As many homeowners are aware, the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a database of homes for sale in a particular area. Each MLS has hundreds, if not thousands, of members and they each list their properties on the MLS. Thus there is no database out there that is even remotely as powerful in helping buyers’ agents and their buyers screen, view and select properties to purchase.
What buyers may not be aware of is that MLS systems are based locally. For instance, in the State of Arizona alone there are around 15 Multiple Listing Services; each unique to its own area. Some such as ARMLS cover an extremely large area (most of Maricopa & Pinal County – the Phoenix area) while others cover just a small area such as Safford or La Paz County. In the State of California, although there are some systems like Sandicor (San Diego) or MRMLS (Riverside, San Bernardino and part of Los Angeles County) that cover extremely large areas, there are other systems that are much smaller, for instance Humboldt County or Nevada City/ Grass Valley. To the typical homebuyer, the fact that MLS’s are local does not matter that much. You simply need to work with a member of that local MLS when you are trying to view properties or obtain more detailed property information. A real estate agent out of Phoenix, for instance, could not do much good for you if you are looking for properties in Flagstaff. They have no more property information than what a member of the public could obtain on the Internet, nor do they have lockbox access to Flagstaff lockboxes. So while that agent may be licensed to sell flat fee MLS listing real estate throughout the state, they do not necessarily have the tools to do so unless they join all the MLS systems.
There has been talk recently about statewide MLS’s. For instance, in Connecticut, there already is a system that covers the entire state making the future of smaller MLS’s suspect. In California, there already is a portal called MLSAlliance which seeks to combine listing results from multiple MLS’s and some reciprocity exists between MLS systems whereby an outside member can list a property for a fee. The next step would be some type of statewide system and there are currently two initiatives attempting to do that, one called CALMLS and being led by the California Association of Realtors and one called CARETS which is led by six Southern California MLS’s. While a statewide MLS would cut down on fees paid by agents to belong to multiple bordering systems, it also hurts them in that “outsiders” or people from other areas could come in and do business in their area. As such, it is somewhat surprising that a major strategic change such as a statewide MLS would be made. The most likely explanation is that if the MLS systems do not make some radical changes, websites without local barriers such as Google, Trulia, Zillow or others might be able to take advantage in some way, although it is not clear at this time.