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What Is the Multiple Listing Service?

A term that’s come up frequently on the WRX Property Group website and blog is Multiple Listing Service, or MLS for short. It’s one of the most important tools/systems/services for real estate agents working throughout Canada (and indeed, throughout the world). If you just want the basics, MLS is a tool and system through which realtors post properties for sale on behalf of a seller. Realtors working on behalf of prospective buyers can then browse the listings and contact any associated sellers of a particular property for more information (and to set up a viewing). It’s an incredibly important system – indeed, the percentage of Canada’s real estate transactions that are completed via MLS typically hovers around 90%. So the simplest way to understand it is this: MLS is a service in which agents working on behalf of sellers and buyers connect. The other main point is that the majority of real estate postings in Canada are found through MLS. For those of you looking for a more in-depth discussion, let’s first start with the overall history of multiple listing services.


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A Broad Definition and History

Broadly, a multiple listing service (in other words, not the specific, Canadian Multiple Listing Service we’ll be focussing on later) is a shared platform in which accredited realtors, representing sellers, share information about properties (specifications and asking price) in a particular area. Buyers, and agents working on their behalf, use the service to browse available properties and to find contact information in order to pursue the option. It is both a database of listings and, usually, a software service that features a user interface enabling various search criteria. As with many broadly-used services and historical innovations, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where multiple listing services were first implemented. What we do know is that in the late nineteenth-century, real estate brokers in the United States of America would frequently gather at offices of local realty associations, swapping information about properties they were trying to sell. They eventually determined that by helping each other sell properties, they could also help themselves sell their own properties. Compensation based on mutual assistance – and an underlying philosophy of what helps one, helps all – led to the first, proto-multiple listing service. Of course, the advent of the Internet has had profound effects on multiple listing services, too, leading it to take on its present form. Numerous countries around the world use multiple listing services: in some there are singular, national services, and in some, there is no trademarked, centralized service, but rather multiple regional or privately-owned versions.

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MLS in Canada

Canada’s multiple listing service is fittingly called the Multiple Listing Service. The MLS name and logo is a registered trademark used to “identify professional services rendered by REALTOR® members of CREA to effect the purchase, sale and lease of real estate as part of a cooperative selling system” (Realtor.ca). It’s a nationwide service based on the mutual cooperation of members of the Canadian Real Estate Association. It’s operated by the various real estate Boards and Associations in Canada (in total, 101 real estate boards, and 11 provincial/territorial associations). Let’s take a closer look.
The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) stretches back to 1943, when it operated under a slightly different name; the CREA as we know it was founded in 1954. It’s a Canadian Trade Association (in fact, one of Canada’s largest single-industry Trade Associations) consisting of over 109,000 real estate agents, brokers, and salespeople, spread throughout Canada. The real estate industry in Canada consists of three tiers: local real estate boards (like the Kitchener-Waterloo Association of Realtors), provincial or territorial associations (like the Ontario Real Estate Association), and the nationwide CREA. For someone to become a Realtor with the CREA and have access to their various tools, they must have membership in their local board, or their provincial/territorial association. Membership not only confers this access, but also connotes a degree of integrity, as the CREA lays out a code of ethics and national standards that member Realtors must abide by. The CREA also monitors the overall real estate market and economy; subsequently, they provide analyses to both clients and Realtors, they influence governmental policy through advocacy, and they protect the rights of buyers and sellers.


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The MLS in Canada operates first from the local level. Each constituent MLS System is run by local real estate boards and Associations that are part of the overarching CREA. These systems are available to accredited Realtors (members of the various boards/Associations within the CREA) who work on behalf of a seller to post a listing, or on behalf of a buyer to search for properties (cooperating Realtors working on the seller’s behalf share a commission in the case of a completed transaction). MLS Systems feature numerous details about any given property, which is one of the reasons it’s such a vital tool. Only Realtors can access these details, learning such information as a home’s history and more. MLS also has intuitive search tools with which Realtors can narrow down their search to ensure the best results for their client. Sellers who do not want to hire a Realtor to handle their overall sale process will still need to commission one to make a listing on the MLS System; to reiterate, only accredited Realtors can list properties on the MLS.

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The CREA owns and operates the MLS and the Multiple Listing Service in Canada, and it also owns and operates the website Realtor.ca. Realtor.ca is incredibly important to Canadian real estate, but while it has elements of the MLS, it is not precisely MLS. Realtor.ca is a publically-accessible website with real estate listings throughout Canada. Buyers, sellers, and renters can all find various uses for its services (including the listings themselves, but also additional features like a mortgage calculator), and it attracts nearly a quarter of a million visitors annually. Realtor.ca derives its property listings from the MLS Systems of local, provincial, and territorial boards/Associations across the country; it’s an advertising website designed to give Realtors greater exposure for their listings.

The full-time Realtors at WRX Property group are fully accredited, and ready to work diligently on your behalf – whether you’re buying or selling. We are adept at getting the best results from the MLS System, and we post listings on our website up to 24 hours before they appear on the MLS. If you’d like to know more, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Written by Will Kummer

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