Section 1 History and Background

Multiple listing, in one form or another, dates back into the nineteenth century. The first boards of REALTORS® were established as real estate exchanges. On certain appointed days, the members of a board of REALTORS® gathered at the board offices and exchanged information about their listings. They, in effect, carried on an auction, as they frequently came prepared to purchase certain property desired by their principals but listed by another broker. This practice was common in the 1880s and 1890s. Shortly after the end of the nineteenth century the term multiple listing came into use. It is mentioned as an activity of boards of REALTORS® as early as 1907.

By the 1920s, multiple listing had become widely accepted. The expansion of this function continued through succeeding years and spread throughout the country with the result that today hundreds of local associations of REALTORS® provide multiple listing services, in one form or another, to their members. I

Section 2 National Association’s Interest

The interest of the National Association in multiple listing is in assuring the proper operation of such an activity so that it furthers the objectives of the Code of Ethics, encourages cooperation between REALTORS®, and avoids practices which may be contrary to public policy or the law.

The recommendations of the National Association are in support of the following principles:

  1. An association of REALTORS® should be representative of those engaged in the real estate business in the area which it serves. As a trade association, it should open its activities to all qualified persons and invite them to join in voluntary association for the good of the public.
  2. Eligibility for association of REALTORS® membership should not require participation in a multiple listing activity if, in the opinion of the individual, such activity does not lend itself to his particular method of doing business.
  3. Participation in any activity should be subject to rules that do not conflict with the public interest.
  4. The association of REALTORS® should maintain its position as an organization serving a public interest and sustain its tax-exempt status.
  5. Activities and services offered to REALTORS® should be under the direct supervision of the association of REALTORS® subject to the governing body of the association of REALTORS® and should not be conducted by a separate or independent group. In an instance where, in order to preserve the tax-exempt status of the association, it is necessary to organize the multiple listing service as a separate, for profit corporation, such corporation should be wholly owned by the association of REALTORS® and as such is ultimately accountable to the association of REALTORS®. I

Section 3 Reasons for Association Ownership

An association of REALTORS® exists to provide the real estate services desired and needed by members to assist them in serving the real estate needs and interests of their clients, their customers, and the community.

The association is dedicated to the promotion of continuing real estate education and to the establishment and enforcement of high standards of professional conduct in all real estate transactions. As association members, REALTORS® and REALTOR-ASSOCIATE®s are committed to the strict Code of Ethics of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® which obligates REALTORS® to cooperate in real estate transactions whenever it is in the interest of their clients.

The concept of cooperation in real estate transactions can be enhanced by a mechanism such as the multiple listing service which enables a REALTOR® to cooperate with other REALTORS®. Cooperation is the obligation to share information on listed property and to make property available to other brokers for showing to prospective purchasers and tenants when it is in the best interest of their clients. I

The MLS should be an association service or function for the following reasons:

The association exists. This means the service can be established less expensively and more quickly and should result in a fuller utilization of the association’s personnel and equipment.

Every MLS, whether or not association affiliated, requires certain functions to be performed, including management, rule making and enforcement, and arbitration of disputes. Associations of REALTORS® have the existing organization and capacity to fulfill all these functions, and by doing so, are able to minimize the cost and improve the quality of the performance. (Revised 11/96)

Since REALTORS® are bound to a Code of Ethics and other obligations of association membership, it is desirable that such obligations be consistent with the obligations imposed by the MLS. This can only be assured if the MLS is subject to the control of the association, since the association cannot legally control an independent organization. Association control is especially important to avoid situations where the association is held responsible, at least in the minds of the public, for the conduct of an MLS not under its control simply because REALTORS® are members of such an MLS.

REALTORS® have worked hard to establish a reputation for integrity and professionalism; and they carry that image with them in all their transactions. If their cooperative transactions are through an association MLS, the association can better assure compliance with the applicable legal obligations and better defend the legitimate and essential rights of REALTORS® to do business.

In sum, a multiple listing service is just one of many services offered by an association of REALTORS®, but it is a useful and beneficial service to the members, their clients and customers, and the community. The association MLS offers efficiency, effectiveness, and economy of operation. It avoids duplication of effort and of cost. The community looks to the association for leadership in matters affecting real estate and hence would expect a multiple listing service to be operated by the association of REALTORS®. The association has the respect and confidence of the community it serves. Association members are committed to the Code of Ethics of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and to its enforcement, including disciplinary proceedings and arbitration proceedings to resolve real estate complaints and disputes consistent with state law. The association MLS promotes harmony and cooperation among association members and remains, in proper perspective, an association service. I

Section 4 How to Organize a Multiple Listing Service

If a substantial number of members show an interest in the subject of multiple listing, it is prudent for the association of REALTORS® to show leadership by appointing a committee to investigate. It can be a mistake for the association of REALTORS® to ignore interest on the part of even a limited number of members, lest they undertake to establish a service outside the association.

The committee should sponsor a full discussion of the subject at one or several membership meetings. Members from nearby associations of REALTORS® with multiple listing activities should be invited to give their view and answer questions. However, their answers should be verified in terms of this Handbook and the policies of the National Association.

The committee should make on-site visits to various associations with multiple listing activities to learn what costs are involved and to decide on the equipment needed. Many associations find it desirable to contract all or most processing. Others do a complete processing job themselves.

If processing is done outside the association, the initial equipment needed is minor and there should be no need for a large initial participation fee.

If the association does the complete processing, it will be necessary to purchase duplicating and photographic equipment. The initial cost of starting the operation may be higher, but long-term costs and control advantages may be greater.

After the committee has made a thorough investigation of all factors involved, it should make its report and recommendations to a membership meeting. If the report favors adoption of the activity, the association should amend the bylaws to authorize the operation of the activity and to set up the machinery for operation. (See bylaw provisions located elsewhere in this Handbook.)

The name of association owned or operated multiple listing services (including multi-association and regional multiples) should rationally relate to the area served. (See Part Two, C., Operational Issues, Section 7, Challenges to the Names of Multiple Listing Services, for more information.)

The committee authorized to be created by the amended bylaws then should adopt supplemental rules and regulations which will outline the operating procedures of the activity. The rules and regulations, as adopted, should be submitted to the board of directors. A copy should be provided to the state association for its records and a copy should be forwarded to association policy and programs, National Association, so that the rules and regulations can be reviewed to determine their compliance with applicable policy. (See the National Association’s MLS Antitrust Compliance Policy, located in Part Two of this Handbook.) (Amended 8/24) R