Introduction To Flat Fee MLS Listings
A flat fee MLS listing is a great way to get your property the exposure it needs to sell while also saving a lot of money on real estate commission.
Most people are familiar with how a traditional full-service real estate agent sells your property. They typically charge a 6% commission to take pictures, put a sign in the yard, and put a lockbox on the door. Then they list the property on the MLS and offer to split their commission with another real estate agent who finds a buyer for the property. Typically, the commission is split 50/50, meaning most MLS listings offer 3% of the sale price to an agent who finds a buyer. If the listing agent finds the buyer, they keep the entire 6% commission.
Instead of listing your house with a traditional full-service real estate agent and paying them a 6% commission, a flat fee MLS listing allows you to list your house on the local MLS for a low, flat fee. When a real estate agent brings you a buyer, you’ll pay that agent a much lower commission, usually 2.5%-3% instead of the full 6%.
Flat fee MLS listings can be a great middle ground between hiring a traditional full-service real estate agent and listing your house For Sale By Owner (FSBO).
In this ULTIMATE guide to flat fee MLS listings in Florida, we’ll cover everything there is to know about flat fee MLS listings in the Sunshine State and give you some actionable tips for choosing a flat fee MLS company and getting the most out of your flat fee MLS listing.
What is the MLS?
No guide to flat fee MLS listings would be complete without explaining what the MLS is and how it works. Most people have heard of the MLS and know that it is where real estate agents list properties that are for sale, but they do not understand how it works or even what the acronym “MLS” stands for.
MLS stands for “Multiple Listing Service.” It is an online database of real estate listings that is only accessible by real estate agents, real estate appraisers, and other licensed real estate professionals.
The MLS is an extremely powerful tool for real estate professionals. Real estate agents use the MLS daily to list new properties, research sold properties, and make offers.
The MLS vs. Public Real Estate Websites
Think of the MLS as a website like Zillow or Realtor.com, but with much more detail and a lot more historical information. Not only does the MLS have current, for sale listings, but it also has listings that are pending contract, listings that have sold, listings that have expired, listings that have been canceled, and much more.
Real estate agents can use the MLS to search for and sort listings by every criterion imaginable. While websites like Zillow only allow you to search and sort by basic criteria like price, the number of bedrooms, and the number of bathrooms, the MLS has hundreds of fields that contain almost every detail about a property. Things like whether the building is constructed of concrete block or wood frame, whether the property is on septic or sewer, and whether the property has central A/C or window units. If you’ve ever heard a real estate agent scoff at public real estate websites, this is why. The level of detail on the MLS is insane.
There Is More Than One MLS
Many people think that there is one nationwide MLS that every real estate agent uses. This is not true. There are actually 600 to 700 different MLS in the United States, according to the Real Estate Standards Organization. Each area typically has its own MLS that is run by one or more Realtor associations in that same area. The total number of MLS changes frequently as new MLS are formed and other MLS merge together.
Realtor associations can choose to run their own MLS or join other associations in using the same MLS.
For example, up until 2020, the Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors used its own MLS. Only agents who joined the Ocala/Marion MLS could list properties on that MLS and access information. An agent working in an area on the border of Marion County and Lake County, such as The Villages, would need to join the Marion/Ocala MLS as well as Stellar MLS, which covers Lake County, in order to access information and list properties on both MLS.
In early 2020, the Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors joined Stellar MLS. All of the data from the previous MLS system was moved over to Stellar MLS and now agents can freely share information and list properties in one convenient place.
A MLS can also cover a single city or county, or a large area.
For example, Stellar MLS is one of the largest MLS in the country. Its members include 18 different Realtor associations located in 16 counties across Central Florida and Southwest Florida. All of the Realtors who are members of these 18 associations in these 16 counties list their properties on Stellar MLS.
Compare this to Volusia County, where there are three different Realtor associations. The association in West Volusia County is a member of Stellar MLS. The two associations in East Volusia County, the Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors and the New Smyrna Beach Association of Realtors, each have their own individual MLS systems.
That means there are three different MLS covering a single Florida county. An agent who works the entire county needs to be a member of all three associations in order to have complete MLS access.
If you are choosing a flat fee MLS company in a place like Volusia County, you will need to make sure the company you choose can get your property listed on the correct MLS. Listing only on the New Smyrna Beach MLS doesn’t do you much good if your property is located in Deltona, for example.
MLS Data Integrity
Because the MLS has so much data that is heavily relied on by every real estate professional in the area, the integrity of the data is taken extremely seriously. The MLS software automatically checks public records and other sources for discrepancies in information and will issue fines if listings are not updated immediately. More on this and how it affects your responsibilities as a seller when using flat fee MLS listings later.
MLS Commission Agreements
Other than the crazy amount of detail, the thing that makes the MLS unique is the commission agreements. Every listing on the MLS must offer a commission to agents who bring a buyer for the property. No property can be listed on the MLS without offering a commission. The commission can be any amount, whether it is a percentage of the sale price or a flat fee, but it must be offered. The commission offered on the MLS listing is a binding agreement and must be paid to the buyer’s agent.
You might wonder how real estate agents get their listings posted on all of the public real estate websites and keep them updated. This is done through syndication. When a listing is added to the MLS, it automatically gets syndicated to hundreds of public websites via the MLS feed. This feed is where sites like Zillow and Realtor.com get their information. When a listing is changed on the MLS, it automatically updates on all of the websites that are using the feed.
Not all information is included in the MLS feed. The information allowed to be syndicated to public websites is a very watered-down version of the actual information on the MLS. Fields that contain confidential information, like commission, contact information, and property access information are not included in the feed for obvious reasons.
Why Does Your Property Need To Be Listed On The MLS?
The biggest reason to get your property listed on the MLS is exposure. The MLS is by far the best way to get your property in front of as many potential buyers and real estate agents as possible, which will give it the best chance of selling. Having your property listed on the MLS is the biggest difference between listing your property For Sale By Owner and listing your property with a real estate agent.
Most real estate agents are only looking for properties on the MLS. You won’t find many serious agents browsing Zillow for properties to show their clients. That is because of the commission agreements that guarantee the agent will earn a commission if they sell a property listed on the MLS. If they find a FSBO property on Zillow or Realtor.com, they will have to make sure the seller will agree to pay them a commission first.
Listing your property on the MLS is also the best way to get it automatically listed on hundreds of real estate websites for free. This is thanks to the MLS feeds that automatically syndicate listings to those websites. Creating a listing on each real estate website and then keeping them updated with the current photos, pricing, and information would be incredibly time-consuming and almost impossible.
What Are The Seller’s Responsibilities With A Flat Fee MLS Listing?
Although a flat fee MLS listing will save you thousands on real estate commissions, it comes with additional responsibilities that would normally be handled by a listing agent. For more information on getting the most out of your flat fee MLS listing, check out this blog post that goes over 6 tips for success with flat fee MLS listings in Florida.
Preparing The Listing
As the seller, you will be responsible for collecting and providing the information for the MLS listing. This includes details about the property like square footage, construction type, HOA information, and other details required by the MLS. Most of this information can be found on your local property appraiser’s website. Other information you will know just from being the owner of the property.
In addition to the property details, you will also need to write up an attention-grabbing description of the property to be used on the MLS. This will be the paragraph of text that gets shown to the public on sites like Zillow. This guide from the New York Times is helpful for determining which words to use in your description and why they work.
Every MLS listing requires photos, so you will need to take some yourself or have them taken by a professional photographer. Depending on how much you want to pay, some flat fee MLS companies include photography in their package. Hiring a real estate photographer yourself typically costs $200-$300 and is well worth the money. In fact, the National Association of REALTORS® recently released the following statistics:
- Homes with high-quality photography sell 32% faster.
- A home with one photo spends an average of 70 days on the market, but a home with 20 photos spends only 32 days on the market.
- For homes priced in the $200,000 to $1 million range, listings that include high-quality photography sell for $3,000-$11,000 more.
- Homes with drone photography included on the listing sell, on average, 68% faster than those without.
The MLS requires basic room measurements for every listing. These measurements do not have to be exact – rounding to the nearest foot is fine. There is not much else to discuss regarding room measurements. Just make sure you have them before sitting down to input your listing.
When you list with a flat fee MLS listing, you will be responsible for handling showings. This can be as simple as putting a lockbox on the house and giving out the code, or scheduling in-person appointments with real estate agents and buyers.
It is a good idea to decide how you are going to handle showings before listing since the flat fee MLS company will want to know so they can include the instructions on the MLS.
If the company you choose offers a showing scheduling service like ShowingTime, take advantage of it! It is especially convenient for vacant houses with lockboxes. It automatically confirms that the person requesting the showing is a licensed agent and provides them with the lockbox code. There are also different showing options available for occupied properties.
You will need to come up with an asking price for your flat fee MLS listing. This is typically done by the listing agent, but it is not rocket science. Most homeowners have a pretty good idea of what their house is worth.
To price your house correctly, start by looking at houses that have sold on sites like Zillow and Realtor.com. Don’t pay attention to active listings or listings that have pending offers. You want to look at houses that have actually sold.
Try to find sold houses in your neighborhood that are similar in square footage, have the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and have similar features and updates as your house. The more similar the comparable property is to your home, the more likely it is that your house will sell for a similar price. This strategy is exactly how real estate agents price homes.
When pricing your home, avoid the temptation to use the Zillow Zestimate or other computer-generated estimates of value. These values are almost always inaccurate and are routinely off by tens of thousands of dollars.
Some signs that your house is overpriced include:
- You are not getting any showings
- You are not getting any offers
- Offers are all for much less than asking price
- Neighboring homes are selling, but yours is not
- Showing feedback says your home is overpriced
It is important to offer a competitive commission to buyers agents when listing your property on the MLS. Your first instinct may be to offer as little commission as possible, but this can be a big mistake. The best practice is to offer a commission amount that is in line with the rest of the listings on the MLS. Here is a breakdown of commission amounts for listings on the MLS at the time of writing:
- 53% of listings are offering a 3% commission
- 36% of listings are offering a 2.5% commission
- Only 11% of listings are offering a commission other than 3% or 2.5%
- Less than 1% of listings are offering a flat dollar amount instead of a percentage of the sale price
You can see that if you want your listing to be as competitive as possible, you’ll want to offer a 2.5% or 3% commission. Remember, buyers agents do not work for free, and offering a low commission can be a big turnoff for them.
Yard signs aren’t nearly as effective as they used to be. Most qualified buyers are working with real estate agents and searching for properties online, not driving around neighborhoods looking for signs. Typically, yard signs attract tire kickers, unqualified buyers, and nosey neighbors. In fact, a 2013 report by the National Association of Realtors found that only 9% of buyers purchased homes that were found through a yard sign.
Because of this, it’s not critical to have a yard sign posted at your property. The only reason most real estate agents continue to use yard signs is for brand awareness and new business, not necessarily to sell a particular property.
Some flat fee MLS companies still provide yard signs to their customers with certain packages. Some companies charge extra for them. Because of Florida real estate laws, the signs provided will have the phone number of the flat fee MLS company listed, not yours.
Another option is to put up your own For Sale By Owner sign. That way you can display your own phone number. The downside to this is that real estate agents routinely call FSBO signs in order to solicit new business and try to get you to list with them.
Much like yard signs, the internet has just about killed open houses and they’re not nearly as effective as they used to be. In fact, only 4% of buyers visit open houses according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Most people that attend open houses do not end up buying that particular house. Real estate agents continue to hold open houses because it’s a great way to meet new potential clients, not because it’s a good way to sell a house.
If you do decide to hold open houses with a flat fee MLS listing, they will be your responsibility. A flat fee MLS company should be able to add your open house dates to the MLS, and most public websites will then pick up the dates and display your open house.
Choosing A Title Company
When you list with a traditional real estate agent, they typically have a title company that they use and will expect you to use the same one. With a flat fee MLS listing, the choice is yours. You can choose any real estate attorney or title company you’d like since, as the seller, it’s customary for you to pay for the title work in most Florida counties.
Most title companies charge a similar fee for closing, so you’re not going to save a ton by shopping around. A real estate attorney will typically charge a little more for their services, but they can handle complex issues that may arise, whereas a title agent will have to refer you to an actual attorney. Some title companies are actually owned by attorneys, which can be a good option.
It’s important to note that title agents work for the title insurance company. Their only job is to process the transaction and issue the title insurance policy. They do not work for the buyer or the seller. On the other hand, a real estate attorney works for whoever pays them, in this case, you as the seller.
Is A Flat Fee MLS Listing Right For You?
Flat fee MLS listings are great for experienced Florida sellers who want to give their property the exposure it needs to sell while saving a lot of money on real estate commission, but they’re not for everyone.
Most sellers who use flat fee MLS listings have sold at least one property in the past and are somewhat familiar with the sale process. First-time home sellers may be better off listing with a full-service real estate agent, especially if they are unfamiliar with the process or do not want to take the time to learn.
Sellers who are extremely busy or are high-income earners may also be better off with a traditional full-service agent if they do not have the time to take phone calls, schedule showings, and negotiate sale terms, and would rather focus on their own high paying job and leave the home sale duties to someone else. For them, it’s a time vs. money decision.
Anyone selling real estate on a regular basis such as investors, house flippers, and home builders are the ideal candidates for a flat fee MLS listing. These experienced sellers are very familiar with the sale process and do not need a traditional real estate agent to guide them through the process. They also benefit greatly from the money saved on commission, which lowers their costs and increases their profit margins, allowing them to potentially outbid other investors when purchasing inventory.
How much does a flat fee MLS listing cost?
A flat fee MLS listing can cost as little as $69 or as much as $1,000 depending on the company you choose and the services they provide. Most reputable flat fee MLS companies are going to charge between $200 and $400 for a package that contains the most popular options.
Companies charging over $500 for a flat fee MLS listing usually include add-ons like offer negotiations, transaction management, or basic professional photography. It’s important to decide what features you actually need and what you can handle yourself.
Beware of companies advertising an extremely low rate for flat fee MLS listings. Always find out what is included for that rate and compare it to offerings from other companies. The goal with a flat fee MLS listing is to save money, but going too cheap can be a mistake. Customer service is often the first thing to be cut by companies offering an extremely low rate.
Choosing A Flat Fee MLS Company
Now that you know what the MLS is, understand why you need your property listed on the MLS, and have decided that a flat fee MLS listing is right for you, it’s time to choose a flat fee MLS listing company in Florida.
Not all flat fee MLS companies in Florida are created equal. There are many different business models, packages, and levels of service to choose from. Here are some of the biggest things to watch out for.
This is a big one. You don’t want to work with a company that isn’t customer service oriented or responsive to your requests. There will be times when you’ll want a price change made or an open house added in time for the weekend, so responsiveness is important. You also don’t want to have to wait days for a response to a question about an offer you received when you have an antsy buyer waiting who could go somewhere else.
There’s an easy way to see how responsive a flat fee MLS company is. Just go on their website and submit an email or chat inquiry and see how long it takes for them to get back to you. Or give them a call. If you don’t receive a response within 1 business day or you get sent to voicemail, it’s probably time to move on to another company.
Live Answering Of Phone Calls
Speaking of voicemail, good flat fee MLS companies don’t use it. Reaching a voicemail message is a big turn off for most people, especially buyers calling for information on a property.
When choosing a flat fee MLS company, find out how they handle phone calls. Do they ever go to voicemail? Ideally, you’ll want calls to be answered by a live person who can relay your contact information to anyone who calls in reference to your listing.
This can be the difference between paying a buyer’s agent a commission or not. If a buyer calls the flat fee MLS company about your property and gets a voicemail, they may end up calling a local real estate agent and getting them involved. Now instead of dealing directly with the buyer, there is an agent involved who will be owed a commission – all because a call went to voicemail.
Automated Showing Scheduling
Automated showing scheduling can be very convenient, so it’s worth finding out if your flat fee MLS listing company offers it. The software is typically included with MLS access, but some companies will charge their customers extra for it.
Automated showing scheduling software, like ShowingTime, makes it easy to verify that the person requesting access is actually a licensed agent. It can be set up to automatically give out a lockbox code for vacant properties or schedule an appointment if the property is occupied.
Actual MLS Access
It’s very important that the flat fee MLS company you choose has actual access to the correct, local MLS that your property needs to be listed on. Most of the big, national flat fee MLS companies are simply middlemen. They take your money and then contract with a local real estate broker to list the property for them.
You’ll always be better off dealing directly with a local flat fee MLS broker. Not only will they be more knowledgable of that particular MLS and the local area, but they’ll also be able to offer a higher level of customer service since there’s not a middleman relaying information back and forth.
This map from the National Association of Realtors can be helpful for determining which MLS your property needs to be listed on.
Charges For Changes
Many flat fee MLS companies will offer an extremely low upfront fee, but only include a limited number of changes to your listing. That means you’ll have to pay extra for price changes, changes to the description, or other changes to the listing after you’ve hit your quota. It’s always better to find a company that does not charge extra for changes or limit the number of changes you can make.
Number Of Photos Included
Placing limits on the number of photos included with the listing is a popular way for flat fee MLS companies to separate their services into packages and then upsell people to a higher package. The MLS does not charge these companies extra for additional photos. These companies are simply charging you more because they can. Make sure the flat fee MLS company you choose will allow you to post the number of photos you need to post.
Fees At Closing
Be especially careful with flat fee MLS companies that seem to charge an extremely cheap fee to list your property. Many of these companies will charge an additional, larger fee at closing to either the buyer or the seller. Always read the fine print and make sure you’re not going to be in for a surprise later.
Length Of Listing
Another way flat fee MLS companies like to separate their listing packages is by the length of the listing. This is typically done by offering 3, 6, 9, or 12-month packages. If you choose a company that puts a time limit on the listing, make sure the package you select gives you enough time for you to get your property sold.
The average time on market for a typical, well-priced house in Central Florida is 60-70 days. However, remember to add on the time it will take for the sale to close once it goes under contract. Most buyers with financing will need 30-45 days to close. This puts you at just over 90 days at the minimum.
Remember, if the buyer backs out or the sale falls through, you’ll have to put the house back on the market. A 3-month listing package might end up being more expensive than the 6 or 9-month package if you have to keep renewing it.
Vacant land and luxury properties typically take much longer to sell than the average house, so you’ll want to account for that as well.
Some flat fee MLS companies offer “list until it sells” listings where they will renew the listing at no charge if it does not sell. This can be a good option if you’re not sure how long the sale will take or simply don’t want to worry about it.
Access To A Broker Or Licensed Agent
There may come a time during the sale process when you’ll run into an issue or have a question that needs to be handled by a real estate broker or a licensed agent. Some flat fee MLS companies will charge an additional hourly fee for access to a real estate broker.
If you think there might be a chance that you’ll need this service, check to see if your flat fee MLS company offers it, and if so, what they charge for it.
Access To Blank Forms
Having access to blank real estate forms is not as big of a deal as you might think. Most offers submitted to you by a buyer’s agent will be submitted on the necessary forms. The only time you’ll typically need blank forms is if you’re approached by a buyer who is not represented by an agent.
Some flat fee MLS companies will charge extra for blank forms and some will include them at no charge. You probably won’t need them, but it’s nice to know they’re available if you do.
Common Misconceptions About Flat Fee MLS Listings
If you’ve gotten this far in this ultimate guide, you probably know more about flat fee MLS listing than most people. Before we wrap up the guide, let’s go over some common misconceptions about flat fee MLS listings that may surprise you.
Misconception #1: Flat Fee MLS Listings Are Like Craiglist Postings
Unlike Craigslist, the MLS has very strict rules that all listings must comply with, and fines are issued for violations. Because of this, your flat fee MLS company may not be able to do everything the exact way that you want it done.
For example, most MLS require that the first photo is of the exterior front of the property. As a member of the MLS, your flat fee MLS company cannot break this rule or they will be issued a fine that will most likely be passed on to you.
Another common MLS rule does not allow contact information in the public description of the listing. Since this is the paragraph of text that gets sent out to public websites via the MLS feed, this means your contact information will not be displayed outside of the MLS.
There are many other MLS rules that may affect your flat fee MLS listing. Your flat fee MLS company should be able to advise you on these rules and help keep your listing in compliance.
Misconception #2: Flat Fee MLS Listings Do Not Have Listing Agents Or Listing Agreements
You might think that because you’re using a flat fee MLS listing that there must not be a listing agent or a listing agreement. Actually, your listing will technically have a listing agent, just like any other listing, and you will have to sign a listing agreement.
Every listing on the MLS has a listing agent associated with it, and your flat fee MLS listing will be no different. However, your listing agent will be charging you a flat fee instead of a 6% commission.
You’ll also have to sign some form of a listing agreement. Most flat fee MLS companies will use a version of the Florida Realtors FAR-BAR Limited Service Listing Agreement. This agreement will spell out the terms and conditions of the listing.
Misconception #3: Real Estate Agents Will Avoid Flat Fee MLS Listings
This is a false narrative that has been floating around for years. It’s usually spread by full-service real estate agents in an effort to scare sellers into avoiding flat fee MLS listings. In reality, there is no evidence that supports this theory. It is simply untrue for a number of reasons.
Steering clients to particular listings and away from others is illegal and against the Realtor Code of Ethics. A real estate agent would have to be willing to risk losing their license in order to boycott a flat fee MLS company.
In the internet age, buyers decide which properties they want to see. Most listings are available for buyers to view on public websites. Real estate agents can no longer hide certain properties from their buyers. If an agent refuses to show a buyer a certain property, the buyer will find another agent who will.
As long as a competitive commission is offered, real estate agents have no issues showing flat fee MLS listings to their buyers. Some even prefer it since they get to deal directly with the seller and avoid having to go through the listing agent.
Misconception #4: Information On Public Websites Can Be Edited
You may run into this issue if you notice something on a public website that you feel needs to be changed. It’s important to understand that your flat fee MLS company, or any real estate agent for that matter, does not have access to change how each and every real estate website displays their information.
For example, Zillow currently displays 3 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom homes as 3 beds, 2 baths. Yes, there are technically 2 bathrooms, but some people would say it should be displayed as 1.5 baths instead of 2 baths.
This is the way Zillow currently displays listings and there’s nothing anyone other than Zillow can do to change it.
The same goes for all of the other public real estate websites. Other than making sure the information on the MLS is as accurate as possible and hoping for the best, there’s not much your flat fee MLS company or any real estate agent can do to change how public websites display their information.
Flat fee MLS listings can be a great way for experienced Florida sellers to save a ton of money on real estate commissions. Not everyone needs a full-service agent to handle the sale of their property. With a little bit of legwork and research, and the help of a great flat fee MLS company, you can sell your house the way house flippers, real estate investors, and other experienced sellers have been doing it for years.