How the MLS works
Home sellers can’t post their home directly to the MLS, because access to this database is limited to licensed agents and brokers who pay for membership. Once they have a client selling a home, they gather the necessary details such as the square footage, number of bedrooms, and other noteworthy attributes—as well as photos—then post a complete (and hopefully eye-catching) listing on their client’s behalf.
When agents log in, they have access to a wealth of data that they can pass along to their clients—or just help them do their business better and more strategically. And much of this goes far beyond whether a particular listing’s driveway is made up of gravel or asphalt.
“Agents are able to upload and download documents on the MLS, such as seller disclosures and HOA regulations,” notes Florida Realtor® Cara Ameer. So even if you don’t see the info you want on realtor.com, be sure to ask your agent, who may be able to deliver what you need with the click of a mouse.
Alternatives to the MLS
Home sellers who don’t want to pay a real estate agent’s commission can also list their home on a For Sale By Owner, or FSBO, site rather than the MLS. But do so with your eyes wide open: Selling a home on your own is far from easy, and FSBO homes sell for less money—on average $39,000 less. This may explain why only 8% of homes sold every year are FSBO, and the vast majority go through the MLS.
There are also a few high-profile markets—namely New York City and Seattle—where the MLS is not the only way to list a home with an agent. In these areas, large real estate brokerages such as Sotheby’s and Douglas Elliman use their own proprietary databases to list homes rather than syndicating them on the MLS. So in these markets, you may want to check directly with these brokers’ sites in addition to the usual avenues if you want to make sure that all your house hunting bases are covered.
What is a pocket listing?
Sometimes high-profile sellers working with an agent will choose not to list their home on the MLS, for privacy reasons such as to avoid publicity or looky-loos. A property that is not entered into the MLS is often called a “pocket listing,” as in, “hidden in an agent’s pocket.” That means that only those potential buyers with whom an agent works directly will be aware the home is on the market.
Typically celebrities or other high-profile people may try this route; but if you’re just a regular Joe who wants to get the word out that you’re selling, the MLS will get you the most eyeballs—and top dollar—for your home.