Is a National MLS Really Necessary?


A multiple listing service (MLS) is an information-sharing system currently used by brokers to help standardise the industry.


The jury is still out on whether or not a national MLS is necessary or helpful. Debates continue and one side has yet to accede.

In the real estate community, it continues to be a part of an ongoing conversation and questions about its purpose and advantages continue to flow. Opponents not only doubt that a national MLS will help agents and brokers or provide better governance, they also see it as misdirected.

They believe the concept is a solution to a non-existent problem.

Rather than focus on consolidation of the MLS’ management structures and governance, focus should be directed to MLS data and technology. There is no need to place existing regional MLS in one repository but changes have to be made.

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One recommendation is the use of a national network of property-related databases that can be accessed through a common set of APIs (application program interfaces).

This will enable the industry to accomplish significant goals and solve many of the problems that agents and brokers of today face when working across multiple MLS systems.


Standardize Data Examination

The problem with existing MLS databases today is that one platform is incompatible with the other, requiring an agent to become a member of each listing that they want to access.

Data in each MLS are also presented in different schemas.

Although there is a growing trend of “share” listings that eliminate the need to enroll and pay for a membership, only a few websites aggregate home listings. This means there could only be one MLS that have the keys to any single home.

By standardizing how data is examined and how results are received, access to valuable information will be made easier. Share listings will become less of a hassle as well.

The best course of action is to open the database to a standardized access method.


Lower Barriers to Entry

With databases built to the same standards, new and innovative applications will be able to penetrate the market much more easily. This will result in a better and quicker operation.  


Improve Productivity

With more new and innovative applications available in the market, programs that agents and brokers can use will be available at a lower price. When they have affordable access to such tools, they can work faster and do more in one day than they are able to do today with limitations in place.


Is the alternative better than a national MLS?

Without the barriers of multiple MLS systems today…

  • Brokers will receive one consolidated data from multiple sources.
  • Agents will only need one tool across all standardized databases.
  • Prices of applications and tools would drop because software need not be customized for a specific MLS database.
  • Marketing a property would take less time since one listing can be made available to a number of MLS databases at one time.

The multiple listing service or MLS has been around since 1907 when it was first coined. At that time, it was used to describe a regular meeting of real estate agents to trade information about certain properties.

Times have changed since then, but MLS remains regional, even if it appears like one huge national database. In the United States, there are between 700 and 800 MLS’, with each one having their own rules on data licensing.

They also have different fee structures and agents and brokers are required to work on behalf of or for an MLS member to access the database.


What does an agent have to do, for now?

With barriers and boundaries that agents have to navigate through and over, a nationwide MLS may seem a good idea. But because there’s no easy way to make that happen soon and a better alternative is still in the pipeline, they need to employ better strategies in the meantime.

  • Concentrate on one MLS with a larger market than a lot of smaller ones.
  • Establish a good relationship with the brokerages and/or agents in an MLS closest to you.
  • Get RETS access and look into better data importing.  


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