When it comes to the world of real estate investing, access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) equals power. We talked about this a while back in a post I wrote that still gets some good Google traction.

In an industry where every second counts, and a property deal can be snatched up within minutes, information (particularly, the info on the MLS) is power. This is why access to this invaluable system is crucial for investors who want to succeed.not

Now, many people believe that MLS access is limited strictly to licensed real estate agents, but that simply isn’t true.

If anyone tells you that it’s illegal for investors to have MLS access, you can set them straight (politely, of course.) This is one fact that I cannot emphasize enough: it is NOT illegal for investors to have access to the MLS. It’s not even immoral… it’s just against the rules that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Board of Directors has created.

And, if you know the loophole that many investors use to get MLS access, then it’s not even against the board’s rules. But we’ll get into more detail on that topic later…

The bottom line is this: You can get MLS access without relying on a Realtor’s login credentials, and there are several ways you can go about this. Today, I want to cover several paths you can pursue.

Think of this as the “Beginners Guide to MLS Access.” And, even if you have several months or even years of investing under your belt, you can still glean some new info from this post that you may not have previously known.

So, let’s get into the first technique for gaining MLS access without a Realtor… becoming one yourself.

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Strategy #1: Become a Licensed Real Estate Agent

Before I dive into the details of this strategy, I want to say this up front: this technique will not be the best solution for every investor. But, if you carefully weigh the pros and cons, you may decide that this is an ideal option for your business.

I know many investors who have gone the path of obtaining their real estate license, and – in their cases – this situation works very well for them. Personally, I have not gone this route, but it’s definitely a viable option for some investors.

As a licensed agent, you will obviously have your own access to the MLS. You won’t be stuck relying on a Realtor to provide you with the information you want and need – in a timely manner.

Other benefits of becoming a licensed agent include:

  • A well-rounded understanding of real estate. By taking the coursework and licensing exam that are required to become a licensed agent, you will develop a deeper understanding of real estate, property financing, and your local market.
  • More money in your pocket. Because you won’t have to pay commissions to Realtors on your property deals, you can save money.
  • No more middle man. As an agent, you can submit your own offers and negotiate with listing agents. You’ll also have the ability to work directly with lenders, appraisers, attorneys, and inspectors – which can eliminate a lot of frustration and wasted time.
  • Become more respected. As an investor who also holds their real estate license, you will automatically have more credibility than your counterparts without licenses. This may help you score property deals more frequently, depending on your market.
  • Help more people. The upside of being an agent is that you can help others sell properties (and get the most money for those properties). Inevitably, as you help others, you will find that they are more willing to recommend your services to their family members and friends. By building a strong reputation through word of mouth, you will likely be able to score more property deals.
  • Stay morally in check. Licensed agents are required to disclosure their licensure on their website, marketing materials, etc. This helps you maintain a higher level of integrity, because you’re held accountable. Now, obviously, you can be 100% ethical without being a licensed agent; but if you foresee this as an area of struggle for you, this is something to consider.
Of course, every good thing also has a downside. If you decide to become licensed, be prepared for these cons:

  • Dishing out the dough. Becoming licensed will set you back about $1,500 to $2,000, after all the classes and dues.
  • Ongoing maintenance. To retain your license, you’ll need to complete ongoing education requirements. For some investors, this can be an enjoyable experience. For others, the time spent on coursework would be better spent pursuing property deals. You have to know yourself (and your business goals) to determine if this would be a pro or con for you.
  • Killing trees. The paperwork associated with being a licensed Realtor can be excessive, at times. Between writing offers and submitting forms to attorneys, brokers, etc. – you will be spending plenty of time at a desk. (That is, unless you have the available income to hire an assistant to do this work for you.)

In the end, the decision to become a licensed real estate agent is a very complex one. Think long and hard before you make your choice. It could be the perfect opportunity for you to gain MLS access, but it will also require time and money.

If you decide that obtaining your license isn’t the best fit for your situation, you might consider being a Realtor’s “assistant.”

Strategy #2: Become a Realtor’s Assistant

Becoming an agent’s assistant is the loophole I was talking about earlier. It’s completely legal, and it could be a good option if you’re unwilling or uninterested in obtaining your own license.

In the modern real estate market, many Realtors have assistants. Between the paperwork, marketing efforts, and constant communication with clients, successful real estate agents need a little help every now and then.

Now, don’t get turned off by the word “assistant.” You won’t be doing the work of a traditional admin assistant. This is simply a title that you need in order to get MLS access. If you prefer, some investors will call themselves a “marketing coordinator” instead.

If you take this route, you will first need to find an investor-friendly Realtor. Check out these methods to find your ideal match:

  • Post a Craigslist ad (or look for one)
  • Find LinkedIn ads and groups
  • Join Facebook groups
  • Browse agent forums online
  • Tap into your real estate network
  • Connect with investor-friendly brokers
Also, as a bonus tip: I find that Keller Williams tends to be an investor-friendly agency. If all else fails, you might consider connecting with a Keller Williams agent in your area.

Once you find an agent, you need to plan your proposal (no ring involved). When you call and explain that you’re an investor, they will immediately understand why you would like access to the MLS (there’s no need to feel embarrassed or bashful about it).

Explain that you’re hoping to form a business relationship with a local agent, and you were impressed by their qualifications. In a nutshell, you’re looking for someone who can make offers quickly for you, and who you can work with on future property deals. In return, you can act as their assistant by browsing the MLS and bringing leads to their attention.

And, if you can swing it, offer to pay the agent’s MLS dues. Chances are, they will agree to your proposal.

As an agent’s assistant, you simply need to fill out a 1-page form from the local board of Realtors, and you will have unlimited, full access to the MLS – with your own username and login.

So, although this method technically involves a partnership with a Realtor, you won’t have to rely on their MLS access. You will have your own, separate account – which means you can log in at anytime, anywhere. This way, you can find comps and do market research without bothering an agent on a daily basis.

If you’re willing to form a Realtor-investor partnership that involves more independence (a.k.a., not relying on their MLS access), this could be a slam-dunk option for you.

Other Strategies: Backup Options

Now, if you still would like to explore other strategies for MLS access, you have a few “backup” options.

I call these backup options because, in many cases, they aren’t as helpful as the first two strategies I covered. But, they can still be valuable in the right situations:

  • Ask a spouse or family member to get licensed. Obviously, in this case, your family member needs to have a strong interest in real estate plus time and money. But if you have a brother, wife, nephew – or whoever – that is interested in pursuing a career as a Realtor, this could be a great opportunity to gain MLS access.
  • Find individual Realtor websites. Some agents pay to have MLS listings show up automatically on their individual website. If you’re able to find a local Realtor who has such a feature on their website, this could be helpful. The downside of this functionality, however, is that you may not have the ability to save your searches or filter down your results as narrowly as you would like. Plus, you’re relying on the agent to keep the MLS listings on their website; if they decide to remove this functionality, you’re out of luck.
  • Use websites such as Realtor.com or ZipRealty.com. These pull info from the MLS, but it isn’t as detailed. Also, these websites don’t have filters that are as specific as the MLS filters. So, although these sites can provide some valuable information, it won’t be as in-depth as the MLS.
One other method that many have found to be extremely valuable is to use software that was designed specifically for investors. Although there are tons of options out there, one of these these might be a good place to start:

  • FreedomSoft: This system includes information on “hidden” off-market properties that are updated daily. These, in addition to the on-market property leads, can be immensely beneficial – especially because a real estate license is NOT necessary to access them; you simply need to pay for the software.
  • Realeflow: This software is particularly helpful for rehabbers, because it includes features to help you effortlessly plan the work that needs to be done, the costs involved, etc. It also provides property leads in these specific categories: absentee owner, free & clear, high equity, low equity, upside down/underwater, cash buyer, and private lender.
  • Privy: One of the top features of Privy is that it analyzes comps for every MLS property – and this info is updated constantly. Some users claim that this system also saves time, compared to manually searching through the MLS. Privy also provides users with access to off-market property leads.
Of course, each of these systems will come with a price tag; they will set you back anywhere from $70 to $150 a month, depending on how many features you want and/or how many users you need.

But, the cost could be worth the time saved. You just have to make that decision for yourself. The good news is: many of these systems offer free trials, so you can test them out before making a commitment.

Again, I wouldn’t say that you should rule out any of these “backup” strategies entirely. They can be exceedingly beneficial. But if you’re serious about finding property deals before other investors, these techniques and systems shouldn’t be the only ones you rely on.

Choosing the Right Path

Imagine talking to someone who has absolutely no knowledge of what it takes to be a real estate investor. How would you respond if they asked you, “What is the one thing I should know before getting into this business?”

Personally, I would say,

This is a constantly evolving industry. What works for one investor may not work well for another. It’s essential that you have a deep understanding of your business identity, your market, and your future goals. And – even when you’re confident in those things – you have to be willing to adjust them as your circumstances change.

Long story short: find what works best for you and stick to it.

For some investors, the MLS is the best destination for finding new property deals. Others may not have much success with it. It all comes down to your preferences, market, resources, investing strategy and contacts.

Use these all wisely, and you’ll find the right path for your business.

Making the Most of the MLS

Which of these strategies do you think is most helpful for your situation? Let me know your game plan in the comments section below.  

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