The Truth About Flat Fee MLS Services

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If you've decided to list your home with a flat-fee MLS listing service, the potential savings are huge.

But flat-fee MLS services are not without risk.

Unlike with a traditional agent, most flat-fee MLS companies charge their fees upfront-which means they make money regardless of whether or not they're able to sell your home.

Flat-fee MLS companies also don't depend on reviews or repeat customers the way that most real estate agents do, so some are more reputable than others.

How can you tell if flat-fee MLS is the right decision for you? Go in with the knowledge you need to make an informed comparison.

Flat-fee MLS isn't necessarily better or worse than working with a full-service agent. It all depends on the details of your situation.

Here are all the questions (and answers!) you need to weigh your options.

How do flat-fee MLS services work?

A flat-fee MLS service does exactly what it sounds like: An agent lists your home for sale on the multiple listing service, or MLS, in exchange for a flat fee.

A full-service listing agent provides an end-to-end set of services to help you sell your home: the MLS listing, as well as professional photography, online marketing, a yard sign, lockbox, answering inquiries, scheduling and hosting showings, and handling negotiations and paperwork.

When you sell flat-fee MLS, you break the MLS listing out from this larger bundle of services that a listing agent usually provides.

With the reduced service package comes a dramatically reduced cost: Flat-fee MLS services range between $49 and $500, with most around $100.

By contrast, traditional listing agents cost 3%.

Clever Partner Agents are an intermediary option, and provide the exact same full-service as a traditional agent, but for a discounted commission of just $3,000.

Flat Fee MLS has its advantages and disadvantages. It has savings as well as hidden costs.

Most importantly, whether you go with a full-service Clever agent for $3,000 or Flat Fee MLS for $50 – $500, you should expect to pay a competitive buyer's agent commission. This is usually 2-3% - read on to learn more about how buyer's agent commission works.

To navigate your options, it's important to make an apples-to-apples comparison

What is the advantage of an MLS listing?

The upshot of listing flat-fee MLS is that you can avoid paying full real estate commissions.

However, the common misconception about flat-fee MLS is that you can avoid paying all real estate commissions.

In reality, in addition to the flat fee for listing, most homeowners who successfully sell with a Flat Fee MLS service also pay “buyer's agent commission” of 2-3%.

When you pay for an MLS listing, you are paying for exposure to real estate agents-and agents still want to earn commission when they bring qualified buyers to a sale!

Remember, most home sales actually involve two real estate agents:

  1. A listing agent who helps the seller list, market and negotiate the sale of their home, and
  2. A buyer's agent who brings a buyer to the sale and represents the buyer in negotiations.

When you sell flat-fee MLS, you're cutting the listing agent out of the process.

You should still expect to work with a buyer's agent: According to the National Association of Realtors, 89% of homebuyers choose to work with a real estate agent in their home search.

These buyer's agents use the MLS to find homes for their clients to purchase. By getting on the MLS, you gain exposure to agents in your local area-and by extension, to the qualified buyers they are working with.

By contrast, you can list your home for sale on a real estate website like Zillow or Trulia for free, with no fee at all-but you may find that most of the people who view your home are not serious buyers.

Buyers working with an agent have someone holding their hand through the whole buying process, and so they're not going to throw your sale into chaos at the 11th hour by failing to get approved for a mortgage.

When you pay for access to the MLS, you are paying to get access to qualified buyers via the buyer's agents they are working with.

What are the alternatives to a flat-fee MLS service?

There are a lot of ways to save on real estate commission fees.

When weighing your options, don't make the common mistake of comparing flat-fee MLS with a traditional agent listing.

Traditional listings cost around 6%-that's a lot of money! That 6% generally breaks down as 3% going to the listing agent to market the home, and 3% offered as a reward to the buyer's agent for bringing the buyer.

A better comparison is between flat-fee MLS and full service.

These days, you don't have to pay full commission to get full service.

Clever provides top-rated, highly qualified agents who provide full service for a discounted listing commission: $3,000 if your home costs less than $350,000, and 1% if it costs more.

Here's the breakdown of service vs. cost for flat-fee MLS and its main alternative, a discount full-service agent:

Flat-fee MLS listings are cheaper, but it's important to keep in mind the list of other essential services you're not getting when you go flat-fee MLS. You don't have to use a real estate agent for home photos or paperwork, but make sure you're budgeting for some other kind of professional help!

In addition, you're have to pay out of pocket for photography, yard signs, and legal paperwork-services which are all covered by a full-service Clever Partner Agent as part of their $3,000 flat fee. Even better that you only pay that fee if and when your home sells.

A full-service agent only gets paid if and when they successfully sell your home, so they are incentivized to work hard to get your home sold. With flat-fee MLS, the company collects their fee the day you list and it's all up to you from there.

How do the costs of flat-fee MLS compare to the alternatives?

To do a proper comparison of the costs of selling flat-fee MLS versus with a full-service agent-either traditional for 6% or a Clever Partner Agent for 3-4% total-it's important to break out all of the essential costs involved in selling a home.

Whether an agent is doing the work for free upfront in the hope of earning a commission at sale, or you're paying out-of-pocket for these services, someone has to do the work and pay the cash!

The major costs to keep in mind are:

  1. Buyer's agent commission
  2. Home photography
  3. Legal paperwork
  4. Negotiations

Buyer's Agent Commission

Have you seen a flat-fee MLS service that advertised saving you “6% in real estate commissions”?

If so, run away!

You can save a lot of money on listing commission by selling flat-fee MLS-but the majority of flat-fee MLS sellers will still pay 2-3% in buyer's agent commission.

The upshot of a flat-fee MLS listing is that you pay a discounted fee to get direct exposure to real estate agents. These buyer's agents then bring their clients to view and ultimately buy your home.

And what motivates a buyer's agent to find a buyer for your home? A buyer's agent commission.

Reputable flat-fee MLS companies will inform you about buyer's agent commission and attempt to set you up for success before they make you buy.

If you decide to purchase a flat-fee MLS listing, you'll want to make sure you offer a buyer's agent commission. The commission you offer will show up directly in the MLS, where agents can view it.

To make sure your listing is not overlooked, you should offer whatever buyer's agent commission is competitive for your local area.

In most parts of the US, buyer's agents are commonly offered 3%.

If your home is expensive for its area, you may be able to get away with a slightly lower buyer's agent commission-after all, 1% of $1,000,000 is still more than 3% of $300,000! But in most cases, it's not worth the risk to discount buyer's agent commission.

Remember, listing agents can get away with offering a bit less in buyer's agent commission, because they will do repeat business with other agents in the area. Buyer's agents want to bring buyers to top listing agents, because then they have the opportunity to market their own listings to the other agent and maybe find a buyer for a listing of their own.

When in doubt, offer the full 3% to maximize your chances of getting the home sold.

Home Photography

A common mistake when selling FSBO is cutting corners on photography.

As the homeowner, it's easy to settle for “good enough.”

The only problem? Buyer's don't want “good enough”-they want to find their dream home!

When selling your home, home photography is a relatively small investment that can more than pay for itself.

Make your home memorable, and make sure that you're on the list when buyers line up a weekend of showings and only have time to visit four of the five homes they saw online.

If you want to save money on photos, do it by finding a professional photographer whom you know personally and asking if they'll offer you a competitive rate.

But if you're working with a friend, make sure that they are a home photographer. Just because your friend is good at taking pictures of food, birds, sunsets, or weddings doesn't mean they know how to professionally shoot a home.

If you don't know a photographer who could take quality home photos, budget $200–$500 to hire a professional.

If you decide to list with a full-service agent, remember that an agent does have two advantages over a homeowner when it comes to photography: 1. Agents can get better rates from photographers via bulk pricing, and 2. agents cover all the up-front costs of photography on the seller's behalf, since they only collect a fee when the home sells.

Legal Paperwork

Outside of real estate commissions, legal paperwork is often your largest cost when selling a home by yourself.

Generally, you should expect to pay between $500 and $1,500 for legal paperwork.

Because of the cost, paperwork is one of the main benefits of a full-service listing, since the agent will help you fill out and organize all your documents with no additional fee.

Real estate agents have access to a database of legal templates that they can fill in to fit the needs of your situation.

If you go in and out of contract with multiple buyers, you still won't pay out of pocket for repeat legal fees-the agent covers everything. This also makes them especially motivated to get your home sold since they will only recoup their costs if they sell your home.

If you're planning to sell flat-fee MLS, it's important to have a plan to get all your paperwork done properly and effectively.

The two main documents you are going to need are:

  1. Seller's Disclosure Home sellers are required by law to provide prospective buyers with a disclosure statement describing any problems or defects they are aware of with the home.
  2. Sale Contract Your contract should cover the sales price, timeline for sale, earnest money owed by the buyer up-front, and any contingencies to the sale (such as, can the buyer back out if they don't qualify for their mortgage, or fail to sell their current home?).

In addition, you may need help with amendments or additional sales contracts if you go through many rounds of counter-offers and negotiations.

There are two kinds of professionals who can help you prepare paperwork for the sale of your home. They are:

  1. A Transaction broker or
  2. A Real estate attorney.

It should go without saying, but if you hire an attorney, make sure they are a real estate attorney! You don't hire a painter to fix your plumbing, after all.

Whether you hire a transaction broker or a real estate attorney, make sure to reach a clear agreement about what it will cost to manage all of the paperwork for your sale.

That doesn't just include the seller's disclosure and sales contract, but other scenarios as well: What will they charge if you need additional papers prepared after negotiations? What will they charge if things fall through with your first buyer, and you need to enter a new sales contract with a different buyer?

Make sure to find a transaction broker and discuss all these details before you pay out of pocket for flat-fee MLS. It helps to know your costs going in-and you're also in a stronger position to negotiate with a lawyer or broker beforeyou are under a deadline to get the work done!


When looking at negotiations in a real estate transactions, it's best to compare time costs rather than actual dollar amount.

The time costs involved with negotiating on your own behalf can be substantial, depending on your experience.

If you've worked with an agent in the past, you may have a good idea of what negotiations entail. In the case of listing with a flat-fee MLS service, you will be expected to negotiate directly with the buyer's agent.

These negotiations most commonly include:

  • Negotiating price
  • Negotiating counter-offers
  • Negotiation repairs and repair credits
  • Negotiating the buyer's agent commission

If you decide to list with an agent, the negotiations above will be handled by your agent as part of the services included in their commission.

How does flat-fee MLS compare to an agent?

When you list flat-fee MLS, you are opting to save on listing commission by doing most of the work that a real estate agent would normally do on your behalf: photography, online marketing, answering inquiries, scheduling and hosting showings, paperwork and negotiations.

Many flat-fee MLS advertisements are misleading. While some do it right-by educating people about buyer's agent commission and setting them up for success-many more do it wrong.

  • They collect money upfront.
  • They don't depend on reviews like agents do.
  • They don't depend on referrals and repeat customers like agents do.

Average Sale Price with a Agent vs. Flat-Fee MLS

While a flat-fee MLS listing service offers you the opportunity to save on commissions, it's important to know the facts. Homes listed with an agent tend to sell for more than home listed by owner, and in some markets, they sell substantially faster.

Hidden Costs of a Flat-Fee MLS: A Case Study

Flat-fee MLS listing services have hidden fees beyond the flat fee.

Listing on the MLS with a flat-fee company just covers your listing. There are more fees and commission you need to offer if you expect your home to sell. Real estate agents can view your home on the MLS, but if you don't offer commission to a buyer's agent, they won't show your home, and you won't have any different results than just listing for sale by owner.

You'll also need to pay for your own professional photos, legal fees, title fees, a lockbox, and all your own marketing.

In addition to those extra costs, you'll have to be available to show your home and will have to navigate inspections, negotiations, and closing without an experienced party to help you.

The chart below breaks down the true cost of selling your home with a flat-fee MLS:

Clever Real Estate has partnered with top-rated agents across the country from every major brand. They'll list your home at a discount while still providing full service.

Clever lets you list your home for a flat fee of $3,000 if it's less than $350,000, or 1% if the home is more expensive. Since our Partner Agents are from top-rated local brokerages, potential buyers will have no idea that you're saving on commissions.

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