Flat-fee MLS listing services allow home sellers to put their home on the multiple listing service (MLS) — a local database of homes that are for sale — for a set rate.
This enables "For Sale by Owner" (FSBO) home sellers to ensure that their home is seen by the maximum number of potential buyers, without having to commit to paying a traditional full-service real estate agent the typical 2-3% commission rate.
Here's what you need to know about flat-fee MLS services:
- Typical MLS listing packages cost between $99-$500 and include a 6-month listing term, 25 photo uploads, and some additional support services (such as downloadable legal forms, printable flyers, help with pricing, etc.).
- When choosing a flat-fee MLS service there are a number of factors you should look out for:
- Make sure the flat-fee listing company is posting your home on the MLS that is specific to your area — MLSs are regional.
- Some of these companies aren't licensed brokerages, but refer you to a third-party agent. In such cases the exact services or price point could differ from what was initially advertised.
- Inexperienced home sellers should seek a service that offers more professional support, such as help setting your home's price or negotiating offers.
- Alternatives to using a flat-fee MLS service, for homeowners looking to save on commission, include working with a discount real estate agent/brokerage or trying to negotiating a lower commission rate with a traditional agent
What is a flat-fee MLS listing service?
Flat-fee MLS services are companies that help you list your home on the multiple listing service (MLS), which functions as a regionally centralized database of homes that are for sale, for a set rate.
Working with a real estate professional is the only way to get your home listed on the MLS, as MLS access is restricted to licensed real estate agents. Some of the advantages of having your home listed on the MLS include:
- Maximum exposure: Your house automatically appears across a number of local and national real estate websites, including Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow. Nearly 90% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker, who'll likely be subscribed to your local MLS.
- More qualified buyers: Realtors that represent buyers near you will get notified when your listing is posted to your local MLS.
An effective flat-fee MLS listing service will make sure that your home is posted on the specific MLS that is relevant to buyers in your region; there are an estimated 800+ MLSs in the U.S.
Getting your home on the MLS without agreeing to work with a full-service, traditional listing agent can ensure that you are effectively marketing your home, while saving on commission costs.
Usually when you hire a real estate agent to help sell your home, you will pay them a listing fee that is 2-3% of the sales price of your home. With a flat fee MLS service, however, you'll typically agree to a set price — often around a few hundred dollars.
Note that you will still have to offer a buyer's agent commission (typically around 2-3%) to incentivize agents representing buyers to show your home to their clients.
Below, we've provided some examples of how much you may be able to save with flat-fee MLS service. That said, it's important to note the large gap in service levels between listing your house with a traditional agent or brokerage and a flat-fee MLS company.
Traditional realtors can save you a lot of time and effort by handling every aspect of your homes sale, whereas with a flat-fee MLS company, you're basically on your own.
|Home sale price||Typical full-service listing commission*||Typical flat-fee MLS listing cost||Potential savings|
*Assuming a typical 3% listing fee.
Flat-fee MLS listing vs. full service agent
Apart from the cost, the largest difference between working with a traditional full-service agent and listing your home through a flat-fee MLS company are the services offered.
By choosing to sell your home FSBO using an MLS listing service, you miss out on the expertise and comprehensive service of a traditional realtor. The difficulty of attempting to sell your home without an agent is often underestimated, as 10% of sellers that initially attempted a FSBO sale in 2018 eventually sought the help of a full-service agent.
When you work with a full-service agent, you get access to a suite of services that can be incredibly valuable to someone trying to sell their home. Typical services often include:
- Performing a comparative market analysis (CMA): Full-service realtors will analyze similar homes that have sold in your area to determine the proper listing price. Getting the right price has been shown to be the most difficult task for FSBO sellers according to 2018 research by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Experienced realtors are well equipped to perform an accurate CMA — because of their knowledge of the local market — and can make sure you start with the optimal asking price.
- Negotiating price and contingencies with potential buyers: Having experience negotiating offers when selling a homecan be incredibly valuable, as it will often be the case that you will receive offers below your listed price. Knowing when to accept, reject, or counter an offer from a potential buyer is something a top realtor will be adept at.
- Professional photography of your home: Full-service listing agents will often cover the cost of professional photography (which can range from $100 to $500) for their clients. Quality pictures can be a huge asset when selling your house, with 87% of buyers who used the internet when purchasing their home saying they found photos helpful according to a 2019 NAR report.
- Staging your home: It is not uncommon for full-service real estate agents to cover staging for their clients. Professional home staging — where your home is decorated in a way that is most appealing to potential buyers — has shown to reduce the time it takes to sell a house and increase the sales price. However, it can involve some upfront cost, as the median dollar value spent on staging was $400 according to a March 2019 report.
- Help with the legal paperwork required when you sell your home: Full-service real estate agents will be able to put the necessary paperwork together to ensure that the transaction goes smoothly, at no additional cost. Alternatively, some flat-fee listing companies may include help with legal forms as part of their service and you can choose to hire a real estate attorneyfor $150 to $250 an hour for additional help.
- Scheduling and hosting showings: Having a dedicated realtor to organize the logistics of showing your home can save you the time and headache of dealing with potential buyers. Making your home available for potential buyers is an essential component when selling your home. It can also be a time consuming and potentially dangerous part of the process, as you will likely be inviting strangers into your house on the weekends during your free time.
By choosing flat-fee MLS listing service, you should be prepared to address or pay for these services yourself.
How much does an MLS listing service cost?
Typically, flat-fee MLS listing companies will offer to list your home for a flat rate in the range of $100 to $500. With this service, you can expect to have your listing posted on your local MLS for 3 to 12 months with photos — anywhere from 6 to 25 is common — and a short description of your property.
In addition to the flat-fee MLS listing, most companies offer multiple pricing tiers and/or add-on services, where you can pay more for additional or upgraded services. These can include more pictures of your home, longer contract length (the amount of time your listing is displayed on the MLS), help negotiating with potential buyers, for sale signs and lockboxes, and more.
It may be worth paying for a higher service depending on your home's size, how quickly you need your house to sell, and your overall comfort level with the home selling process.
Things to consider when choosing a flat-fee MLS company
When comparing flat-fee MLS services, it's important to consider your specific needs and goals, as they will dictate which features matter most to you. Below we've broken down some of the most important factors when evaluating different companies.
|Feature||Why it's important|
|Cost vs Services||Comparing companies based on cost can help you avoid overpaying, as many flat-fee MLS listing services offer similar services at drastically different price points. On the other hand, some services include a variety of support services for no additional cost — which could be particularly valuable if you are an inexperienced home seller.|
|Which MLS?||If the company you choose does not have the ability to list your home on the MLS specific to your location, you may not be reaching the most appropriate audience. To ensure your listing is most effective, make sure your listing will be posted to the most relevant regional MLS(s).|
|Number of photos||Having a comprehensive set of photos of your home's exterior and interior is a crucial part of marketing your home. In most cases, six pictures — which is standard for many flat-fee MLS companies — will not be enough to properly market your home.|
|Listing term||If your house doesn't sell within your initial listing term, you'll end up having to pay more to keep your listing active on the MLS. The average time to sell a home was 68 days in 2019, however this can vary drastically based on your homes location. Note that FSBO homes often take longer to sell, so having ample time on the MLS — at least six months — can be quite valuable.|
|Length of listing description||Some flat-fee MLS companies may limit your listing description to just a few lines of text — which is often not enough to properly convey the important details of your home. Be sure to inquire about the allowable length of your post before committing to a service, if it's not apparent up front.|
|Help with valuations and home pricing||Some companies will help you set a competitive list price for your home, usually by performing a comparative market analysis. This is a key benefit to look for, as proper pricing requires expertise and local market knowledge, and is one of the biggest factors determining how quickly your house sells (or if it sells at all).|
|Ability to make changes to your listing||Selling your home can be a learning experience, so if you're new to the process it can be incredibly useful to have the ability to improve your posting without penalty as you learn the best ways to market your home.|
|Broker direct or referral service?||When working directly with the broker who lists you home on the MLS, it is more likely that your experience will be as-advertised. This means that the services you receive, and price you pay will be consistent with the terms listed when you chose the service.|
On the other hand, if you are referred to a third party realtor that lists your home, you may find that the exact pricing and services rendered differ from what was advertised.
|Buyer inquiry forwarding||You can avoid paying a buyer's agent commission of 2-3% if you find your own unrepresented buyer — meaning they aren't working with an agent. However, some flat-fee MLS agencies will offer to represent potential buyers in order to collect a buyer's agent commission, instead of forwarding you those leads directly.|
|Cancelation policy||Some MLS listing companies will charge you a fee to take down your listing — which you would want to do if your home sells or if you decide to work with a full-service agent.|
|Built-in coaching and/or support*||Some services offer built-in services and support, that can be incredibly valuable to inexperienced home sellers: they'll review contracts, help prepare counteroffers and required disclosures, as well as calculate closing costs.|
* Note that in states with minimum service requirements, the real estate agent that lists your home on the MLS may be required to provide you with assistance without additional costs.
How minimum service laws affect flat-fee MLS
In areas where minimum service laws have been enacted, all licensed real estate agents and brokers — including those offering flat-fee MLS services — must provide a more complete set of services to their clients, whether they pay for those services or not.
Twelve states and Washington, D.C. have banned real estate agents from offering only à-la-carte services, such as flat-fee MLS listings, to home sellers. The specific services required vary by state, but often includes negotiating and presenting offers, as well as answering questions and looking out for their clients' best interests.
To account for the additional services they're required to provide, flat-fee MLS companies may charge an additional fee or a commission when your house sells. Agents offering flat-fee MLS services in these states without providing the mandated support or services may be in violation of minimum service laws.
Best flat-fee MLS listing services in 2020
Trying to decide on a flat-fee MLS service? To help you make the right choice, we've picked some of the top companies across the country and compiled some basic, key info like pricing tiers, service terms, and links to customer reviews.
Be sure to visit and/or reach out to the companies below for more info and answers to specific questions before making a final decision.
Flat-fee MLS listing services by state
In addition to the nationwide services listed above, there are also hundreds (if not thousands) of regional and local flat-fee MLS companies throughout the United States. While it's not always the case, potential benefits of opting for a homegrown service include more local market knowledge, more control over your listing, better communication, and more.
It's also worth mentioning that many of the national services simply refer you to a local realtor or brokerage. If they're not negotiating an amazing deal on your behalf, it's probably worth cutting out the middleman. Find your state below to compare flat-fee MLS services near you.
Alternatives to flat-fee MLS
If you're looking to save on realtor commission but are wary of the heavy lifting that typically comes with a FSBO listing, there are a number of alternative options worth considering.
Discount realtors and brokerages provide real estate services for a reduced commission or flat fee. Some will limit the scope of their services to offset their discounted rate, so it's important to ask questions and do research up front so you know exactly what you'll be getting in exchange for your fee.
If you want the savings without sacrificing service, you should look into a discount brokerage or referral service. Because these companies are able to send a high volume of new business to the agents they work with — typically at zero upfront cost (agents pay a referral fee after closing) — they're able to negotiate significant discounts while ensuring the agents still provide full service and support.
This is exactly how Clever operates. When you sell with Clever, you'll work with a top-rated, local agent and get full service, but you'll a flat listing fee of $3,000 or 1% — if your home sells for more than $350,000. That's one-third (or less) the typical rate listing agents charge for full service.
iBuyers are companies that use technology (and heaps of venture capital) to make near-instant, cash offers on qualifying homes — usually within 24-48 hours — often sight unseen.
In exchange for this service, most iBuyers charge a built-in fee — typical 6-14% of the final offer price — which is somewhat comparable to the total commission fee sellers pay in a typical sale. In exchange, you gain unparalleled speed, convenience, and certainty — three things that can be hard to come by in a traditional home sale.
Selling to an iBuyer removes the need to hire a realtor, market your home, do showings and open houses, deal with multiple offers, negotiations, paperwork, etc. Many sellers feel that the benefits more than justify the built-in fee — especially when you consider some of the aforementioned cost savings that you gain by going this route.
The primary downsides of iBuyers are limited availability (these companies only operate in a handful of U.S. markets) and strict criteria for the types of homes they'll buy (e.g., post 1970s construction, within a certain price range, in good condition, less than one acre lot, etc.).
Even though having your house listed on the MLS is often the most effective way to get your home in front of qualified buyers, it is possible to sell your house without it.
You can list your home FSBO on Zillow and a number of other sites for free — just note that you will still have to offer a buyer's agent a commission of 2-3% of your home's sale price to attract incentivize local realtor's to show your home to their clients.
Also, be aware that most of these companies are able to offer “free” services by turning around and selling your information to real estate agents in your area. After you sign up, you'll likely be bombarded with calls; however, chances are they won't be from qualified buyers, but instead from local realtors looking to represent you.