What Does MLS Stand for in Real Estate?

Marketing is a primary responsibility for real estate listing agents. While newspaper and web advertisements tell you the agent is marketing your property directly to potential buyers, advertisements that include a Multiple Listing Service number tell you the agent is also exposing your property to other real estate brokers and agents.

MLS refers to a cooperative of real estate brokers and agents within a specific geographic area. Members pool their listings in a central database and make them available to brokers and agents outside the listing company who also subscribe to the service. As evidence of its popularity, of the 6,572 home sellers who responded to the National Association of Realtors 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers survey, 5980 -- 91 percent -- reported that their home was an MLS listing.

How It Works

Local MLS associations offer a way to exchange information between real estate professionals, who in turn provide information to their clients. There is no national MLS database. According to the Council of Multiple Listing Services, there are more than 800 regional and locally owned associations, all of which operate and maintain their own private websites. An MLS identification number on a public website listing is a reference number for a particular association’s members.

Most associations restrict membership to licensed real estate brokers and agents who belong to local realtors associations and the National Association of Realtors. Each association has its own rules and bylaws that conform to the rules, regulations and policies of the National Association of Realtors.

Although a side benefit is increased exposure, the primary purpose of an MLS listing is to publicize the commission rate offered by the listing agent. While the publicized offer creates a contractual obligation, the listing and the selling agents have the legal right to negotiate other terms.

For Sale by Owner MLS

For sale by owner (FSBO) sellers can’t submit an MLS listing directly, but can submit a listing through an FSBO representative such as ForSaleByOwner.com and MLSMyHome.com. After you complete the required paperwork and pay the required fee, the representative will submit the listing to the appropriate MLS association in your name.