John Kelly
(651) 238-5649

Can You Really Search the Twin Cities MLS?


The short answer is: Well, kind of. The multiple listing service is compiled by our association of Realtors, and only Realtors can log in and directly search the MLS. But because of broker reciprocity, and idx technology, real estate websites are able to repackage the information in the MLS and show consumers almost the entire inventory of Twin Cities homes for sale.

The reason consumers can only see most of the inventory, is because to make their listings available to the public, listing brokers must agree to participate in broker reciprocity. This means that when I enter a listing into the MLS, I need to decide if I want to let my competitors display my listing on their websites. I always let them, because it's really a win-win situation. My seller gets more exposure, the other companies have an opportunity to attract buyers, and if one of them finds a buyer for my listing then it helps me too!! The benefit to buyers is obvious, they can go to just about any real estate website and search for active twin cities listings.

The reason some brokers don't participate in broker reciprocity, is because they don't want other companies to benefit from their listings. I feel they are missing out on an opportunity to help themselves and everybody else, but it is their choice to make.

I have been a St. Paul area real estate agent for over 20 years. So, some of this is hard for me to get used to. It used to be that only Realtors could search the MLS data base of active listings. My buyers had to rely on me to find out about available homes. These days, everybody with an internet connection has some idea of what's for sale, and what the list price is.

I think it's great that more information is being made readily available to consumers. But it can also be dangerous. There is something about sitting in front of a computer, with the ability to search through thousands of homes for sale that leads buyers to believe they have all the information they need. In fact they are missing a lot of critical information that they can only get from an agent who has direct access to the MLS. The biggest mistakes are made by people who don't know what they don't know. And it is no secret that a lot of buyers paid too much for homes over the last few years. Here's how it can happen. Let's assume a family is looking for a 3 bedroom 2 bath single family home in Rosemount. They have been carefully looking online for several months, and they found one they like priced at $215,900. Here's what they don't know: They don't know how long it has been for sale, or how much the owner paid for it 3 years ago. They don't know that the almost identical home across the street sold last year, or how much it sold for, or if the owner paid the buyer's closing costs. They don't know what the average sale price is for the neighborhood, or if there are other similar homes that have been taken off the market after failing to find buyers. And it's possible that there is a nicer one listed with a company that doesn't participate in broker reciprocity.

Information about similar properties that are sold, pending, expired, or cancelled is critical in determining the value of any property. This important information is available to Realtors through the MLS, but it is not passed on to consumers through real estate websites. I believe that a lot of the problems we are having in the St. Paul real estate market can be traced to poorly educated buyers. For the last several years, I watched buyers purchase homes for prices that really couldn't be supported if you looked at all of the data. Psychologists tell us that if you inundate people with tons of information, they will assume that they have all of the information they need. Too many buyers have been making their decisions after only looking at active listings. If they had been aware that they were buying homes that were literally surrounded by homes that had recently sold for much less, or failed to sell at all, they would have made different decisions.

Going to a real estate website and seeing what is actively for sale in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is a good place to begin looking for a home. But before you get too serious, you want to find an experienced real estate agent to represent your interests as a buyer broker. Your agent will have access to all of the active listings, but you already have most of that anyway. Your agent should be providing you with all of the other information that will help you establish value, so you are prepared to make an informed decision.

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