The Multiple Listing Service, AKA "MLS". Is it good? Is it evil? Is it a "monopoly"? Just what is going on here?
In short, the objection to the MLS is "The public does not have FULL access to the system." Of course, much of the data IS easily available. For spokane, go to MyCountryHomes.com and you can search properties there. Realtor.com, Trulia.com, Yahoo.com and hundreds of other sites also provide significant access to MLS information around the US. But, the commenters were correct, John Q does not have the same access as do MEMBER Realtors.
The other major point of objection was the exclusion of For Sale By Owner (FSBO) properties from the MLS and most other sites tapping into the MLS and the lack of listed properties on the FSBO sites.
The net result was to search any neighborhood, there was no central clearing house where all the data could be perused at one time. Several non-realtor bloggers felt this "monopoly" was wrong. Here is where I stand!
I pay about $50.00 a month plus one time fees, lockbox fees etc etc etc as does every other Realtor in town to support the collection, compilation and maintenance of this data. Additionally, each Realtor pays their office a split of every commission much of which goes to support the people who manage the data and provide it to the MLS for input into the system. Folks, creating and maintaining this system is very expensive. It is unrealistic to expect people who pay for and work on this system to give the information away.
Because most realtors in any area are MLS members, any buyer can see any home that is available with one point of contact! This is a huge benefit.
What does the MLS do for you? It pulls together a huge amount of information, sales, listings, expired listings, property histories, property data and historical data. It let's your Realtor quickly figure out the likely value of the home you want to sell or the home you want to buy. Also, it puts the majority of homes for sale in any area into one bucket. While it does not include FSBO's, recent evolution of the system has permitted "flat rate listings" where the FSBO pays a realtor to list his property in the MLS. One complaint about this was the FSBOs were "required to pay a compensating broker commission" (CBC). I am going to talk about that at greater length in "Show Me the Money" but for now, I will leave it to the reality of "If they do not pay a fair, competitive CBC, they probably won't get much cooperation from realtors because no one wants to work for nothing!
The MLS is responsible for the data that populates virtually all the real estate sites people look at that involve listed properties. Realtor.com is paid for from the dues realtors pay and loads MLS data every 24 hours. Yahoo.com, Trulia.com and many other sites also draw directly from MLS input. These sites are free to the public and let you search in significant detail. I still recall looking for Spokane property while I was in Thailand and the internet real estate venues were in their infancy or even perhaps the mothers were still in a state of pregnancy. I much prefer the current system.
IF you work with an agent, you will have access to all the detail available. The solds, the actives, the listing history of any property, huge data pertinent to that property and the sales history for any area that interests you. You do have to pay to play, but, that pay is usually wrapped into the sales cost of the house.
What is the biggest effect of the MLS? I think it has evened the market out significantly. Believe me, waiting for that unsuspecting Californian with a lot of money to come and pay you three times what your home is worth is just not going to happen. The MLS and associated sites on line make determining asking value very easy. If you are working with a member agent, you can access the solds with the same ease.
In the end, the MLS resulted in a market where you do not get massively ripped off because you do not know the market and you can not get rich quick by finding someone who does not know the market.
Monopoly? No. (2000 realtors to choose from with all kinds of business models in my area). Beneficial? Absolutely. Call your realtor today for quick access!