Updated: April 10th, 2020 with the latest flat fee MLS data
What is a flat fee MLS service?
Selling a home without the help of an agent can be tough. The biggest challenge for FSBO sellers is visibility— without an agent’s marketing and advertising expertise, and their network of contacts, how does a seller make sure their home is seen by the people who might be interested in buying it?
Well, that’s where the flat fee MLS service comes in.
Flat fee MLS services offer sellers the ability to list their home on the local Multiple Listing Service, which is the main online directory that real estate agents use to list their properties and share them with other agents that also belong to the local MLS. There are hundreds of local MLS databases, each of which handles listings from their area.
Only an agent can list on the MLS, which is the only thing you’re paying for with a flat fee MLS service. In other words, you won’t get access to the other services usually offered by agents.
The MLS is also sometimes called an “entry only” listing, which means that the agent entering the listing into the MLS is not performing any other tasks for the seller. So, for example, interested parties will know not to contact that agent to arrange a showing. They’ll go directly to you, the seller.
The main benefit of getting your house listed on the local MLS is that it gets your listing syndicated onto top real estate websites like Zillow and Realtor.com. Websites like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com pull data from these local MLS listings and serve it to their millions of users.
Considering that 44% of buyers start their home search by looking online, according to NAR, the MLS is a great way to gain exposure. However, listing without an agent (FSBO) comes with a lot of challenges.
Here’s a quick rundown of everything you’ll need to do without an agent:
- Prepare your home for sale
- Price your property right
- Stage your home
- Market your home
- Find qualified buyers
- Respond to serious buyers quickly
- Negotiate the deal
- Hire a real estate lawyer
- Finalize and file the correct paperwork
Seems like a lot, huh? It is! Selling FSBO is no joke.
Read on to learn whether selling with a flat fee MLS service instead of an agent is right for you.
Table of Contents
- How to Get an MLS Listing Without a Realtor
- Once You’re On the MLS, How Will Buyers Contact You?
- How to Write a Great Listing, and Get the Right Photos
- Flat Fee MLS Pros and Cons
- Flat Fee MLS vs. Flat Fee Realtors vs. Flat Fee Brokerages
- What Are the Best Flat Fee MLS Companies?
- Flat Fee MLS Companies with Subpar Reputations
How to Get an MLS Listing Without a Realtor
Getting your property on the MLS without an agent is pretty straightforward, but there are a few simple rules to keep in mind, to make sure your listing reaches its biggest potential audience.
Use a Local MLS
This is an important point; since there are hundreds of MLS databases, each of which only lists properties in their area of coverage, you should make sure you’re only looking at flat fee MLS companies in your area.
If you accidentally contract with a flat fee company from out of state, buyers in your area won’t even see your home.
Survey Your Purchase Options
Flat fee MLS companies will post your listing for a one-time flat fee— but that fee will vary depending on what services you want.
Most companies offer bare bones packages, where you just get an MLS listing, and no additional services, for a certain period of time— usually around 60 days. From there, the packages get more expensive, depending on how much longer you want your property to be listed, or what other additional services you opt for.
These additional services can include marketing and advertising, staging, photography, and help with closing and negotiation. If you aren’t sure how many of these services you’ll need right upfront, that’s okay— just make sure the company you use allows you to add services down the line, or make changes to your listing. Almost all FSBO sellers need to make changes to their listing at some point, or improvise their sales approach. Flexibility is key.
Quick note: A good alternative to flat fee MLS companies is using a reliable flat fee real estate agent (which we’ll discuss more below). We’ve partnered with Clever Real Estate to offer you local full-service agents that work for 1% or $3000 and help you save thousands.
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Also make sure the company you choose offers comprehensive, quality customer support. Don’t just take their word for it; do your own research. If their contact information is prominently displayed, that’s a good sign; if you have to hunt for it, be hesitant.
Another great tip is to search for (company URL) + “Review” in Google and see what other people have said about the company.
Finally, confirm that your listing company sends your listing out to Realtor, Zillow, and Trulia when you submit the MLS listing. (Most do, but double check.) Those are the consumer-facing sites where your house is mostly likely to be discovered by a buyer— and that buyer might not be attached to a real estate agent at that point.
Once You’re On the MLS, How Will Buyers Contact You?
Buyer’s agents will get your contact information in the “Showing Instructions” portion of the MLS listing. They will contact you directly if they want to show your house.
On customer-facing websites like Zillow and Realtor, the phone numbers of various buyer’s agents will be posted on your listing, which means there’s a good chance you’ll end up paying that agent’s 3% commission, even if you sell FSBO. This is how Zillow makes money: Your listing is free marketing material for their agent referral platform.
As the seller you’ll want to keep in mind that once you sign up with a service and get hooked up with a brokerage–you will often be asked to sign an “Exclusive Agency” agreement. The MLS has a strict rule that a property cannot be listed in the MLS at the same time by two different companies.
If you accept an offer, you must inform the listing company right away– within 1 day. The same MLS rule applies when you officially close. These are great examples of why amazing customer service is so important; there are rules governing each stage of the sale process, and if they’re not followed, you could run into serious problems.
Once you’ve decided on a listing company, but before you sign your contract with them, you’ll need a text description and photos of your property. The MLS requires at least one photo to be included in the listing before it goes up, and launching the listing with subpar “placeholder” photos sets the wrong tone.
How to Write a Great Listing, and Get the Right Photos
This part of the process is extremely important. If you can make a great first impression on prospective buyers, your chances for a sale go up significantly. If you make a mediocre first impression, it’s going to be hard to stand out from the crowd.
Standing out from other listings is going to require you to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. For example, avoid using phrases like “motivated seller” or “fixer upper.” A “motivated seller” is going to come off as desperate, and “fixer upper” implies the property’s in poor condition. Either way, you’re inviting lowball offers. Even phrases like “great investment property” can seem pushy, and can quickly turn a retail buyer into a bargain shopper.
Specifics are powerful, as are brand names. Don’t just say the kitchen is updated; talk about the stainless steel Viking appliances and Silestone waterfall countertops. This guide from the NY Times can help you understand the most popular words in listings (and why they’re so popular).
When you can’t tap into the prestige of a brand name, try to frame things in terms of benefits instead of features. For example, a swimming pool is a feature, but having a private backyard oasis for long summer afternoons is a benefit. Benefits are far more attractive than features.
Of course, great copy has to be accompanied by high quality photos. Buyers are visual; when you look at a listing, you almost certainly go to the photos first. If you don’t like what you see, you probably won’t bother with the description. That means getting good photos should be your highest priority.
There are a lot of factors that go into taking a great listing photo. Proper staging, lighting, and composition can make the difference between a forgettable photo, and one that gets you pushed to the top of the list.
Unless you have experience taking high quality photos, you should strongly consider hiring a professional photographer, preferably one that specializes in real estate photos. It will cost, but it’s money well spent. If you know you’ll need professional photos, consider using a company that includes photos as part of their standard package.
Flat Fee MLS Pros and Cons: Should You Use a Flat Fee MLS Service to Sell FSBO?
Now that you know how to list on the MLS, let’s discuss whether or not you should actually sell without an agent (which is usually why people decide to sell FSBO).
FSBO sellers should consider a flat-fee MLS service, simply because an MLS listing will get them a huge amount of exposure to buyers and buyer’s agents. In terms of value per dollar, it’s by far the best marketing move you can make.
It also makes sense in terms of raw dollars. A basic MLS flat fee listing service will run you $299-$399, on average. Compare that to the standard 6% real estate commission which, considering the U.S. median home value is just over $247,000, averages about $14,800. That’s a massive potential savings.
Still, selling FSBO with a flat fee MLS listing company has drawbacks, and it’s not easy— which is likely why FSBO listings have been in steady decline, hitting an all time low of 7% of all listings in 2018. But it can be done, as long as you do it the right way. Let’s look at some pros and cons.
Pro: You’ll Save Money
As we spelled out above, selling FSBO via a flat fee MLS service can add up to thousands of dollars in savings, even if you go with a deluxe package that includes marketing, photos, and guidance through closing.
Pro: More Control and Independence
If you sell by yourself, you control every aspect of the sale. You decide when to hold showings, what your initial asking price is, and how much you’ll give in negotiations.
If you have a counterintuitive hunch about which way the market is going, or you think your house has an elusive charm that an agent might not understand, you get to put those theories to the test.
Con: Steep Learning Curve
Selling a home isn’t easy, even if you’re talking about a flawless property in a hot market. You’ll need to stage and prepare your home for the market, and then once it’s listed, you need to make sure prospective buyers know about it. Normally, an agent would advise you on this stuff, but if you’re selling solo, it falls on your shoulders.
Also keep in mind that your asking price is just a starting point for negotiation. If the buyer’s agent asks for a price reduction, or repair credits, you’ll have to effectively counter. If you don’t have negotiating experience, you may find yourself at a disadvantage. And the sheer amount of paperwork at closing can be very daunting; if you opt to hire a real estate attorney to help you through the documentation, that will cut into your savings, anywhere from $150 to $350 an hour.
Con: You’ll Probably Still Have to Pay a Buyer’s Agent Commission
Keep in mind that in order to get on the MLS, you’ll have to offer 2-3% in commission to the buyer’s agent if they deliver you a buyer. If that’s the case, you’re only going to save half of the standard 6% commission.
You can definitely find a buyer without an agent for your property and pay zero in commission, but this is rare. Besides, there are some benefits to paying a buyer’s agent. Since you’re paying them, they can help out with the closing paperwork.
If you’re worried that their loyalties are with the buyer, keep in mind the agent is still bound by a professional code of ethics and standards of practice. A legitimate agent will oversee a fair, equitable contract for both sides, whether they’re working for the buyer or the seller.
Con: Potential Legal Issues
Selling yourself means you do all the work, and you also accept all the liability. For example, if your seller disclosure doesn’t include information about a leaky roof or basement, you could find yourself in court. Agents are trained to catch these errors or, at worst, cover the liability with their error and omission (E&O) insurance.
If you don’t have an agent, you don’t have that safety net.
Flat Fee MLS vs. Flat Fee Realtors vs. Flat Fee Brokerages
Although the verbiage is similar, these three types of services are actually quite different. Let’s go over what each service does— and doesn’t— offer.
Flat Fee MLS
As we discussed above, a flat fee MLS company will list your property on your local MLS for a simple flat fee. Getting on the MLS raises your property’s visibility, and lets local buyers and buyer’s agents know that your home is on the market.
Beyond, they don’t do much. Some companies offer expanded packages that include help with marketing, staging, and closing, but you’ll have to pay extra, and the cost savings start to diminish after enough upsells. For FSBO sellers who truly want to go it alone, the bare bones flat fee MLS listing service is the best option for minimalists looking to save.
Flat Fee Realtors
A flat fee realtor is a conventional agent who works for a flat fee instead of the traditional percentage-based commission. If you subscribe to the theory that percentage-based commission ensures maximum effort from an agent, since their end goes up along with the sale price, you may be skeptical that a flat fee realtor will give you the same bang for your buck.
But flat fee realtors are a legitimate option, and their performance is often on par with a conventional agent.
How? Well, they often make up in volume what they’re giving up in individual commission. So if a great agent can close half a dozen flat fee sales in the same time they can close a traditional commission sale, everyone comes out ahead; the agent makes their money, and the clients get a full-service agent experience.
Flat Fee Brokerages
A flat fee brokerage is a real estate company whose entire business model is based on providing a full service experience for a flat fee or a lower percentage. These companies often act as referral services, connecting top local agents with pre-vetted leads.
Companies like Clever Real Estate offer a full service experience with an elite agent for only $3,000, for sales up to $350,000, and only 1% if it sells for more than that. Considering that the 6% commission on a $300,000 home is $18,000, the appeal of these brokerages is clear: you get the same services as someone using a conventional agent, while paying a LOT less.
Will buyers agents avoid selling my home if I sell FSBO?
Although your property is going to be a bit more work for a buyer’s agent than a conventional listing, most agents will not outright avoid showing your property to a prospective buyer just because it’s a flat fee listing. At the end of the day, an agent wants a happy buyer and a commission check, so if your house is a great fit for their client, they’re going to make sure the client sees it.
It also may not be apparent, to a buyer’s agent browsing the MLS, that your home is a flat fee listing. Agents will see the commission that you’re offering, but they won’t see what you paid— or didn’t pay— a listing agent.
Agents no longer have a monopoly on listing information; these days, most buyers begin their search on websites like Zillow, and come to their agent with a list of properties they want to see. Any buyer’s agent who refuses to show a house because it’s a flat fee listing will probably lose that customer.
Besides, an FSBO seller can benefit from working with a buyer’s agent. A realtor is bound by a code of ethics to be honest and transparent to both parties in the transaction, and can help with closing documentation. If there’s no agent involved in the sale, you’ll likely have to pay a real estate attorney to review the contract.
What are the best flat fee MLS companies?
Once you’ve decided on using a flat fee MLS company, make sure you survey your options and research their reputations. Here are a few reputable companies, along with their flat fee group reviews, to help you get your search started.
This nationwide flat fee MLS referral service connects sellers with local brokers and agents who’ll list their home on the MLS for a flat fee.
Their $299 package offers six months on MLS, syndication to the major real estate websites like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com, 6-10 photos, unlimited listing changes, documents, and buyer lead forwarding. For $399, the seller gets a yearlong listing, and up to 25 photos, along with all the other services mentioned.
With an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, ISoldMyHouse.com looks like a safe, dependable option.
This flat fee referral service offers a range of packages and an innovative online dashboard to manage your listing, upload photos, and even sign MLS contracts.
Their packages are priced at $99, $295, and $395, and offer three to six month listing terms, up to 24 photos, syndication to the major real estate websites, and, at the highest tier, federal and state disclosures forms.
Houzeo has a 4.8 out of 5 rating on Google, based on 19 reviews.
This nationwide flat fee MLS referral service puts you in touch with MLSmart Realty brokers, or local brokers, who’ll get your property on the local MLS.
For their standard $399.95 package, they allow you to determine the buyer’s agent commission, upload approximately 20 photos, and your six month listing is automatically populated to the major real estate websites. Sellers also get yard signs, and can cancel their listing anytime, though cancellation may incur a fee.
FSBO.com has a solid A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Flat Fee MLS Companies with Subpar Reputations
While your individual experience may vary, these companies have poor reviews, and you should be cautious about doing business with them.
MLS My Home
This company offers a simple $99 package, which includes a six month listing, six photos (though you can upload more for an additional fee) and a separate webpage for your listing.
This flat fee MLS referral service puts you in touch with local brokers and agents who’ll list your home on the MLS for a pre-negotiated fee. Unlike some services, they require you to offer a buyer’s agent commission. For $295-$395, they offer online home valuations, downloadable forms, and once you upload your information, your listing goes live within 24 hours.
You can save a lot of money selling without an agent, but you are giving up more of your time and energy. Just remember to do your research, take advantage of customer service if you have questions, put a lot of careful effort into your listing— especially the photos— and be prepared to negotiate with the buyer’s agent.
And remember— if you fail to sell your home as an FSBO seller, you can always restart the process with an agent. If you’re still averse to using a conventional agent, and paying a full 6% commission, the flat fee brokerage Clever Real Estate offers a full service selling experience with an elite local agent for a low, flat fee of $3,000, if your home sells for less than $350,000. That means you get the best agent the market has to offer, and you save thousands of dollars in the process. It’s truly the best of both worlds.
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Flat Fee MLS FAQs
Do flat fee MLS listings work?
Yes and no. While the flat fee MLS can work, a NAR study found that only 7% of homes sold FSBO (without an agent) in 2017.
Is the flat fee MLS legal?
Yes. You can always choose to list your home on the MLS for a flat fee without an agent. However, if you sell without an agent, make sure you have the proper paperwork and disclose problems with your house.
Do real estate agents avoid flat fee listings?
Yes and no. Buyers' agents will sometimes avoid flat fee listings. Agents want to work with other real estate agent who understand the home selling process, and a FSBO listing can be a red flag to some agents.
Are flat fee real estate agents good?
Yes and no. Just like traditional agents, some flat fee agents are amazing. They are able to handle large volumes of clients and quickly sell your property. Others cannot handle the increased volume of business and should be avoided. Check company reviews.
Can you list on the MLS yourself?
You will need to either use a real estate agent or a flat fee MLS service provider to list on your local MLS. You can also list on similar services like Zillow, Trulia, or Realtor.com, where you effectively become the "product" these companies advertise to agents.
What is the best MLS listing service?
Some of the best MLS listing services include: Trulia, Zillow, Apartments.com, Rent.com, Movoto. If you're looking for a flat fee agent, Clever Real Estate is a good option.
What is a full service real estate company?
A full service real estate company will include the following services: comparative market analysis (comps), pricing strategy, net sheet, home-staging advice, professional photography, full listing on the MLS and other websites, marketing campaigns, help with showings and open houses, offers and counteroffers, home inspection coordination and negotiation support, title transfer assistance, help with paperwork and closings, expertise.
Does Zillow pull from the MLS?
Yes. Zillow pulls from the local MLS through data sharing and syndication agreements.