Let’s Hear It for the Multiple Listing Service: The Best Tool for Buyers & Sellers  

We hear a lot about “off-MLS” sales of homes, particularly by investors. Investors love to buy homes off the MLS, but they turn to the MLS to sell the homes they bought. Prospective sellers should read that sentence again, because it says everything you need to know about the value of the MLS: Buyers can pay less if the seller doesn’t put their home on the MLS; and sellers net more money by putting their home on the MLS.

Investors know they would pay “market value” for MLS listings, because that’s what the MLS is — it’s the market! Investors know they’ll be competing with other buyers if the home is on the MLS. That’s why they find the homes they buy by soliciting homeowners who do not have their home on the market.

They make an appealing pitch — no showings, no open houses, and a quick cash closing. Remember, investors are in business to make a profit, and the only way to make a profit is by paying you less than your home is worth by buying it off the MLS, and then selling it on the MLS.

Now, if money doesn’t matter that much to you — for example, you’re the personal representative of an estate, but you’re not a beneficiary — that’s probably an attractive pitch. After all, it’s not your money! But, if it’s your house and your money, just know that you’ll make more money from the sale of your house if you let a professional like one of the agents at Golden Real Estate expose your home to the full market — which is only accomplished by putting the home on the MLS.

I have written in the past about “iBuyers,” such as Open Door, which buy homes off the MLS, then flip them with minimal improvement by listing them on the MLS. You can find columns on that topic dated Jan. 2, 2020, and Aug. 22, 2019, at JimSmithColumns.com, where all these columns are archived. In those columns I point out that the iBuyer companies typically convince homeowners to meet with them by offering a high sight-unseen price, which is thousands above what they finally offer the seller. It’s a bait and switch approach, so beware!

The essence of the MLS is “cooperation and compensation.” Sellers hire a listing agent for a negotiable commission — currently averaging under 6 percent — which is large enough for the listing agent to compensate another MLS member for producing the buyer of that listing.

There’s an understandable misconception that the seller pays both the listing agent and the buyer’s agent and that somehow that’s unfair — that the buyer should pay his or her own agent.

But, although it may look as if the seller is paying both agents — because it is taken from the seller’s proceeds at closing — in fact, as I said above, the listing agent is paying the buyer’s agent out of his or her listing commission.

As shown in the graphic below, the MLS is at the heart of making the real estate market work efficiently to expose listings to the full universe of buyers. No other industry that I can think of works as well as the real estate industry, because no other industry has an MLS.

Last year, the National Association of Realtors introduced the Clear Cooperation Policy to make the MLS system work even better, telling participating Realtors, in effect, that if they want to be a member of the MLS, they must commit to giving fellow members a reasonable opportunity to find and sell their listings.

That policy has yet to achieve its goal because some MLS members find a way around it so they can sell their listings without sharing their commission with other MLS members. Golden Real Estate’s agents, however, are in full compliance.

‘Selling Agent’ vs. ‘Seller’s Agent’ Confuses People

Among the real estate terminology that confuses home buyers and sellers is the term “selling agent.” 

The selling agent is, in fact, the agent representing the buyer in the purchase of a home, not to be confused (hopefully) with the seller’s agent, also referred to as the listing agent.

The reasoning behind calling a buyer’s agent the selling agent is that the buyer’s agent is the one who actually sells the home. The listing agent could, of course, sell his listing himself, but 90% of the time (actually closer to 95% of the time), the home is sold by another agent who shows the home to a buyer and then writes the contract to purchase it. In return for finding the buyer, the listing agent then shares his or her listing commission with the selling agent. It’s called the “co-op” commission, because the selling agent is cooperating with the listing agent to sell the listing.

I like to compare our industry to the automobile industry. Picture, for a moment, a sales person working for a Chevrolet dealership being able to bring a buyer to a Subaru dealership, get the keys to any of the cars on the lot, give multiple test drives and then get paid 40 to 50% of a Subaru sales person’s commission for selling one of that dealer’s cars. That’s how real estate works. The Mulitple Listing Service, or MLS, was created to facilitate such “cooperation and compensation” in the real estate industry. It benefits both buyer and seller as well as both real estate agents.