A multiple listing service (MLS, also multiple listing system or multiple listings service) is a suite of services that enables real estate brokers to establish contractual offers of compensation (among brokers), facilitates cooperation with other broker participants, accumulates and disseminates information to enable appraisals, and is a facility for the orderly correlation and dissemination of listing information to better serve broker's clients, customers and the public. A multiple listing service's database and software is used by real estate brokers in real estate (or aircraft broker in other industries for example), representing sellers under a listing contract to widely share information about properties with other brokers who may represent potential buyers or wish to cooperate with a seller's broker in finding a buyer for the property or asset. The listing data stored in a multiple listing service's database is the proprietary information of the broker who has obtained a listing agreement with a property's seller.
According to the U.S. National Association of Realtors:
In the late 1800s, real estate brokers regularly gathered at the offices of their local associations to share information about properties they were trying to sell. They agreed to compensate other brokers who helped sell those properties, and the first MLS was born, based on a fundamental principle that's unique to organized real estate: Help me sell my inventory and I'll help you sell yours.
"MLS" in the United States is a generic and, therefore, not possible of being trademarked and branded term which has commonly become known to mean "multiple listing service". There is no single authoritative MLS, and no universal data format. However, in real estate there is a data standard--the Real Estate Transaction Standard--which is being deployed among many MLSes in North America. The many local and private databases, using XML data feeds to input and output agents listings--some of which are controlled by single associations of realtors or groupings of associations (which represent all brokers within a given community or area) or by real estate brokers--are collectively referred to as the MLS because of their data sharing or reciprocal access agreements.
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Purpose and benefits
The primary purpose of an MLS is to provide a facility to publish a "unilateral offer of compensation" by a listing broker, to other broker participants in that MLS. In other words, the commission rate that is offered by the listing broker is published within the MLS to other cooperating brokers. This offer of compensation is considered a contractual obligation, however it can be negotiated between the listing broker and the broker representing the buyer. Since the commission for a transaction as well as the property features are contained in the MLS system, it is in the best interests of the broker participants (and thereby the public) to maintain accurate and timely data.
The additional benefit of MLS systems is that an MLS subscriber may search an MLS and retrieve information about all homes for sale by all participating brokers. MLS systems contain hundreds of fields of information about the features of a property. These fields are determined by real estate professionals who are knowledgeable and experienced in that local marketplace, whereas public real estate websites contain only a small subset of property data.
Limitations on access and other criticisms
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 applicable national trade association (e.g., NAR or CREA). Access is becoming more open as Internet sites offer the public the ability to view portions of MLS listings. There still remains some limitation to access to information within MLSes; generally, only agents who are compensated proportional to the value of the sale have uninhibited access to the MLS database. Many public Web forums have a limited ability in terms of reviewing comparable properties, past sales prices or monthly supply statistics. This represents the cornerstone of several ongoing arguments about the current health of the real-estate market, which are centered on free and open information being necessary for both the buying and selling parties to ensure fair prices are negotiated during closing, ultimately allowing a stable and less volatile market.
A person selling his/her own property - acting as a For sale by owner (or FSBO) seller - cannot generally put a listing for the home directly into an MLS. An example of an exception to this general practice is the national MLS for Spain, AMLASpain, where FSBO listing are allowed. Similarly, a licensed broker who chooses to neither join the trade association nor operate a business within the association's rules, cannot join most MLSes. 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.
In Canada, CREA has come under scrutiny and investigation by the Competition Bureau and litigation by former CREA member and real estate brokerage Realtysellers (Ontario) Ltd., for the organization's control over the Canadian MLS system. In 2001, Realtysellers (Ontario) Ltd., a discount real-estate firm was launched that reduced the role of agents and the commissions they collect from home buyers and sellers. The brokerage later shut down and launched a $100 million lawsuit against CREA and TREB, alleging that they breached an earlier out-of-court settlement that the parties entered into in 2003.
The MLS in Israel has been operating since 1990 only in the Jerusalem area. The Israeli Multiple Listing Service began in 2013 and is managed by a Multiple Listing Service LTD.
The Philippine Association of Realtors Boards (PAREB) operates the RPMLX, an MLS for the Philippines.
The Vietnam Multiple Listing Service was started in 2010. The MLS in Vietnam is based around the U.S. model, with some changes to accommodate different local market conditions. In particular, the system supports open agency listings as well as MLS listings, as the current market operates mainly on the open agency model. FSBO listings, however, are not allowed.
There is no general MLS for Australia; however, a private company Investorist operates a specialised MLS for off the plan property, which is used by some Australian developers and master agents. Investorist is also accessed by international agents.
realestate.com.au Pty. Ltd. operates Property Platform, which allows real-time reservations and eCommerce reservation fee processing.
In the Czech Republic, MLS - Multiple Listing Systems do exist via system names IMMO2, Czech Realtors operates in this MLS system for the Czech Republic. IMMO2 is officially associated with many realtors across the Europe and lawfully use the trademarked term "IMMO2" (It means Immobilien or immovable at square). Czech Real Estate Agents cooperates via this page
In Italy there are many MLSs and it is possible to choose between a number of software enabling real estate agencies either to manage and share with others their properties or to syndicate their listings on the web, or both the two things.
Although many countries are lacking regulations regarding real estate transactions, lately there are attempts to align with those in developed markets.
In the United Kingdom, MLS - Multiple Listing Systems do exist via some of the agents software providers, but many software providers have only designed their software as to work in one company (be they have 1 or 20-30 offices). The problem is that most software packages for agents do not allow them to cross share data between other company agencies (separate brokerages), so MLS in the United Kingdom is in its infancy and a cross data platform now exists via INEA (The Independent Network of Estate Agents) who are working with 2/3 of the main software providers meaning that at last one agent can select other agents to send and receive MLS shared listings. Until INEA most software providers did not work together so there has never been a cross data platform or a MLS data standard.
In the United Kingdom, a private company Investorist, operates a specialised MLS for off-plan property, which is used by many developers and master agents. Investorist is also accessed by international agents.
MLS History in the United Kingdom. In the 1980s and early/mid 1990s agents did work together much like the early U.S. and Canadian realtors via paper-based forms which had tick-boxes offering a listing from one agent to sub-agents, attached would be the property details pre-agreed with the owner for correctness, a photographic negative of photo; later a similar procedure was carried out by email and graphic computer file. This worked in that all agents involved could copy and process the paper- or email-based property data. The main agent was treated as the vendor, all sales progression went through the main agent, and commission was split on completion.
The Dark Years: In the late 1990s many of the smaller agencies were acquired by larger concerns (known as corporates) and when this happened it broke many of the smaller agent MLS relationships. More software options came in (all in competition) and, as the software houses did not work together, their collectives of agents became fragmented by non-collaborative out-of-group software restraints. With large property portals gaining ground in the 2000s agents in the UK started working alone as all could upload to the same portal platforms.
Changing: The poor economy and rising portal charges to agents has meant a shift. Agents are spending less funds on fewer portals, dropping from 4-5 to maybe a main one and a secondary portal, which they may hop from to try another. Slowly agents are realising by collaborating again and via the new UK MLS data standard INEA (IDX) that they can use each other's resources and by working together can gain greater client marketing at reduced costs.
MLS: The future in the UK: INEA research and development has shown that there is again a platform for MLS in the UK and the good old days of paper based listing collaboration with the support of now 2/3 of the main UK software houses means that agents can have their website populated by 1/ their own listings and 2/ a secondary INEA feed with subs accepted. Although still young, MLS in the UK has reached an important benchmark. So from the 1990s where agents displayed their listings in other agents office windows and on their display walls in cross branding, finally the gap has been crossed where today agents own websites can show both their own and other agents data and truly provide clients with the 'instruct me and you get these other MLS agents too'.
In Costa Rica, the only official MLS with verified real estate listings in the country is governed by CCCBR (Costa Rica Chamber of Real Estate Brokers Board), and the software is designed by Propertyshelf. CCCBR is the only official body that represents the Real Estate industry to the government. The Chamber institutes the rules, regulations and ethical guide for officially licensed brokers in Costa Rica.
In North America, the MLS systems are governed by private entities, and the rules are set by those entities with no state or federal oversight, beyond any individual state rules regarding real estate. MLS systems set their own rules for membership, access, and sharing of information, but are subject to nationwide rules laid down by NAR or CREA. An MLS may be owned and operated by a real estate company, a county or regional real estate board of realtors or association of realtors, or by a trade association. Membership of the MLS is not required for the practice of real estate brokerage.
In Canada, the national MLS® is a cooperative system for the 98,000+ REALTOR® members of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), working through Canada's 101 real estate boards and 11 provincial/territorial associations. Both the terms Realtor® and MLS® are the Canadian proprietal trademarked terms and brand for both the members (REALTORS®) and data (MLS®) of the CREA, in contrast to the United States where MLS® is the proprietal and trademarked term and brand for Major League Soccer®.
The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) claims to have pioneered the first MLS® in Canada.
A publicly accessible website (at realtor.ca, formerly mls.ca) allows consumers to search an aggregated subset of each participating board's MLS® database of active listings, providing limited details and directing consumers to contact a realtor for more information.
CREA has come under scrutiny and investigation by the Competition Bureau and litigation by former CREA member and real estate brokerage Realtysellers (Ontario) Ltd., for the organization's control over the Canadian MLS® system. In 2001, Realtysellers (Ontario) Ltd., a discount real-estate firm was launched that reduced the role of agents and the commissions they collect from home buyers and sellers. The brokerage later shutdown and launched a $100million lawsuit against CREA and TREB, alleging that they breached an earlier out-of-court settlement that the parties entered into in 2003.
The largest MLS in the United States is currently California's super-regional California Regional Multiple Listing Service (CRMLS) covering most of Southern California. As of December 11, 2012 it has about 71,000 active members, according to Inman News. Other notable MLSs include MRIS at 40,000 members serving Maryland and parts of West Virginia, MRED at 40,000 members serving Chicagoland and northern Illinois, and ARMLS in Arizona serving 30,000 members in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
New York City
Although the other boroughs and Long Island have several different MLS, MLS has never taken hold in Manhattan. A small group of brokers formed the Manhattan Association of Realtors and operate MLSManhattan.com. MLSManhattan has a small fraction of the total active inventory in Manhattan. The Bronx Manhattan North MLS also offers coverage in Northern Manhattan. It too has failed to acquire widespread adoption by brokers.
The prevalent database is operated by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), a non-Realtor entity that seceded from the National Association of Realtors in 1994. REBNY operates a database called RLS which stands for REBNY Listing Service. A predecessor of RLS was marketed as R.O.L.E.X (REBNY Online Listing Exchange), before Rolex Watches claimed trademark infringement.
Like MLS, RLS has under contract, sold and days on market data, and houses rental listings as well. There is a database, which in 2011, was slated to be converted to the more familiar RETS standard in January 2012. The RLS gateway is populated by several private databases that include RealtyMX (RMX), Online Residential (OLR) and Realplus, another proprietary database available to Manhattan Brokers. These databases exchange data continually effectively creating several separate systems with essentially similar data. Another vendor, Klickads, Inc D/B/A Brokers NYC, owned by Lala Wang sued in 2007 to be included in the list of firms permitted to participate in the Gateway. REBNY also grandfathered the major brokerages including Douglas Elliman, Corcoran, Stribling, Bellmarc as participants to the Gateway.
Seriously committed Manhattan brokerages are members of REBNY, and thus one may find the vast majority of updated and valid listings in Manhattan are represented by RLS. The REBNY RLS requires all listings to be entered and disseminated within 24 hours (Until 2007 72 Hours to accommodate agencies without weekend data entry)
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.
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 (or their own agent) 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.
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