MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE (MLS)
Definition: "An MLS is an organization that collects, compiles and distributes information about homes listed for sale by its members, who are real estate brokers." Membership in a Multiple Listing Service is limited to real estate brokers only and members of the general public may not become members. There is no MLS covering the United States as a whole since these organizations cover either a local or regional area.
However, many real estate companies choose to sell their property listing information to real estate listing websites such as www.realestate.com, www.homegain.com and www.realtor.com. Prospective buyers from other states can have some idea of the type of homes available in their price range and usually get a tour of the house both inside and out by web cams.
For example, an MLS in Southampton allows prospective buyers to see full details of homes in the MLS listing in the Southampton area. Buyers can view color photos of the homes, see the street address, the length of time the home has been on the market and comments by the listing agent. They are provided with neighborhood and community guides with full demographics, a real estate price guide, location maps and information on schools.
Before the MLS concept came into existence, each individual broker had his or her own real estate listings of properties for sale. These individual properties were considered to be "exclusive listings" belonging to the broker and only he or she was allowed to show these properties. If another broker was interested in selling the property to one of his clients, he had to first receive permission from the listing broker before he could show the property. Therefore, in most instances, brokers were limited to selling their own listed properties.
Additionally, buyers had to work through several different real estate brokers or agents in order to be able to view available properties within their price range and area of interest. Now a buyer can work with one MLS broker with whom he has a good rapport and who understands his housing requirements - and who can provide full market access and service. Sellers benefit from this service since their property is available to all MLS brokers and agents to show these results in much wider exposure than having it limited to being listed and shown by only one broker.
Real estate brokers who are participants in an MLS are able to access listings of all other brokers who are members. Consequently, when an MLS member sells a property listed by another participating broker, the listing broker is required to split the commission with him or her.
However, you should be aware that not all real estate brokers belong to an MLS. This is not required by law and there are a number of companies that do not choose to take advantage of this service. Consequently, before signing up with an agent, be sure to ask whether or not he is a member of an MLS so that you can be assured of receiving all the benefits that this entails.