The Multiple Listing Service
MLS stands for Multiple Listing Service. Basically, the MLS is a big property warehouse - sort of like a "home depot." When property is available for sale, it goes in the warehouse. When it is sold, it gets taken out of the warehouse.
Since real estate cannot actually be stored in a warehouse, the MLS only contains information. So the MLS is actually a database - an extremely convenient way to know what is available for sale at a given moment. That is why real estate agents developed the MLS. Quick knowledge of home inventory made agents more productive.
The Evolving MLS
Since developing and maintaining the MLS system wasn't free, agents created local "MLS Associations," required membership, and charged each other annual dues (plus additional fees) so that they could pay for the necessary staff and materials to make it work.
In the really olden days, an agent submitted listings to their local association and the MLS staff compiled the data on what was available for sale and what had been sold. Once a week (or so) MLS members received a book that showed all the current listings. Then (in the "merely" olden days) computers came along and made it easier to create the listing books. When modems came along the books were no longer necessary, though it took agents a while to adjust. MLS members could now "dial in" directly to the computer.
Finally, along comes the information age -- and the Internet. Beginning in 1996, some property information from the MLS was placed on the web. It isn't as current as dialing directly into the computer, and information on the web does not contain all the properties available in the MLS. Plus, there is no national MLS or database. Information you find on the web is compiled from local and regional MLS systems, not all of which participate on the web to the same extent.
Why the MLS works for home sellers
The whole MLS idea is a boon to sellers because of "supply and demand." How can you, as a seller, get access to the largest number of buyers? Placing an ad in a newspaper? Or putting your home information into a computer accessible by every MLS member who will show your property to their qualified buyers in your price range?
Being placed in the MLS expands a home seller's sales force, exposes the property to a larger pool of prospective home buyers, and creates more demand for the property. The higher the demand, the more pricing power enjoyed by the homeowner - and the quicker a home will sell.
Why the MLS works for home buyers
It is extremely convenient, does not cost a penny to buyers, plus... ...you get a qualified and experienced guide to help you through the complicated process of becoming a homeowner.