the MLS Map

MLS at 600: The Big Picture on Real Estate’s Multiple Listing Services in 2019

This article was originally published on TheMLSMap.com: The MLS segment of the real estate industry will achieve a major milestone in 2019. The number of multiple listing services in the United States will drop below 600. Understanding the MLS landscape is a complex task. This report visualizes data in the MLS space to give big picture context on the relationships between consumers, real estate agents, brokerages, listings, and MLSs. What is an MLS in 2019? An MLS is more than a database of listings and the software that is used to access it. It is an organization with staff, agreements with multiple vendors for services related to listings, showings, additional data, contract forms, and more. The MLS is a collective of brokers that establishes and enforces rules for cooperation and compensation for sales. This is the foundation on top of which a technology platform exists. Size of MLSs in the U.S. by Agent Count and Listing Count
MLSs in the United States: Real Estate
Size of MLS marker denotes relative size of agent subscriber headcount. Marker color denotes listings per agent in the MLS: high ratio = blue, low ratio = red. Data for this report was provided primarily by the National Association of REALTORS®‘ Realtors Property Resource (RPR). See notes at conclusion of report for caveats on duplication and accuracy.
Why does this data matter? Each individual MLS organization has its own expenses for managing labor resources, relationships with vendors and brokers, and rules/permissioning for access to its services and listing data. A relatively large number of MLS organizations in one geographic area can correlate to a high overhead cost that is passed on to the MLS’s customers: brokers and agents. Duplication of services and siloed data result in financial and operational inefficiencies for these customers. Why is this analysis important now? Leaders in the real estate industry have been asking for broad insights into the state of MLS. When they analyze the global atmosphere for collaboration, they need good data: overlapping market visuals, and comparative regional and marketplace variables. Visuals tell a memorable story of the underlying data.

The Big Picture: Where MLS is Trending

This report illustrates the state of MLS, to assist the real estate industry in understanding the space more fully and guide its evolution: MLSs can range from organizations with over 100,000 working real estate agents to small cooperatives with just a few dozen members. Some markets are covered by multiple overlapping local MLSs, while others have a single MLS that covers a broad geography or even multiple states. The volume of listings an MLS makes available to members and subscribers–brokers and agents–is a major factor in the relative value these customers place on each MLS organization.

Where we are today: 600 MLSs in 2019

MLS brokerage cooperatives were originally created by brokers, usually within REALTOR® associations, to set rules for sharing each others’ listings and creating certainty that they’d be compensated by one another for sales. Thousands of MLSs existed at one point, but the numbers have shrunk significantly in recent years. Brokers have encouraged some MLSs to consolidate, to improve cost and staffing efficiencies, as well as to access greater geographic coverage with fewer constraints.

Why is the number of MLSs shrinking?

Trends: Number of MLSs Organizations and REALTOR® Associations (Projections through 2019)
MLS Consolidation: How many MLSs and REALTOR Assocations there are in the United States
Trends: Number of REALTOR® Members (Projections through 2019)
Trends REALTOR Population Headcount Growth
While the agent population ebbs and flows with the market, associations and MLSs have been continually shrinking in unique organization counts. This trend comes from both organic drivers and organized industry action. Some associations and MLSs have merged organizations to better serve brokers’ increasing needs for technology and more nimble support systems. Others have folded themselves into larger organizations or joint ventures as NAR’s Core Standards requirements (begun in 2014) set a minimum standard of service that they were not able to achieve on their own. NAR provides consolidation resources to help with the process. MLS Consolidation can mean: 
  • Organizations being acquired
  • Organizations merging
  • Data and resource sharing
  • Technology and legal partnerships to streamline data access, and more

Why is this trend gaining momentum?

Cumulative Number of Agents Served by Number of MLS Organizations
Agent population in MLSs
50% of agents subscribe to just 20 MLSs organizations. 90% of agents are in approximately 150 out of 600 MLSs.
As real estate went online in the late 1990s, MLSs went from in-office listing sharing tools to an externally available business function. MLS organizations had to evolve technologically. At the same time, brokers realized efficiencies with technology that allowed them to serve broader geographies and more agents. They needed MLSs that could grow dynamically with them. The transition over 20+ years left some MLS organizations–often smaller in size–struggling to provide modern technology and service levels due to lack of resources and staffing. Many merged their organizations into larger regional MLSs. Number of Active Listings Covered by Cumulative Percentage of MLS Organizations
Listing volume by number of MLSs
50% of all active listings reside within just 50 MLSs. 90% of listings are provided by approximately 250 out of 600 total MLSs.
The vast majority of agents and listings reside within a small fraction of the MLS organizations in the United States. 150 of the 600 MLSs in existence today have 90 percent of the agent population within their ranks. Half of the agents are in just 20 MLSs. Nine out of ten listings can be found in fewer than half of all MLSs: 250 organizations. The long tail of MLS organizations is highly pronounced. Note that hundreds of MLSs don’t appear on the cumulative agent concentration graph–their agent count doesn’t register statistically. Information about MLSs is often siloed in local MLSs that don’t share data with their neighbors. The National Association of REALTORS®’ RPR (Realtors Property Resource) is one of the few unifying sources that covers the vast majority of MLS marketplace data, and is the basis for this report. Where RPR’s contracts don’t cover certain MLSs, data from other sources has been added.

The Regional Picture: MLSs Across the United States

The number and size of MLS organizations varies widely across the country’s different regions: MLSs by Agent Count and Listing Count in the Northwest United States
Northwest MLSs
Idaho has 10 MLS(s) and 9103 agent MLS subscribers Montana has 6 MLS(s) and 4531 agent MLS subscribers Washington has 8 MLS(s) and 17633 agent MLS subscribers Oregon has 8 MLS(s) and 20164 agent MLS subscribers Wyoming has 8 MLS(s) and 2053 agent MLS subscribers
MLSs by Agent Count and Listing Count in the North and Central United States
North Central MLSs
Illinois has 13 MLS(s) and 44339 agent MLS subscribers Indiana has 10 MLS(s) and 17123 agent MLS subscribers Wisconsin has 8 MLS(s) and 13704 agent MLS subscribers Iowa has 17 MLS(s) and 7691 agent MLS subscribers Minnesota has 10 MLS(s) and 19802 agent MLS subscribers Nebraska has 9 MLS(s) and 4605 agent MLS subscribers North Dakota has 7 MLS(s) and 1955 agent MLS subscribers South Dakota has 10 MLS(s) and 1937 agent MLS subscribers Kansas has 13 MLS(s) and 13912 agent MLS subscribers
– Skip to State-by-State Section – MLSs by Agent Count and Listing Count in the Northeast United States
Northeast MLSs
Connecticut has 4 MLS(s) and 16821 agent MLS subscribers Massachusetts has 3 MLS(s) and 23909 agent MLS subscribers Maine has 1 MLS(s) and 3624 agent MLS subscribers New Hampshire has 1 MLS(s) and 5889 agent MLS subscribers Rhode Island has 1 MLS(s) and 4336 agent MLS subscribers Vermont has 1 MLS(s) and 1600 agent MLS subscribers New Jersey has 8 MLS(s) and 44976 agent MLS subscribers New York has 23 MLS(s) and 56370 agent MLS subscribers Pennsylvania has 21 MLS(s) and 13014 agent MLS subscribers Delaware has 1 MLS(s) and 3942 agent MLS subscribers Maryland has 1 MLS(s) and 80323 agent MLS subscribers Virginia has 18 MLS(s) and 15671 agent MLS subscribers West Virginia has 8 MLS(s) and 2015 agent MLS subscribers Kentucky has 17 MLS(s) and 10900 agent MLS subscribers Michigan has 29 MLS(s) and 30678 agent MLS subscribers Ohio has 17 MLS(s) and 32925 agent MLS subscribers
MLSs by Agent Count and Listing Count in the Southeast United States
Southeast MLSs
North Carolina has 23 MLS(s) and 42722 agent MLS subscribers South Carolina has 14 MLS(s) and 20235 agent MLS subscribers Tennessee has 12 MLS(s) and 27270 agent MLS subscribers Alabama has 18 MLS(s) and 14585 agent MLS subscribers Florida has 36 MLS(s) and 176021 agent MLS subscribers Georgia has 21 MLS(s) and 33178 agent MLS subscribers Mississippi has 18 MLS(s) and 6022 agent MLS subscribers Arkansas has 13 MLS(s) and 8275 agent MLS subscribers
– Skip to State-by-State Section – MLSs by Agent Count and Listing Count in the Central Southern United States
Central South MLSs
Missouri has 15 MLS(s) and 18406 agent MLS subscribers Oklahoma has 9 MLS(s) and 10469 agent MLS subscribers Louisiana has 9 MLS(s) and 14289 agent MLS subscribers Texas has 48 MLS(s) and 115809 agent MLS subscribers
MLSs by Agent Count and Listing Count in the Southwest United States
Southwest MLSs
Arizona has 11 MLS(s) and 48867 agent MLS subscribers California has 44 MLS(s) and 193317 agent MLS subscribers Hawaii has 3 MLS(s) and 9385 agent MLS subscribers Colorado has 13 MLS(s) and 24134 agent MLS subscribers Nevada has 4 MLS(s) and 17703 agent MLS subscribers New Mexico has 10 MLS(s) and 6039 agent MLS subscribers Utah has 4 MLS(s) and 16312 agent MLS subscribers
– Skip to State-by-State Section – MLSs by Agent Count and Listing Count in Alaska
Alaska has 3 MLS(s) and 1676 agent MLS subscribers
MLSs by Agent Count and Listing Count in Hawaii
Hawaii MLSs
Hawaii has 3 MLS(s) and 9385 agent MLS subscribers

State by State: Understanding the MLS Landscape

State-by-state data creates a picture of where the number of MLS organizations is relatively high in comparison to the local listing, agent, and population numbers. These are indicators as to where there may be more costly organizational overhead and barriers to accessing markets and data. States’ Number of MLS Organizations in Relationship to Total Agent MLS Subscribers
State MLSs Per Agent
Number of MLSs per agent 1
MLSs per agent 2
States’ Number of MLS Organizations in Relationship to Total Active Listing Counts
State MLSs per Listing
MLSs per listing 1
MLSs per listing 2
States’ Number of MLS Organizations in Relationship to Total Population
State MLSs Per Population
State MLSs Per Population 2

States’ Effects on the MLS Landscape

State data provides a picture of some regional similarities. The number of MLSs, as compared to agent headcount, seems to be highest in clustered areas. The results are similar for MLSs per active listing and per general population. The locations with the highest organizational MLS overhead look much like their contiguous markets. When looking at regional markers, governing bodies can analyze the variance in organizational structure and listing volume delivery relative to the rest of the country.

Where agents are more prevalent, and why

Some states have much higher percentages of agents than others, relative to their populations. A state with an MLS in a high agent concentration location would likely deliver fewer listings per agent than in other states. State Residents’ Likelihood to be Real Estate Agents
Agents Relative to Population B
Agents Relative to Population 1

Why are residents of some states more likely to be real estate agents than others?

High home prices correlate strongly with states that have high rates of real estate agents. Logically, real estate agents in relatively low-priced communities must close far more transactions to earn the same income as an agent in a high-priced location. Local cost-of-living can make up for some of the variance that home prices have on agents’ income. Agent competition tells the full story, though. The rewards of selling real estate in high priced markets outweigh the costs of living in those markets, as evidenced by agent headcounts vs. total listing counts. High Home Prices = More Real Estate Agents
Resident Agents and Home Prices 1
Resident Agents and Home Prices 2

How many listing are available to agents?

Listings-to-agent measures can have great utility in analyzing how much value an MLS is providing in its market. Agent concentrations need to be taken into account when comparing markets with significant differences in home prices. Available Real Estate Listings for Sale vs. Number of Real Estate Agents
Listings per agent 1
(Note: Small states which are part of a regional multi-state cooperative are listed with their multi-state MLS’s listing availability: DE, VT. This skews their relative score tremendously, but also highlights the productive nature of a regional MLS in a smaller state.)
Number of listings per agent 2

The Regional Landscape

Analysis by region can be particularly useful for REALTOR® Associations, as they are organized in this fashion within the national Association’s reporting structure. They’re also heavily involved in the strategic vision for MLSs nationwide. Listings Available vs. Number of MLS Organizations, Per NAR Region
Regional MLSs per listing
National Association of REALTORS® Designated Regions Region 1: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont Region 2: New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania Region 3: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia Region 4: Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee Region 5: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico Region 6: Michigan, Ohio Region 7: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin Region 8: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota Region 9: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma Region 10: Louisiana, Texas Region 11: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming Region 12: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington Region 13: California, Hawaii, Guam
Regional figures are a valuable starting point for the industry to paint a picture of the overall landscape. Clarifying the regional situation allows for open conversations without identifying individual organizations as having positive or negative effects. This can lead to more granular discussions and introspective analysis over time.

Conclusions?

No conclusions about individual regions, states, or MLS organizations are presented here. Real estate leaders have asked for an objective picture on nationwide trends and comparative data. This will initiate more informed conversations. The geographies with higher rates of organizational overheard are not necessarily inefficient, but the statistics make it clear that additional analysis would be beneficial. The areas that appear efficient, in comparison, may still have significant opportunities for improvement.

MLS Leadership: The Big Picture

The continual modernization of MLS infrastructure is being driven by organizations coming together to strategize over big picture industry issues with quality information. Good data creates a storyline that garners attention, awareness, and buy-in from industry participants. Leaders from REALTOR® associations, MLSs, brokerages, and technology partners can collaborate to create this environment. The speed and the extent to which the MLS landscape will change beyond 2019 will be based largely upon these leaders’ ability to express the evolving needs of brokers, agents, and consumers, and bring their constituents together with industry intelligence to act upon.
Sam DeBord is Managing Broker/VP of Strategic Growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, Past President of Seattle King County REALTORS®, and 2019 NAR President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and BellevueHomes.com. Notes: 1. RPR measures the number of MLS contract organizations, while other analysts may use a different metric for identifying the total number of MLSs. 2. This data is not de-duplicated. Many agents are subscribed to more than one MLS and many listings are listed within more than one MLS. 3. Subscribers in MLSs are often assistants or appraisers. Subscriber counts should not be taken as exact agent numbers.   4. Some states are part of multi-state MLSs. Their listing availability counts vary greatly from others due to the nature of their MLS organizations 5. Some MLSs do not deliver listing data to RPR, therefore their listing counts have been estimated through other sources. 6. “Agent” is the term used for simplicity in this report for a real estate licensee who is a subscriber to an MLS. There are also agents who are licensees and not MLS subscribers. REALTORS® are members of the National Association of REALTORS®, a professional trade association. 

Author

  • All opinions expressed herein are personal opinions and do not constitute the position or views of any organization. Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has two decades of experience in the real estate industry, spanning real estate brokerages, mortgage lending, and technology consulting. He has served as President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management with the National Association of REALTORS®, a REACH mentor, and on the board of directors for NAR, Second Century Ventures, and California Regional MLS. Sam began his career as a management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is a recognized real estate industry writer for publications including REALTOR® Magazine, Inman News, and the Axiom Business Books Award-Winning Swanepoel Trends Report.