Do you need to access the MLS, but aren’t a real estate agent? Let’s start with, what is the MLS? The MLS is an acronym for the “Multiple Listing Service.” What it is, is a giant database that is owned and controlled by the NAR, or, the “National Association of Realtors.” Only licensed real estate agents are able to navigate the MLS (for the most part). They also must be an active Realtor member.
There are, in fact, many reasons that the NAR does not want non-licensed real estate agents to be able to gain total access to this database. Though the multiple listing service (MLS) is a key part of any traditional homebuying experience, and requires a real estate license to access, it is an often overlooked part of the real estate investing process. While, at times, it can be a challenge to find distressed properties — which serve as the foundation for many investor’s portfolio — there are still real estate deals to be found on the MLS, especially if you know where to look.
Can you access the MLS without a license?
Investors are, therefore, left with several questions: Can I get access to the MLS without having a real estate license? Do I have to go about the task of obtaining a real estate license, which requires both time and money, in order to look at those listings? The unequivocal answer is, yes. It is possible to view listings on the MLS, with a few different strategies. When done correctly, the MLS can be a dynamic (and profitable) source of leads for your real estate business. So, how can you access it if you aren’t a real estate agent?
The fact of the matter is, when it comes to doing top-shelf market and/or property research – whether you’re analyzing values, looking for “bleeding edge” listings, reviewing “sold comps” in detail, looking up pendings, etc. etc… nothing beats the Realtor’s MLS. The level of real estate data that can be searched, filtered and manipulated is simply unparalleled. Surely, a real estate investor might need access to it, so how can you go about it? Well, there are a couple of ways:
ZipRealty.com. ZipRealty.com is similar to Realtor.com, except that the listing information they provide is much more detailed. Aside from the basic property information, they also include a description of the property, which often gives important information such as whether or not it is a short sale or an REO. In addition, they include the property pricing information, which let’s you know how many price drops have been made, and when those price drops occurred.
While the information provided on these two websites is nowhere near as detailed as what is available on the MLS, it will still provide you with the necessary information to research properties, contact the listing agents on the properties that you are interested in, and start making offers!
Redfin.com. This company recently won a court case against the National Association of Realtors to provide free access to active as well as closed sales details obtained from the MLS. This service is terrific for giving real estate investors access to the MLS but is only available in select larger cities across the country. While the listing information provided on Realtor.com is fairly basic, they do provide you with the contact information for the broker’s office of each property, so if you’d like to get more detailed information, it’s just a phone call away.
Realtor.com. The NAR does give the public access to the active listings on the MLS through their flagship website Realtor.com. However, it does not provide closed sales information which is far more valuable for most real estate investors.
Local Real Estate Agent Websites with IDX Technology. Many local Realtors now employ a new technology that draws active listing information directly from the MLS to their website. Much like Realtor.com, it does not show closed sales which is the heart of understanding properties values and the crucial data for investors. Also, this technology is controversial among the real estate agent community right now, several lawsuits have sprung up as a result of it and therefore it may not be around much longer.
Public Versions of Local MLS Systems. Each Multiple Listing Service is completely separate from the next and therefore can be drastically different from each other. Some systems provide a public version.
Build a Relationship with a Realtor. This is simply the best way to get the MLS for real estate
investors like you. Getting access to the Multiple Listing Service is mandatory for serious real estate entrepreneurs so an important step in training investors involves teaching them how to do this.
Other ways to gain access to the MLS:
1. Working With a Real Estate Agent
This is probably the most difficult strategy, at least at first, for accessing the MLS without applying for a real estate license, but it’s usually the most rewarding in the long-term. Find and connect with an investor-friendly agent who will grant you access to the MLS. This approach requires more than a little confidence and assertiveness (not to mention the ability to negotiate), but mostly it requires you to be crystal-clear about what you are offering the agent in return for access to the MLS. This could include things like:
- Finder’s fee percentage on property deals
- Flat fee
- Mix of percentage & flat fee
- Grunt labor of filtering through the MLS (as if you were an assistant)
The key is to accentuate the benefits to the agent; “You’ll save time, make money, and possibly get more commissions!” In addition, you want to stress that this is a working real estate networking relationship that the agent can opt out of at any time. From there, it’s just a matter of setting you up as an unlicensed assistant with the MLS administrator of the brokerage the agent belongs to.
A couple of good sources include:
- Craigslist ads
- LinkedIn ads & groups
- Facebook groups
- Agent forums
- Your real estate network
- Investor friendly brokers
If you’re beginning a home search, lucky you! You can ask your agent to customize a search for you that will automatically send you updated listings. Not all agents will set up a search for you based on anything other active listings, so if you want to receive price reductions, pending or sold sales data, ask for it.
Here are a few ways (among many) that you can request to have your report customized. By ZIP code, a radius search within a specified distance from a target address, the street or subdivision, or a map search within boundaries. Within those parameters, you can further define your search to any number of criterion, including but not limited to:
- Price range from low to high
- Number of bedrooms and baths
- Pools & spas
- Square footage
Your requirements can be even more clearly defined, depending on your priorities. But be aware that as the number of exceptions climb, you might be missing out on opportunities. It’s wise to keep the list somewhat general, especially for those cases where a data field might not contain data due to human error.
Individual Realtor Websites
In nearly every market, and every neighborhood, there are real estate agents who pay for MLS listings to be available on their personal websites. They use it as a lead-generation tool, but this doesn’t mean you can’t use it for the same purpose, from an investing perspective.
Though real estate agent websites can differ widely, many platforms will allow you to create custom searches, view pricing changes, learn vital info such as a property’s days-on-market, and “save” your favorite properties. Of course, this may require you to do a bit of legwork to discover which real estate agent websites can help you reach your researching goals, and some agents may have different listing information than others, but learning which agents specialize in which particular areas of your market is not a bad way to spend your time, and can pay off big in the long run.
If you want to sell your house without a real estate agent, be forewarned. It is almost always a horrible idea. You should also ask a realtor or two to stop by for a comparative market analysis. They don’t charge for the service, you can be honest about your intent to sell-by-owner (they’ll be waiting if it doesn’t work out) and they might even give you some good ideas on quick fixes to help you sell faster.
Plan of action
Once you’ve arrived at a fair market price, you can either list for that amount or, considering the growing inventory of available homes, discount your price just enough to position your property as a bargain. With banks continuing to tighten their lending restrictions, it’s more important than ever to get your buyers prequalified or preapproved. As the seller, you should demand a pre-approved mortgage letter with any written offer potential buyers make. And, as with any real estate transaction, don’t forget to work with a lawyer or title company during the closing, to ensure both you and the buyer have a legal representative who understands the process and is looking out for your best interests. But, if you’re going to, make sure that you do the following:
1. Research the MLS.
Do your research and find a few websites that allow you to post your home for sale online. Websites like this typically charge a flat rate, plus the cost of additional services.
2. Check out the competition.
Get a pulse on your local real estate market. How much are homes selling for in your area? How do these homes compare to yours?
3. Choose your list price.
Real estate agents run a comparative market analysis (also known as comps) when determining a home’s list price. When in doubt, start with a lower asking price. Overpricing by $10,000 can cause it to sit on the market and ultimately force you to sell for less than if you had priced it right initially.
4. Prepare & stage.
Prepare your home for market. Deep clean every surface inside and out. Replace broken tiles, fix leaky faucets, and clean the gutters.
6. List it on the MLS.
List your home with an MLS service. Pay additional fees for the yard sign, more than one listing photo, open house signs, and listing flyers. Without these basic necessities, you’ll have a hard time getting people to look at your listing; let alone make an offer.
If you list with Redfin, you’ll get all the essentials to sell your home, plus exclusive services you can’t get anywhere else — like premium placement on the web and emails sent to thousands of buyers searching for homes like yours.
7. Be available.
Get ready to answer questions and show your home to potential buyers at a moment’s notice. Consider taking time off work so you don’t miss the opportunity to make a sale.
8. Hire an attorney.
Real estate agents take care of all of the contracts, paperwork, and fine print of a home sale transaction. Without the assistance of an agent, you should find a real estate attorney to mind the details of your home sale. Your attorney will work up a purchase and sale agreement, help negotiate the terms of the contract, and review related paperwork and loan agreements.
9. Wait for the right offer…
Skilled listing agents find highly qualified buyers to sell your home for the most money. Selling your home without an agent means you’ll need to do the extra work to find the right buyer. If your home is priced right, an offer will typically come through in 30–45 days.
10. Close the sale.
Safeguard yourself from costly consequences and ask your attorney to review your purchase and sale agreement with a fine-tooth comb. Then hire a title company to take care of the closing process. If any liens come up in your title report, work with your title agent or attorney to resolve them and successfully close the sale.
If you don’t receive any offers, you’ll need to lower your asking price. Keep in mind that the longer your home sits on the market, the more you may end up lowering the price. Avoid price drops altogether and choose the right list price from the beginning.