The Multiple Listing Service – Then and Now

In 1975 (just like today), real estate brokers in the Ukiah Valley belonged to a local association called the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to share information about properties they were trying to sell. This is back when houses in Oak Manor sold for about $30,000 and today’s Ukiah High School on Low Gap Road wasn’t built yet.

When a Realtor secured a new listing, he or she would type up the pertinent information about the property (location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, etc.) and then share that information with the MLS office. There, the information was reduced to a half-sheet of paper using what would now be considered an antique device—a mimeograph. Those of you who have been around awhile may remember mimeographs from your elementary school days.

Information was carefully typed onto a master copy, of which there was only one. To create the master copy, you punched letter-shaped holes into the paper. Once completed, it was put on a drum saturated with ink. When the drum turned, the ink came through the holes and created copies of the original form. Mimeograph copies of each listing were created for every Realtor. The mimeograph required a whole room of its own in the MLS office. The room was about 15-feet square and everything in it was coated with varying amounts of ink dust.

Each week every Realtor received a packet of all the new listings—typos and all. To keep track of the properties for sale, Realtors filed each mimeograph copy in their 18-ring binders. Then, as now, the housing market changed constantly. Listing agents would have price changes. Sellers would decide to take their properties off the market. Houses would go into escrow and fall out of escrow. All that information was reported to MLS to be distributed the following week. Then Realtors (or their assistants) updated their MLS binders, pulling out sold properties and keeping them in a shoebox to use when determining pricing for future listings. They manually crossed out the old price and wrote the new one on the MLS listing form for that property. They noted any status changes by painstakingly going through the binder, finding the listing form, and handwriting the change.

Believe it or not, as I’m working on this column, I’m looking at my MLS binder from 1975. There was a property for sale on Pomo Drive in Oak Manor—a four-bedroom, two-bath house with a two-car garage—for a whopping $36,000. It would probably go for $375,000-$400,000 today.

In 1976, I was able to convince the MLS finance committee and board of directors to discard the mimeograph in favor of a photocopier. It was incredibly expensive, costing $5,000 at a time when houses were selling for $30,000. In today’s dollars, that photocopier would be about $25,000. Ultimately it paid for itself by requiring far less office space and fewer hours of staff time. It took ten minutes instead of all day to prepare the MLS listing information for all the agents. The binder was replaced by a bound book shortly thereafter.

Fast-forward to the mid-1980s and computers arrived, revolutionizing real estate. We could take “dumb terminals” to a client’s house and upload information about the new listing directly to the MLS database and a printer using a landline telephone hooked up to a coupler as a modem for the lowest-speed connection you can imagine.

In today’s world, we upload detailed information with pictures and sometimes video for listings, and within moments, other Realtors have instant access to it. If I want details about a listing I happen to drive by, I can park my car and pull out my phone—and say “Hey, Google.”

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.


Ain’t Technology Grand?

While I am NOT a technology wizard, I do appreciate the convenience of having helpful information at my fingertips. It seems everyone has a cell phone these days, so it makes sense that companies have poured huge resources into creating mobile applications (apps). In the real estate business, we now have apps that allow you to find properties for sale near you (or near a specific location of your choosing). In addition, you can use quick response (QR) codes on “For Sale” signs to download an electronic flyer about the property you’re parked in front of.

To download the app so you can search for properties on the market from all the real estate companies in a given area, text the word “Selzer” to 87778 from your cell phone and a link will be texted to you. Follow the instructions and you’ll have a snazzy new app in about a minute. You can narrow your property search by the features that matter most to you: price, location, square footage, number of bedrooms and/or bathrooms, and other features. And if you find something you really like, it’s easy to share the information with friends and family via text.

If you’re not the type to download an app, but still want to know what properties are for sale in your price range, ask your Realtor to put you on an automatic e-mail notification list. As soon as a property that meets your criteria is listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), you will receive an e-mail about it. Many of us are so used to e-mail, we don’t think of it as technology, but trust me, the speed with which we can communicate via email makes the 1970s and ‘80s seem like centuries ago. In fact, the MLS has changed dramatically, too. When I was first in real estate, the MLS consisted of a loose-leaf binder of mimeographed listing-information sheets restricted to the basic data about a property with one black and white photograph. Now, the computerized MLS allows vast amounts of information about each property along with dozens of color photos and sometimes even video footage!

Once information is entered into the MLS, the technology of the Internet allows us to broadcast that information to literally millions of people with the click of a few buttons. Virtually every day, I receive information about new investment properties all over California. I get far more information than anyone could possibly squeeze into a $1500 ad in the Wall Street Journal, and the cost to the listing agent borders on zero. Locally, any given listing in my office ends up published on more than 700 websites that prospective buyers can see when browsing around online.

For all the hype and hoopla over Internet marketing, the truth is, real estate has always been and continues to be a relationship-driven business. Marketing is important and technology is great, but choosing a good Realtor is still the most important step in buying or selling a property. As I’ve said before, the most convincing argument that hiring a Realtor is a worthwhile expense is that people in the industry hire them when they’re ready to buy or sell property. These industry experts (lenders, title officers, etc.) are the people who see the value of a good Realtor—the way Realtors can avoid lengthy delays and save money by getting the right inspections at the right time, the way they negotiate on your behalf and let you know which upgrades will pay for themselves and which ones won’t, the way they make sure the contract says everything it should and nothing it shouldn’t. I know I’m biased, but I’m also well informed.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

What is this “MLS” everyone’s talking about?

I’ve referred to the MLS in previous blogs, but I don’t know that I’ve explained what it is and why it’s so valuable, so here you go.

MLS stands for Multiple Listing Service, and it is a system whereby real estate agents in a specific geographic area share information about all the properties for sale (“listings”). Access to the MLS is restricted to real estate brokers, and by extension the agents that work for them.

For each property, the MLS includes address, photos, price, detailed descriptions, disclosures, access information (so the realtor can show the property), and more. The information’s available online and, ideally, offers everything a person would need to make a decision about whether to buy.

The MLS can also be used to match buyers with their ideal property by entering a wish list. The system will automatically inform potential buyers when a property matches their list.

In my opinion, your real estate agent must be a member of their local MLS to provide you with the service you deserve. Without the MLS, they’re working in the dark – offering you a narrower set of choices than you’d get with a realtor who checks the MLS regularly for updates. In addition to listings, the MLS also includes data about recent sales, so your realtor can accurately assess the fair market value of your home or the home you’d like to buy.

In the last year or so, some private listing services have tried to compete with the MLS. Within a region, a small number of offices have opted out of MLS and chosen only to share with each other. I really feel this is a disservice to the buyer and seller. Candidly, I see no advantage to these private programs because the MLS, when used as designed, provides the most information to the broadest audience. Also, with the traditional MLS, rules and a strict code of ethics have been designed to improve the relationship among all parties to make the entire transaction smoother and easier.

The MLS also feeds public and governmental online listing services. So, while brokers are the only ones who access the MLS, their willingness to enter all that data allows public sites like,, and to be populated. “For Sale By Owner” (also known as FSBO) properties are not on the MLS, but nearly all other properties are.

A note of caution when listing your home: if you’ve upgraded your home without the appropriate permits, government databases fed by the MLS may give you away. If the county has your property listed as a house with three bedrooms and one bath, but you are selling a three-bedroom, twobath house, flags may go up.

Next time I’ll write about why I’m optimistic about the housing market. If there’s something you’d like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at or visit our website at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who’s been in the business for more than 30 years.

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