agent.

MLS systems worldwide

Although many countries are lacking regulations regarding real estate transactions, lately there are attempts to align with those in developed markets. A special case may be Italy which is developing the first international MLS. Its multilingual interface, which translates property details and all the web pages instantly and automatically into 8 languages, allows estate agents to share their property listings with other estate agents around the world. The platform links over 1000 real estate agents and over 40000 offers from 16 countries worldwide.


In certain European countries, most notably in Spain. The spanish MLS web is

Real estate agents pay subscription fees to an MLS company which then allow property listings to be uploaded onto their servers. Also, all subscribing real estate agents create a property search link on their own websites which links directly to the MLS service. Thus, any site visitor to any of the subscribing agents' sites will be able to find all properties listed on the MLS servers, even though they are visiting the website of a single agent. In effect, every single subscribing real estate agent appears to be offering exactly the same properties for sale, not unlike the situation with IDX systems in the United States.

When buyers use the internet to find property, often using Google, the search results usually provide a list of real estate agentsí websites in the locality which is being searched. The buyer clicks through the various websites and starts browsing properties of interest, although every site visited is offering the same properties because they are all linked to the same MLS server.

The buyer then has to choose an agent (again, not very different from elsewhere), but it does force the buyer to make a decision, since all agents in the area have access to all properties and the seller's agent will benefit regardless of who brings the buyer, again very like the US.

Although there are currently no regulations in Europe in relation to MLS, it may be a matter of time before its use may be viewed as a restrictive practice designed to benefit real estate agents, rather than consumers.

See also

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