How to Get Access to the MLS Without a Real Estate License
If you are in the real estate investment business then you’ve probably heard of the MLS. You may have been told that getting access to it is important if you want to have the best information available for your investment decisions. The problem is that the MLS is usually only available to licensed real estate professionals. So let’s talk about how to get MLS access without a real estate license.
But first let’s discuss what an MLS is, what it is for, and why an investor might be interested in gaining access to it.
– What is the MLS?
The MLS, or Multiple Listing Service, is a service that provides access to a database of real estate properties that are available for purchase, along with other types of real estate data. The database usually contains a wide variety of in-depth data about each listed property.
In the United States, most MLS databases are provided by private organizations such as real estate associations and some of the larger real estate firms. There are about six hundred and forty MLS databases in the US, though this number is shrinking as smaller databases are consolidated to form larger and more easily searchable MLS database services.
MLS databases have used a variety of fairly inefficient and unsearchable data formats over the years, with the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) often being used to download the entire dataset. Modern implementations of MLS databases in the US predominantly use the more user-friendly Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS) although this standard may soon be replaced with the RESO Web API standard. These MLS database standards are managed by organizations such as the National Association of Realtors and the Real Estate Standards Organization. Other formats are also used for MLS data, including standard database formats like MySQL.
– What is the purpose of an MLS?
An MLS provides property listing information and contact data that allows realtors to work together to help sell properties that are on the market. By cooperating and sharing data, properties can sell faster and realtors can compete more effectively in the marketplace. This also allows them to provide a better and more efficient service to their customers.
– How do you get access to a Multiple Listing Service database?
While there are no state or federal government rules or regulations that legally restrict access to an MLS, you normally need to be a licensed real estate broker, the agent of a broker, or a member of a recognized real estate organization to get full access to a given MLS. The organization that maintains the MLS usually has rules in place that determine who can access it.
This can be a problem for the health of the real estate industry, with many industry professionals having concerns that a closed system may result in unfair prices and an unstable market. It also makes life difficult for those in related industries such as property investment, as access to the collecion of MLS databases available in the US allows them to make better-informed decisions.
– Why is MLS access useful for property investors?
For real estate investors, it can be difficult to find properties worth investing in. Many types of properties, such as distressed properties, are in high demand and it can require a lot of legwork to track down good deals. In the age of computers and the internet, it makes more sense to have access to digital data about available properties than to run around finding leads manually. Digital searches allow for efficient culling of poor prospects and provide a better overall efficiency of time and effort.
For general investing, the more information you have the better your decision-making process will be. Having access to a large database of real estate listings gives you the option to apply machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other advanced techniques to gain an overview of the real estate market and other markets that overlap it. There are an ever-expanding array of methods to analyze data available today, but they are all useless without access to the raw data that they are tasked with processing.
So those are the basics of the MLS. It’s a useful tool for any property investor, but not something that the average person has access to unless they are a licensed real estate agent or the agent of one. So now you are probably wondering about how to get MLS access without a real estate license. Here are a few ways to do that.
1. Team up with a Realtor.
As an investor, you are probably used to building a network of business relationships and contacts. Some of those contacts may be real estate brokers who might be interested in giving you status as an agent for their firm if there is a good reason for them to do so. This will also give you access to the MLS.
You may need some sharp negotiating skills to get a real estate broker to let you team up with them though. You will need to offer them something for their trouble, and work towards establishing and maintaining your business relationship with them.
The most obvious thing to offer them is some form of monetary compensation. You can negotiate giving them a percentage of your profits on property deals that result from your research using the MLS. This would basically be a finders fee for the service they provided in letting you use the MLS.
You can also offer them a flat fee for MLS access. This may turn out to be cheaper on average and will be easier to keep track of for both parties. Or you can offer them both options, with an up-front fee and a percentage of the profits after the real estate deal is completed. They may prefer this if they want to ensure that they profit from the business relationship either way.
If spending money for access doesn’t appeal to you then
perhaps you could offer to do some of the boring work their job requires for
them. They probably need to search the MLS regularly for viable prospects for
their business, so if you arrange to do that for them then you have MLS access
and they get to focus on other aspects of their work. You need to ensure that
you are serious about providing a valuable service to them though or the
business relationship will not last for long. It’s also a good idea to stress
that the relationship is something that the realtor can opt-out of anytime that
they need to.
Building these kinds of relationships can be fruitful for
more reasons than just getting access to the MLS. You can learn a lot from
working closely with real estate agents and you can also build up more useful
contacts and business relationships in the process. Building these
relationships should be a basic part of your business networking strategy.
2. Try to find a real estate agency website that gives access to MLS data.
If working with a real estate agent doesn’t appeal to you then you can probably find access to the MLS on the internet. There are many real estate brokers or agents who provide limited access to the MLS via their websites. They also often provide search and query interfaces with varying degrees of functionality.
You’ll need to do some creative searching to find realtor websites that provide this functionality. Asking in realtor and real estate investor forums and social media chat groups will probably give you some useful leads. Realtors who offer this service tend to do so as a lead generation tactic, so they may be vocal about letting people know this functionality exists on their site.
The disadvantage of this method is that you may be more limited in how you can process the data than is useful to you. Because you are restricted to the interface provided via the realtor’s website you can’t run the dataset through your own processing algorithms to do more customized and in-depth searching. For basic lead generation though, this method will probably give you everything that you need.
3. Look for free MLS style listing alternatives on the internet.
If access to the actual MLS is not something that you need then there are various websites that publish data similar to what you can find via the MLS. Many real estate listing sites have diverse collections of real estate data that they publish for anyone to use, including investors.
A few sites to check out would be Realtor.com, Trulia.com, Zillow.com, and ZipRealty.com. These sites provide useful interfaces with varying degrees of functionality that can help you track down potentially profitable properties to invest in. In most instances agents load their new listings in to these sites at the same time they list them on the local MLS so these websites are just about as up to date as the MLS would be.
Your local real estate association may have their own site that the listings go live on to immediately like this one in Central New York- cnyrealtor.com
To find more of these sites, visit the sites listed here and take a look at their pages that let you access listing data similar to the MLS. Look for some common phrases on these pages and then use these phrases to do some searching on the internet. You should be able to find leads to similar sites in the search results that come up.
Get to work!
Working out how to get MLS access without a real estate license can require some creativity and perseverance, but the payoff can make all that hard work very worthwhile. The MLS contains a rich trove of data that can help inform your investment choices and provide you with solid leads on properties worth buying. So try out some of the methods listed here and then start looking at ways to put that new source of data to good use