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Flat-Fee MLS 101

Breaking Down The Real Estate Lingo

If you’re relatively new to the residential real estate world, you know how frustrating it can be to hear all of the cryptic real estate terms and have no idea what they all mean. Case in point: MLS. We hear about it. We may even know what it is for the most part. But, when you add in “flat-fee,” that’s when the definition may get a little fuzzy.

Fear not. We are all about simplifying the real estate industry by making selling your own home (a.k.a. “FSBO”, or “For Sale by Owner”) easier and more accessible than ever – even for the least experienced homeowner. We’ve put together a cram course on flat-fee MLS, just for you. By the time you’re finished with this short blog, you’ll know exactly what flat-fee MLS is and can impress your neighbors with your brilliance.

Related: Real Estate Lingo: Traditional, Discount, Flat Fee and Hybrid

What is Flat-Fee MLS?

If you do a Google search for “flat-fee MLS”, be prepared for the results. You’ll get around 8,000 links to explore. No one has time for that, so we’ll give you the abbreviated version. In order to define flat-fee MLS, we want to go to the most basic level by first understanding what “flat-fee” is before we move on to “MLS.”


In real estate, “flat-fee” refers to the agents, brokers or real estate service companies who provide some level of real estate services for a flat fee versus the more traditional sales commission. The majority of real estate professionals and firms charge home sellers a 3 percent commission to sell their homes. The 3 percent is paid when the house sale closes and is calculated as 3 percent of the final sales price the buyer agreed to pay for the home.

While the home seller is responsible for paying their own real estate agent, they must also pay the buyer’s real estate agent another 3 percent commission. Both 3 percent commissions are sometimes negotiable by a half of a percent or more, however, most agents expect they will be paid the full 3 percent for the work they’ve put into buying and selling your home.

Related: Get Your Home Ready to Sell in 2019

If you go the traditional route and pay a 3 percent commission to your agent, you won’t know for sure how much you’ll be paying out of pocket until the sales price is final because the 3 percent is based on that price. For some, this unknown is uncomfortable, particularly if they are working on a set budget. They want to know on the front end exactly how much they’ll have to fork over to their agent. For them, a flat fee is easier to budget for and, therefore, preferable.

The most common reason people prefer a flat-fee broker or agent is that they will most likely pay considerably less to their agent than if they paid the 3 percent commission. A flat-fee agent is willing to work for less, however, many offer fewer services or spend less time with the seller than a traditional agent might. To make up for the reduced income, flat-fee brokers often accept a higher volume of clients. This doesn’t mean they can’t sell your home as quickly or for as much as a traditional agent; it simply means you may have to do a few things on your own or be patient with the service and sales process. For many home sellers, the reduction in fees they must pay is well worth a modest dip in service.


The MLS is the “Multiple Listing Service.” This is the database of for-sale properties in a particular area, generally a city and its surrounding communities. The MLS is owned by licensed real estate agents and not open to the public to list their homes. When a home seller hires a full-service real estate agent, part of the 3 percent commission they will pay them at closing includes their home being listed on the MLS. The agent will input all of the information required to populate the many fields on the MLS.

The MLS is a critical step in selling a home. It’s where all agents, brokers and most home buyers go to search for properties. It contains photos of the property and home, along with details, such as property address, square footage of the home and property, selling price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and even if it has a fireplace or pool. A user can search and filter by neighborhood, school district, sales price range, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and much more.

Unless you have a buyer who has expressed interest in purchasing your home off-market (meaning off of the MLS), you need to get your home listed on the MLS. It is the number one method people use to find a home that is for sale.

Flat-Fee MLS

This brings us to the flat-fee MLS. Because there are so many home sellers interested in selling their own homes, they need to find a way to get their property listing onto the MLS. The only way to do this is to hire a real estate agent who makes this part of their service offering, or hire a flat-fee real estate service that charges a flat rate to grant a home seller MLS access.

Related: How to Get the Most Out of Flat Fee MLS

How Does Flat-Fee MLS Work?

The home seller must decide whether they want to hire a flat-fee agent or whether they want to go the FSBO route and pay a flat fee to get access to the MLS and sell their own home.

There is one other option: a hybrid approach where the home seller pays a flat fee to sell their own home using the technology and resources agents use. MLS access is just one feature that is part of the self-service FSBO offering. They also get enablement products and services to more effectively sell their own home. They don’t get an agent, but they do get things like a yard sign, key lockbox, professional property photos and, of course, MLS access.

The Pros and Cons of Flat-Fee MLS

Obviously, the pros of a flat-fee MLS is that the home seller has their home on the MLS but for less than what they would have to pay a traditional agent to do it for them. In the hybrid approach mentioned above, part of the service offering is many of the MLS fields will be pre-populated with public market data, such as the address and legal description, previous MLS data from the last sale, school district, tax information and more. The home seller only has to complete the remaining fields and upload their pictures. Once the MLS listing is complete, their home is assigned a unique MLS number they can add to marketing materials to direct people straight to their listing. Otherwise, agents, brokers and buyers can search the MLS

The only con to flat-fee MLS is that the home seller will likely have to complete multiple fields of information themselves instead of their full-service agent doing it for them. Flat-fee agents may offer this service, but it is a question the home seller should ask before hiring.

No matter if you pay a full-service real estate agent to list your home on MLS or you do it yourself via a flat-fee MLS provider, or you choose the hybrid approach, the information is basically the same and will be discoverable by home searchers.

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