Masterclass: Is the MLS still the source of truth for all residential real estate data?

In an era where property data is readily accessible online, the role of MLSs (Multiple Listing Services) has come under scrutiny. Is it still the gold standard for accurate and reliable residential real estate data?

This Masterclass features Dan Ray (Director of Product Development, CRMLS), Marilyn Wilson (President, WAVGroup), Tom D’Arezzo (Director of Product Management, MLSListings), and Audrey Whittington (VP/Head of Sales & Partnerships, Local Logic) in an in-depth discussion on the role of MLSs.

Learn about how MLSs can continue to make sure they are the source of truth not just to their members but ultimately to consumers, as our panelists dive into:

  • MLSs: The Single Source of Truth?
    • Learn about the historical focus of MLSs as the ‘source of truth’ for active, sold, and tax data, and how this role is evolving in the digital age.
  • Ensuring Trust & Transparency
    • Explore how MLSs can continue to be reliable sources of data, not just for agents but also for consumers.
  • MLSs and the Consumer: Whose Job Is It?
    • Examine whether MLSs should serve the consumer directly and, if so, how.
  • Beyond Listings: What More Can MLSs Offer?
    • Uncover the other types of data MLSs can provide that aren’t readily available to consumers today.

💡 Key takeaways:

  • MLS Evolution: The evolution of the MLS from a printed daily book to a dynamic digital source of real estate data reflects the changing landscape of real estate data accessibility.
  • Adapting to Open Data: As data becomes more open and available to consumers, MLSs must adapt their strategies to remain relevant and valuable in the modern real estate industry.
  • Trust and Transparency: MLSs are the cornerstone of trust and transparency in real estate, ensuring data accuracy and accessibility for all. To remain indispensable in the industry, they must prioritize user-friendly communication and adaptability to subscribers’ needs.
  • Consumer-Centric Approach: MLSs should balance serving both consumers and subscribers. Providing data directly to consumers can enhance the overall real estate experience but should not overshadow agents’ roles as experts.
  • Unlocking MLS Potential: MLSs have significant untapped potential, including providing augmented data, personalized experiences, and custom searches based on consumer preferences. To meet evolving needs and enhance their relevance, MLSs should actively listen to consumers, leverage emerging technologies, and ensure data quality and integrity.

Watch our latest Masterclass on “Is the MLS still the source of truth for all residential real estate data?”:

MLSs: The Single Source of Truth?

A Look Back at the MLS

The MLS used to be printed as a book once a day, and was the primary source of listing information for agents.

Since data entry was done manually back then, the main issue was data recency. Any changes you make to a listing after it is posted will almost immediately make it obsolete. As data moves faster today, the pace of how changes are implemented in the industry has also accelerated.

Adapting in the Age of Open Data

When the MLS was starting out, its value came from gatekeeping its data. It was only available to subscribers or licensed users. As data became more accessible for everyone, including the consumer, those days are now long gone and the industry has greatly benefited from it.

But what if the consumer does not care about the MLS? Consumers can search for listings anywhere they want. Tax records can be found on county websites in addition to everything else that MLSs use to power their markets.

The question then becomes, how can the MLS remain relevant and important in a world where data is publicly available?

Ensuring Trust & Transparency

The MLS created the concept of organized real estate in the U.S. and Canada. Other countries might have a more complex system; the same property might be listed with five different agencies at five different prices.

The trust and transparency that exist within the MLS are a result of the collaboration between practitioners. On one hand, everyone contributes in a clean, accurate, and legal manner that follows fair housing practices. On the other, all types of consumers have access to the MLS — which creates visibility for both people who want to do business and people who seek home ownership.

A stock market is similar in that if you are going to trade stocks, you will do so through the NYSE or NASDAQ because you know it is compliant and protected. The MLS is very akin to that. In order to ensure that listings are compliant, MLSs apply business rules to each listing management system.

Leveling the Playing Field for Subscribers

Markets are characterized by a phenomenon called knowledge asymmetry, in which one person knows a great deal about market conditions, but competes or negotiates with somebody who knows much less.

In markets with high knowledge, asymmetry outcomes are significantly worse, causing the overall experience for consumers to be less positive. To counteract this, the MLS is competing to offer their data in order to level the playing field and bring everyone up to speed.

Subscriptions to the MLS must include far more data than listings. This goes beyond what can be aggregated from other sources, such as exhaust data, which is data gathered as people use systems. For instance, CRMLS has developed a mechanism for ingesting and converting data into predictive outputs that can help agents understand how offers are made and countered.

The MLS is the only entity that licenses the data under contractual standing, so its predictive capability is unmatched. As a result, brokers will be able to work with all the market data, which will benefit everyone.

One thing the MLS can improve is how it can frame the story in a context that agents will understand. The MLS’s job is not to just give agents features and data, but rather to teach them tactical ways to look at the whole sales funnel, by answering questions like: 

  • Why is the MLS useful for listing generation, listing exposure, and lead generation?
  • In what ways can the MLS help subscribers close a listing presentation, streamline processes, and ensure that offers are managed correctly?


While most MLSs support every aspect of the sales process, they do not necessarily speak in relatable terms. Their approach focuses more on tech jargon than addressing the problem as one of sales strategy. For MLSs to be successful, they must learn how to tie back their features to how they aid agents in achieving revenue goals.

MLSs want to be the source of truth. They want to equip brokers with the right tools. Brokers should let them know if there is something they would like to see in their MLS. At the end of the day, subscribers are the loudest voices and carry the biggest sticks.

Case Study: Uncovering the Challenges and Opportunities of Rental Listings

Tom D’Arezzo, Director of Product Management at MLSListings, was informed by his subscribers that their rental listings weren’t appearing on some large portals.

To ensure proper data flow, MLSListings maintains a consumer-facing portal, and sure enough, the rental listings were there. However, some of the large portals have chosen not to display the rental listings that are part of the MLS’s feed. 

Larger portals typically charge people to list on their site — so people can either afford to do so or not. These companies most likely got paid by large property management companies to list their properties online.

The challenge with rental listings is that there is no single site that contains all the MLS listings, and it is these large entities that own the majority of the multifamily listings.

So, consumers think they are seeing all listings — but that isn’t the case.

Although some progress has been made through third-party partnerships, there is still room for improvement in the MLS’s core offering for rental listings.

MLSs and the Consumer: Whose Job Is It?

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that 47% of consumers search online first for properties for sale and do their own research. So, by the time they reach an agent, consumers believe they have sufficient knowledge of the topic. 

Therefore, MLSs must also consider direct-to-consumer (DTC) plays. When you serve the consumer, you’re also serving the agent, who in turn serves the broker, who ultimately serves the MLS — it all comes full circle.

However, the MLS must keep in mind that it should not prioritize the consumer-facing portal over subscribers. If the MLS provides information to consumers, they have to ensure that agents are equipped with it first, so they are able to establish themselves as the experts.

MLSListings, for example, recently adopted Local Logic’s location intelligence solutions — but you won’t find them on their website yet. Their agents have first access to the tools. Only after agents become familiar with them will the MLS add those solutions to their website.

By providing agents with information that is not readily available, the MLS will enable them to gain local expertise and offer consumers a better homebuying experience.

The Impact of Consumer-Facing Portals on MLS Innovation

In spite of the contentious topic, and many arguments against it, consumer-facing portals benefit subscribers and consumers. According to WAVGroup’s Customer Experience Index, nearly 75% of agents and brokers want MLSs to invest in consumer search websites to gain more traffic, leads, and listing exposure. That’s when the turning point occurred — when the model flipped and portals turned to referral models.

Maintaining that consumer-facing presence is very important to MLSListings. Agents can immediately see their listing once it goes live, which helps them internally. In addition, it can be used to showcase different kinds of listings (e.g. rentals, open houses, etc.). 

The MLS wants to ensure that agents’ marketing efforts are visible on their portal. Other portals do not display all the media an agent has compiled to market a listing. Some of them will only promote certain virtual tours and other types of media within that listing. 

Furthermore, the MLS aims to connect consumers and agents directly. In this way, they provide leads not only to MLS listings agents, but also to agents in other MLSs who they share data with. CRMLS agents, for instance, receive leads directly from; the inquiries are not passed along to a premier agent first.

Most consumer-facing portals are updated every 7-15 minutes, which makes them an excellent source of information. Data is completely fresh, compliant, and clean. There is also a ton of other great media overlaid on top of it. 

Portals have a certain nimbleness that allows MLSs to experiment with things that help differentiate them from their competitors. With MLSs able to innovate more quickly now, it’s time for them to reconsider their value proposition and how they can continue to improve it.

Beyond Listings: What More Can MLSs Offer?

There is a lot of potential in the MLS beyond thinking about the types of data that has already been curated. MLS can become richer and more customized due to the emergence of so many APIs and the simplicity of integrating data.

WAVGroup conducted eight focus groups with consumers to learn what they like and dislike about the portal. Ravenous is the best way to describe the answers. While MLSs might feel as though they offer consumers a lot of information, they actually provide only a tenth of what consumers need.

Many opportunities still exist — MLSs need to seize them.

Data Augmentation for Comprehensive Property Intelligence

The MLS is the ever-expanding repository of all things real estate. In addition to the property information, the MLS should also provide augmented data about the listing. To deliver the highest level of value and best possible experience, the MLS must aggregate data from a multitude of vendors to gather all the intelligence around a property.

Consumers want to know everything about a home. Details like power lines, cable providers, Wi-Fi connectivity, and even floorplans with measurements are all important to them.

The Art of Customized Consumer Experiences

Consumers want personalized opportunities, so MLSs must help agents provide a truly customized experience. The more data they have about consumer preferences, the more specific reports they can create that include not only house criteria, but also other factors, like those mentioned above.

According to consumers, MLS does not listen to them enough. In truth, the MLS should provide custom searches that include both the depth of information that they already offer as well as things that are very specific to the consumer. Doing so would make the MLS look smarter and much more intent on meeting consumers’ needs rather than responsive.

The Location Assessment Reports from Local Logic, for instance, serve precisely this purpose: identifying a neighborhood that fits homebuyers’ specific needs.

Today, MLSs can integrate and display data from a variety of sources more easily. Microclimate data, AI photo tagging, green building registry data, and climate data are a few examples of the data requested. And although data might be regulated and sanctioned, it is still important to be cautious about how data is used and to ensure that it is clean.

Curious about location insights?
Get a demo to learn how to grow your business with location data.

Thao Tram Ngo

September 14, 2023 | 11 minutes read