What Is MLS in Real Estate?

Multiple listing services feature information about properties for sale.
Barbara Marquand
By Barbara Marquand 
Edited by Mary M. Flory

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MLS in real estate stands for multiple listing service, the platform that real estate agents use to list properties for sale and find homes for buyers. The listing and buyer's agents participating in the MLS agree to share commission when properties are sold.

Although people often refer to the MLS as a single entity, there are actually hundreds of multiple listing services across the country.

The MLS concept has been around since the late 1800s when brokers met at their local association offices to exchange information, according to the National Association of Realtors.

How the multiple listing service works

Each MLS is a private database maintained and paid for by an organization of real estate brokers and agents. Multiple listing services range in size from covering small regions to multiple states, and some markets are covered by more than one MLS. In recent years, the number of multiple listing services has declined as smaller ones have merged to create larger regional ones for greater efficiency.

Real estate professionals pay a fee to belong to a multiple listing service, and they may belong to more than one. In exchange for membership, they can post listings of the properties their clients are selling.

How to list a home on the MLS

If you're working with a listing agent to sell your home, the agent will list the property on the multiple listing services that cover your area.

If you're going the for-sale-by-owner, or FSBO, route, you can pay a company to place your listing on the MLS. Many owners who are selling their properties without the help of agents skip the MLS and post their listings on websites specializing in FSBO listings, such as FSBO.com and ForSaleByOwner.com.

How to search for homes on the MLS

You may be able to search for homes on the website of the MLS that covers your area. But you can find listings from many different MLSs on real estate websites for consumers and agents, such as Zillow, where you can search by location, price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and other criteria.

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