MLS Notes

Section Definition + Intro

Multiple listing services underpin the U.S. residential real estate brokerage industry. They serve as a listing database for all a market’s homes for sale while enabling collaboration between competing brokers and agents to get homes sold as quickly as possible for the highest price. 

The nation’s approximately 620 MLSs essentially serve as cooperatives, the result of brokerages in a certain region coming together to collaborate on marketing and selling each other’s listings. MLSs are anchored by a technology platform, often provided by a third-party software provider.

The earliest MLS concepts emerged in the late 1800s when brokers came together to help each other by connecting one’s seller with the other’s buyer. By the early 1900s the precursors to the modern MLS started cropping up around the nation. Today, MLSs stand as one of the industry’s most widely, frequently used and most valued pieces of technology.

The MLS Landscape

The MLS world is quite diverse, but, as with local Realtor associations, the biggest of the big stand in a class of their own and account for a bulk of the nation’s MLS subscriber count.

The nation’s large regional MLSs have huge footprints, sophisticated technology, innovative business practices and well-run management structures. As the name suggests, regional MLSs serve members across a broad geographic area, sometimes statewide or even across multiple states. These include California Regional MLS (96,203 subscribers), Bright MLS (88,071 subscribers) and Florida-based Beaches MLS (58,600 subscribers).

Most of the nation’s MLS subscribers are members of one of these large MLSs; 13 percent of the nation’s 585 MLSs account for approximately 80 percent of nation’s 1.4 million MLS subscribers.

On the other side of the spectrum are small local MLSs. These organizations, which do not have as many resources, have memberships measuring in just the hundreds. Roughly 400 of the nation’s 585 MLSs have under 400 subscribers.

In some cases, two or more local MLSs serve the same city, such as First Multiple Listing Service and Georgia MLS in Atlanta. In other cases, such as, MLSs cover the majority of a state or span multiple states.

Since the early 1990s, the MLS industry has seen a wave of consolidation. As of press time, T3 Sixty noted 585 MLSs; just two years ago, there were over 650. Five years ago, there were over 800.

To better serve members, save money with economies of scale and achieve efficiencies, many of today’s MLSs are actively partnering, which takes a variety of forms.

Some MLSs are fully merging and creating new, larger organizations such as Bright MLS and SmartMLS in the Mid-Atlantic region and Connecticut, respectively.

Other MLSs pursue different forms of collaboration. MLS Grid – led by MRED with nine other regional MLSs – for example, represents a partnership in which members have established one license agreement. A vendor signs that single agreement and can then get data from and work with any MLS Grid member.

Some MLSs are focusing on developing tech in-house such as MLS Aligned, a cooperative formed of noncontiguous MLSs Arizona Regional MLS, MetroMLS (Wisconsin), MLSListings (Silicon Valley), Regional MLS (Oregon) and, that will share resources in building tools and providing support to members.

Still others such as Northeast Florida MLS and Hernando County Association of Realtors are signing data-share agreements that combine their real estate databases, allowing members and consumers to search the full database of each and display them on IDX sites.

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