The system has existed in one form or another for more than 100 years. Its roots stretch back to the late 1800s. In those days, real estate brokers and agents would get together at local real estate industry associations to exchange and share information about properties that they were trying to sell. These same agents and brokers typically also had clients who were looking to buy. By sharing sales listings with one another, agents could clue one another in to interested buyers. For example, an agent who has listed a four-bedroom home on a cul-de-sac might share that listing with another agent who has a client who is looking for that exact thing.
Early listing services also played a huge role in the way that real estate commissions work. Basically, if a selling agent found a buyer through a buyer's agent after gathering to share listings, the buyer's agent would enjoy a share of the proceeds in the form of a commission. This same practice continues to this day, and it helps to incentivize agents to assist one another. Therefore, agents and brokers don't just benefit by assisting one another's' transactions; they also benefit financially.
It should come as no surprise that the earliest listing services were nothing like the ones that we know and love today. Agents literally carried around paper listings. At gatherings, they would lay the listings out on tables or otherwise share them with one another. There was no easy way to search these paper listings for specific details, so they were sometimes organized by property type and other attributes. The system was imperfect, but it was much better than having nothing at all. Over time, technology would transform the way in which the MLS works--and it would make it far more useful and effective too.
Although it existed for a few decades prior to this, the actual term "multiple listing service" wasn't first used until 1907. The very next year, 1909, the idea of the MLS was officially endorsed by the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges, which was the precursor of today's National Association of Realtors, or NAR. This endorsement cast a spotlight on the MLS. In no time, agents and brokers around the country started hearing about the new way of doing things. While no central MLS was ever created, separate MLS systems were established in different areas. Regional MLS systems continue to be the norm to this very day.
Over time, paper listings were replaced by digital ones. The MLS grew better and easier to use from one year to the next. One of the best things about this system from real estate professionals' standpoint is that it levels the playing field. Previously, powerful real estate agents could easily edge smaller operations out of the picture due to their sheer clout. Thanks to the system, huge real estate agencies and one-person operations alike can compete fairly equally with one another.
The level playing field is also beneficial for buyers and sellers. Without this kind of democracy, large agencies would dominate the landscape. They wouldn't face much competition, so they wouldn't have to worry too much about providing good services. They usually have access to far more resources than smaller operations. Without the database, home buyers and sellers would never see the advantage in hiring smaller firms. Since everyone can tap into the MLS, however, you can hire a big agency or a single person as your agent and still enjoy the same basic benefits--and that is huge. Today's real estate landscape would look a lot different without the MLS.
A Brief History of the MLS
The pre-MLS days were dark times for real estate professionals. They had major problems, and they needed a workable solution. Around the late 1800s, local real estate brokers and agents started banding together to form local associations. These associations would then meet up on a regular basis so that members could share their listings with each other.
Naturally, the system would only work if the people involved provided accurate information. Luckily, there was a built-in incentive for doing so: having access to accurate information from other agents. Even so, a little more was needed, so members of these associations started compensating one another. For example, if one agent found a buyer for another agent’s listing through their membership in the association, that agent would be entitled to a share of the resulting commission.
Early on, agents’ and brokers’ real estate listings would be printed out and compiled into books for members of these early multiple listing services. Once a week or at whatever frequency suited their needs, they would meet up to acquire the latest editions of these books. While listings were organized by criteria like location, size and price, these books were still unwieldy to use. Zeroing in on properties that met home buyers’ needs typically involved a lot of scanning and flipping through these massive books, so it wasn’t exactly quick or efficient.
When computer technology started becoming more widespread, real estate information started migrating over to databases. Prior to the internet, many local MLSs established databases that members could access via dial-up modems. This was a step up from those printed books, but it was still pretty archaic and confusing.
Things really changed with the internet. The first MLS went online in 1996, and many others quickly followed suit. Internet technology transformed the way in which MLS listings were accessed and shared, but strict rules remained—and remain to this day—regarding who can access complete MLS information, which is much more detailed and sensitive.
How the MLS Improved Things
People often take it for granted now, but the MLS and the concepts behind it improved the real estate industry in many crucial ways. Based on a spirit of cooperation between professionals who are also competitors, the MLS helped buyer’s agents and seller’s agents alike assist their clients more effectively and capably. The basic tenets of the MLS remain in force to this day; when one agent benefits from another agent’s listing, both agents share in the commission. In the long run, everyone gets what they want—and they get it a lot more easily.
MLS Guidelines and Why They Matter
As is the case in any industry, some real estate professionals through the years have seen fit to provide inaccurate information to other agents or to hide good properties from them for various reasons—typically for personal gain. One of the revolutionary things about multiple listing services is that they only accept listings that adhere to strictly enforced guidelines. This is done for everyone’s benefit because agents, brokers, buyers and sellers all have an easier time when they can trust in the accuracy of the listings that they use.
Agents are required to adhere to these guidelines, and most of them do so readily because it is to their own advantage as well. However, there are exceptions. To keep these to a minimum, most local MLSs enforce their guidelines strictly. In fact, some even levy fines against agents who are caught flouting them. This is typically reserved for egregious cases of deliberate non-compliance, but it works well to keep everyone honest.
The rules that are enforced by individual MLSs vary, but most of them require listings to adhere to the following guidelines:
- Accuracy – Agents are required to provide the most accurate information that they can about properties in their listings. It is up to individual agents to confirm specific details about a property, including its total square footage and specific location, before submitting its listing to the database. As a result, MLS listings are usually highly accurate. Everyone is human, of course, so there are very occasional exceptions.
- Timeliness – One way that agents may try to game the system is by withholding information about newly listed properties. This may be done to give preference to specific people or for other reasons. If they participate in an MLS and want their listing to appear there, however, brokers and agents usually agree to share listings within 24 to 48 hours of when the listing agreement was signed. Listings in Boston City Properties’ database are updated continually, so you can be certain of their timeliness regardless of when you search.
- Photos – It stands to reason that anyone who is looking at a real estate listing wants to know what the property looks like. Long ago, then, most MLSs started requiring photos to be included in all listings. This used to pose a bit of a problem; thanks to smartphones and the like, however, that’s not the case anymore. Many MLSs require listings to include a minimum number of photos, and photos must usually be of a certain quality. When you search our database, then, you can always check out photos for properties that pique your interest.
Accessing the MLS
When you sign up to search Boston City Properties’ listings, you gain access to a database that includes continually updated listings from the MLS. However, that doesn’t mean that you will have direct, full access to the MLS proper. You have to be a licensed real estate professional to get that, and it wouldn’t do you any good anyway.
Public MLS listings include detailed information about specific properties. Agents can see even more information, including confidential data like sellers’ addresses and phone numbers. Their side of the system also usually lets them view the history of the property in question and other data. There is no need for sellers to have access to such information; in fact, it would be unsafe due to all of the personal information that should really be kept confidential.
The MLS in Boston and Massachusetts
As noted previously, there are MLSs for regions across the country. They come in many sizes and configurations. Some are ultra-specific to very small submarkets; others are much vaster, covering entire regions of the U.S. It pays to stick with MLS information that is sourced from your desired search area, and identifying the most relevant local MLS used to be the best way to do that. It still matters, but it’s not like finding a needle in a haystack anymore.
Our database includes listings from several regional MLSs, but one of them deserves a special mention: the MLS PIN. This MLS is the largest in New England, so it’s the most comprehensive source of real estate information for that region of the country. At last count, it had around 33,000 participating members and subscribers. At any given time, it includes upwards of 28,000 listings for properties that are for sale throughout New England. One of the nice things about searching with Boston City Properties is that you’ll only get results for properties that are located in Massachusetts.
Boston City Properties takes great care when sourcing data for our listings. We are proud to rely on the MLS PIN for much of the data that we provide, but we pull from many other sources as well. While the MLS is comprehensive, it doesn’t include everything. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to access highly accurate and timely information, and we want to make sure that they are aware of all of the available options.
For Access to Reliable MLS Listings, You Can’t Beat Boston City Properties
A lot goes into finding the right home—and that’s especially true in white-hot real estate markets like Boston’s. A huge part of it, of course, is having access to timely and accurate information, and turning to MLS-sourced listings is a great first step. We have you covered there and in many other ways, including the following:
- Searchable Database – We are proud to maintain one of the most comprehensive online databases of searchable MA real estate listings around. One thing that really sets our database apart is the fact that we carefully vet all of the sources that we use. We therefore rely heavily on the MLS to bring you the most accurate information at all times.
- Powerful Search Tool – Unlike in the old days, when agents had to painstakingly scan through huge books of real estate listings, everything that you need to know is digitized and therefore much easier to find. Our search tool improves even further on these capabilities by putting you in the driver’s seat. It lets you search thousands of property listings in an instant, refining the results based on your criteria. When combined with accurate MLS data, you can’t do better.
- Detailed Listings – You don’t have to wait for your agent to get back from the weekly meeting to see if any properties in the area suit your needs. Our listings are designed to adhere to MLS guidelines, and everything is available with a few clicks of the mouse button. When you pull up an individual listing, you will find in-depth information about the property, including its total square footage and total number of bedrooms and bathrooms. There will also be tons of photos, so you can gain a clearer understanding about what the property is like.
- Email Updates – If one thing is true about local real estate markets, it’s that they change on a dime. The perfect property may not appear today, but it could be listed tomorrow. Another benefit of signing up with Boston City Properties is that you never have to worry about missing out. When new listings for properties that meet your criteria appear, we will alert you via email.
- Answers – You will find that listings in our database generally cover the basics. However, if you have questions about any listings that appear in your results, a member of our team will be happy to help. Just give us a call and tell us which listing you need help with, and we’ll take it from there. If we can’t quickly give you an answer, we will refer you to a local real estate agent who can.
As you can see, the MLS has a powerful influence on Boston City Properties’ ability to provide you with timely and accurate information about Boston real estate. In addition to all of the resources that are highlighted above, we also have connections with experienced real estate agents across all Boston neighborhoods and in cities and towns throughout the Bay State. When you’re ready to proceed, give us a call for a referral.
Sign Up to Search MLS Listings Today
See for yourself what a difference the MLS has made in the world of real estate by signing up to search Boston City Properties’ listings today. Just complete and submit the simple form, and you’ll be good to go. Use our search tool to zero in on properties in your desired area, and adjust filters to refine your results further. Later, contact us to get a referral to a local real estate professional who can take you to look at properties and more. For more information, call Boston City Properties.