When you're buying or selling a house, you need to get access to the MLS, or multiple listing service. It's the most accurate, up-to-date resource for finding homes for sale online. It's also the top place for sellers to list their houses for sale — hands down.
If you want to get access to MLS listings without a realtor, it's possible. But, finding them yourself online may be a hassle — and the listings may be updated less frequently than the official MLS database.
The best way to find MLS listings is by working with an experienced real estate agent. Your agent can send instant MLS updates about new homes, empowering you to move quickly as soon as the right house hits the market.
Ready to get access to instant MLS updates? Clever is a free service that can match you with hand-picked agents from trusted brokerages like Berkshire Hathaway and Keller Williams. And, on eligible purchases, you could also get a cash-back refund of 0.5% when you close on your dream home!
Why is access to MLS listings so important?
If you're planning to buy a house, you need to get MLS access — even if you've already started looking at homes online on sites like Zillow.
✍️ What is a MLS in real estate?
The MLS — short for "multiple listing service" is a regional and private database where real estate brokerages advertise the properties their agents are selling. There are more than 800 MLS databases across the U.S., and over 91% of sellers list their homes on the local MLS.
Home buying websites like Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin have made finding real estate listings easier than ever. These websites are convenient, packed with useful features, and for the most part, have the same basic information as your local MLS.
However, it takes time for Zillow and other similar services to show new MLS listings, price drops, and other status updates. On most websites, listings are usually updated within minutes or hours — but, depending on where they're getting their data, it can sometimes take days.
When you're buying in a competitive market where homes are going under contract within hours of hitting the MLS, you can't risk finding the perfect house on Zillow, only to find out that it went under contract yesterday.
Can buyers access the MLS without a realtor?
The short answer is no, they can’t — at least not directly. In order to access the MLS, you need a real estate license, which means it’s not possible for buyers to access this data on their own. However, they can reap the benefits the MLS has to offer if they start the house buying process off right and partner with a local real estate agent.
When you partner with an experienced buyer's agent, you'll unlock access to the MLS. Most agents will provide you with a personalized client portal that lets you browse MLS listings online. Your agent can also create automatic updates that alert you when a house that matches your preferences hits the market.
Ready to get started? Clever can connect you with top-rated local agents so you can get automatic MLS alerts and jump-start your home buying journey. Plus, with Clever Cash Back, you can earn HUGE savings — up to 0.5% of your home price back as cash. On a qualifying $400,000 home, you could save $2,000!
Can sellers get an MLS listing without a realtor?
Yes, sellers can technically list a property on the MLS without hiring a realtor. You can't list on the MLS directly without a real estate license, but some brokerages — called flat-fee MLS listing services — will post your home on the MLS for a few hundred dollars.
If you're selling a house for sale by owner (FSBO), using a flat-fee MLS listing service is a budget-friendly way to advertise your home to potential buyers. But, selling a house yourself is a LOT of work, especially if you're juggling a full-time career and other responsibilities.
If you want to save money but aren't sure you're comfortable with a DIY sale, selling with a low commission real estate agent may be a better option.
For example, Clever pre-negotiates discounted commission rates with full-service agents at traditional brokerages. With Clever, you'll only pay $3,000 or 1% listing fees while working with a top-rated local agent.
How to get access to MLS listings
If you're ready to buy a house, here are the top ways to access MLS listings and research homes for sale in your area.
Work with a local agent
Access is generally restricted to licensed real estate agents, so if you want to view MLS listings, your best bet is to find a great local realtor.
Your agent can set you up with MLS access through a private online portal, and they'll also set up instant MLS alerts when new homes go up for sale. And that's just one of the MANY benefits you'll get when working with a top buyer's agent.
As a buyer, you also shouldn't have to pay your agent anything out of pocket. The seller typically covers your agent's fees out of the sale proceeds. So, if you're ready to start the home buying process, you have everything to gain by finding an experienced realtor to help you find the perfect house and negotiate a winning offer.
Use a public MLS database
Some of the larger MLS providers allow you to browse listings online, even if you're not currently working with an agent. For example, Bright MLS — the local MLS for parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. — offers a public home buying website called Bright MLS Homes.
Since Bright MLS Homes and other similar services get their data directly from the MLS, listing information should be accurate and up-to-date. However, public MLS databases don't include all the information that agents can access.
For example, you typically won't find information like:
- Confidential agent notes
- Buyer's agent commission details
- Showing instructions
- Security codes for accessing the property
Research MLS listings on home buying websites
If you aren't working with an agent and your local MLS doesn't have a public database, your best option to access MLS listings is to use a home buying website like Zillow, Redfin, or Home Finder.
Home buying websites syndicate MLS listings, but the information is more likely to be incomplete, out-of-date, or outright inaccurate compared to an official website.
Further, many home buying websites get some or all of their data from third-party companies — not directly from the MLS. This limits how quickly the websites can update their listing information.
On Zillow, MLS updates can be delayed by as much as 24-48 hours. That's why a home will sometimes still appear as "for sale" even after the seller accepts an offer.
Additionally, some agents block their listings from third-party data companies, which prevents them from appearing on some home buying websites.
Ready to start your home buying journey?
FAQs about MLS access
Zillow. "How does Zillow get listings?."