Real estate markets across the country are normalizing, but the industry is still incredibly profitable for new and experienced property investors. Texas continues to represent one of the strongest markets, home to two of the top ten cities for real estate: Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin. By searching in and around these two markets, investors can find plenty of properties, from single-family residences that can be renovated and sold to raw land that may be on the development fast track in just a few short years.
However, finding specific properties is still a challenge for investors, even in these lucrative markets. Factors like low inventory, high competition, and even the tools you use to navigate the market all factor into how quickly you can find properties you want to purchase. Many investors use MLS to search for properties because of its several advantages over other tools, but accessing this valuable database can be complicated.
When you and your investment team are looking for a new property, start your search by understanding the unique value of MLS and how you can access it with or without an agent.
MLS for Investors: The Go-To Resource for Finding New Property Investments
For property investors, finding a new potential investment opportunity is serious business. It takes careful research, methodical negotiations, and a lot of work to find a property that offers a high return on investment. The first barrier many investors encounter is finding properties. Investors have specific criteria guiding their process—such as price, location, property size, and property type—and it’s virtually impossible to chance upon the perfect property by coincidence. Investors also compete with highly motivated residential buyers, so speed is important.
Experienced investors who want to build up their portfolios will understand the importance of building systematic workflows for every aspect of their business. For most investors, this leads them to the MLS: a real-time resource for finding and comparing potential properties.
What Is MLS?
Multiple listing services, or MLS, are databases of properties. Different geographic areas have different MLS databases. They provide real-time information about properties that are active on the market, coming soon, and in the middle of a real estate transaction. Authorized users can research specific properties or search for real estate that meets particular parameters.
Typically, only licensed real estate agents can access the MLS. Although, licensed brokers and National Association of Realtors (NAR) members can access the database for their region. This limited access offers security to sellers who post personal data and property information on the site. However, it also serves to make real estate agents the gatekeepers for information on MLS. This can be a significant barrier for property investors who may benefit from accessing the real-time details and property insights on the databases.
Benefits of Using MLS to Find New Prospective Properties
Property investors who prefer to work on their own and represent themselves in real estate transactions don’t have easy access to the MLS. However, it offers people several significant advantages over competing buyers and investors. Consider these critical benefits:
See “Coming Soon” Properties Before They Reach the Market
When listing agents are preparing their clients’ properties for the market, they’ll often list them as “coming soon.” While offers cannot be submitted and showings cannot be scheduled until the property is active, prospective buyers and their agents still benefit from the early insight. They can:
- Examine the property listing details and any available documents
- Decide if they want to prolong their property search until the new one becomes available
- Position their offer to be ready as soon as the property hits the market
- Ask the listing agent questions
Access Detailed Property Breakdowns in a More Scannable Format Than Third-Party Sites
The MLS is a very detailed database. Not only does it include descriptions and details of the current listing, but it also houses documentation, such as the seller’s disclosure, offer instructions, any warranties or supporting documents the seller uploaded, and more. It even provides historical insights into past property transactions.
When you can access the MLS or have a trusted service provider do so on your behalf, you can have those records through a report or emailed attachments. Third-party sites that tap into MLS information, such as Trulia or Zillow, will not have the same degree of information. Only the property description, details, and images will be available. The information is also presented through an interface built for general buyers, not investors, which can make the information harder to systematically use and compare.
Create Weekly or Daily Reports That Match Your Investment Property Criteria
MLS does more than just house and display information. Users can create reports to find prospective properties more efficiently. These reports can filter available properties by conditions like status, area, price, and different types of home features. Rather than having to browse all the new listings or click around the MLS map, property investors with an automated report can receive a vetted list of properties that meet their criteria.
This shortens the search period, makes it easier to focus on promising addresses, and streamlines the process of finding and securing investment opportunities.
Beat the Rush
In extremely competitive markets—like that across most Texas cities and suburbs over the past few years—speed matters in securing new investments. Property investors must be ready to pounce on properties that are a good fit for their portfolios. In the earliest portions of the 2020s, many investors had to purchase properties sight unseen or forego inspection periods and include appraisal waivers in their offers to have a chance at getting their offers accepted.
While the market is less severe, there is still a significant inventory shortage. Prospective buyers will need to have their offers virtually completed or their showings scheduled on day one of a new listing, especially for well-positioned properties.
Get a Clearer Feel for Market Trends and Property Availability
Even when your reports and searches don’t immediately lead to a potential property that fits all your criteria as an investor, perusing the database is still valuable. You begin to gain a feel for local market trends, what to expect for different price points or neighborhoods, and where the market is headed. While you can often gain these same insights through third-party websites, the delays and bulky interfaces can get in the way.
How to Access MLS
The benefits of using MLS are clear, but one barrier still remains: only NAR members can access the database. For property investors who want to use all the listing details the MLS has, there are only a few different routes to choose from.
Traditional Route: Ask an Agent
Both investors and general buyers can work with a licensed real estate agent to gain second-hand access to the property details. Real estate agents are very familiar with the MLS and can search for specific properties or set up reports on your behalf. Along the way, real estate agents give their clients insights into the market, ask listing agents questions, and guide you through the offer process.
This route can make sense, even for experienced property investors who don’t rely heavily on a realtor’s expertise. Because the seller pays real estate agent commission fees, not the buyer, you don’t pay for this service.
Alternate Route: Become a Real Estate Agent
Some property investors find second-hand access to the MLS frustrating and stifling. In some instances, becoming a real estate agent can be a viable option. For example, real estate investment companies can have an agent on staff to conduct research and manage negotiations. Investors who manage a lot of flips also may benefit from having their own access so they can rapidly grow their holdings.
When you have an active real estate license, you can buy membership into the NAR and gain access to the database.
Alternate Route: Use a Home-Buying Website
A third option many investors use is accessing property details through sites like Zillow, Trulia, or Realtor.com. These sites pull information from MLS and provide public access. You don’t need a real estate license, and there are no geographic restrictions on properties you can access. However, these websites often have delays and incomplete information. Investors who rely solely on third-party websites may miss out on great opportunities.
What About Listing Your Property on MLS?
When you’re searching for a new property to add to your portfolio as a buy-and-hold investment or as a flip, MLS access is a valuable tool. It’s even more valuable when you’re ready to sell your investment property. Because so many buyers, investors, and buying agents use the MLS as their go-to resource, posting your listing directly on MLS is the best way to ensure as many people as possible see your property as quickly as possible.
However, the same limitations on access apply when you’re selling as when you’re buying. Some common routes to listing your property on MLS are:
- Working with a real estate agent: A listing agent can publish your property on MLS and field questions. However, this comes at the hefty price of a 3% commission.
- Pay a flat-fee listing service: For just a fraction of the cost of an agent, you can hire a service to upload your images, property details, and offer instructions. These services will also often act as an intermediary between you and prospective buyers or their representatives.
- Do without: It is possible to sell properties without listing them on MLS by marketing them to acquaintances or using non-MLS directories. However, this can be very time-consuming and won’t get as much engagement.
Secure MLS Access for Investors Through ListingSpark
Uncomplicate your route to accessing MLS as an investor by turning to ListingSpark. We offer all the tools investors need to operate through MLS. List your investment properties, learn more about the market conditions, and manage all the moving parts of your portfolio. Reach out today for cost-effective, easy access to everything the MLS has for investors.
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