MLS Registration - To be, or not to be?

Real Estate Technology with Zillow

Hamlet said the question is “to be or not to be”.

Yeah, well forget Hamlet. To require MLS/IDX registration or not: THAT is the question!

At last count, there are over 3.2 bazillion real estate web sites out there. Most have an IDX feed to their MLS that allows visitors to search homes on the local MLS. (And those that don’t have it, should).

Some sites require visitors to “register” prior to getting access to the MLS search, some don’t.

On my web site,, no registration is required. I’ve tried it with and without registration and I’ve found that my visitor count drops off dramatically when I require registration. And given the names I get with registrations, those that do register all seem to be related to Disney characters.  I must have a dozen different email addresses for Mickey Mouse and his friends.  Some guy named Ben Dover registers a lot too.

I’ve talked to a lot of people over the years about requiring MLS registration and gotten a plethora of opinions.

Proponents of MLS/IDX registration say things like:

  • Don’t give everything away for free
  • Serious buyers will register
  • What’s the point in having a website if you don’t capture visitor information
  • You can’t convert visitors to clients if you don’t know who they are

Opponents of MLS/IDX registration argue:

  • If you require registration, people will just go to the next site that doesn’t
  • You get too many bogus registrations
  • Internet buyers tend to be a long way off from buying and want to remain anonymous in the beginning
  • There are other ways to capture visitor information
  • If you provide great service, the serious buyers will identify themselves

I get visitors to my site every single day that find us using search terms like “Phoenix MLS search no registration”, “Arizona MLS no registration”, or even plain old generic "no registration MLS".  We rank #1 and #2 in Google for “Phoenix MLS search no registration”. When I required registration, not one single visitor arrived by searching for a site that requires registration.  I don’t believe people inherently WANT to register on any web site. I hate registering on web sites, which is the main reason I have a hard time asking people to do it on my site.

It’s really quite a dilemma and one that everyone with a real estate website should ponder deeply. Seriously!  The ideal solution, in my humble opinion, is to have a “hybrid” setup that allows some MLS data to be viewed “for free” and requires minimal registration to see additional information.  There is an IDX provider out there,, that offers the ideal solution for some MLS’s. Unfortunately they don’t work with mine, yet. Using their system, visitors can see one photo and some basic info on any MLS listing. If they register, they can see additional photos, an address, virtual tours, etc. And they can save searches and get new listings emailed to them if they register.  Other IDX solutions allow people to see full info on the first X number of listings, then require registration to see additional listings.  These solutions offer the best of both worlds. But these IDX solution providers don’t work with all MLS’s.  

So to paraphrase my good friend Hamlet, "To require MLS registration or not? That is the question!" Do you or don't you? Why or why not?

Comments (18)

Christopher Bergeron
Coldwell Banker Grace Drapeau - Rochester, NH

I do not.  Why because serious buyers will register, but they will also sign up for automatic emails.. Casual and future buyers will not register or sign up for automatic emails.  BUT they will keep comming back and when they become serous buyers then I will be the familiar face.

 I don't care if the casual or currious use my bandwith and share my URL with their friends... But I don't want to scare off potential clients before they are ready to share their contact information with me.

Aug 27, 2006 05:54 AM
Jay Thompson
Zillow - Seattle, WA

Excellent post  and comment from Christopher. I have a dilema that maybe some experienced internet savvy REALTORS can help me with.

First of all we are way behind the rest of the country regarding MLS and IDX.

My MLS only has 25% of all listings. Currently I have been using the sign up for automatic emails which has 100% of the listing because it is pulled from 2 real estate boards. 1 is not an MLS but I have access to all the members listings.

Last year I contacted my MLS about IDX. They were suprised because no other agent had ever asked. They said the IDX was only for brokerage's they never even thought of offering it to agents. That I was a head of the times.

My company is now offering my same web page that I already have but with an IDX and my name and picture will show up with the listings. See it here.

My question: Since MLS only has 25% of the listings am I better off the way I'm doing it with just emails or would it be an extra tool for people who want to search on their own.

The registration is another issue. I think it only requires an email address.

Aug 27, 2006 06:21 AM
Jay Thompson
Zillow - Seattle, WA

An MLS with only 25% of the listings? Weird....

And if your MLS doesn't offer an IDX feed to agents, they are WAY behind the times!

The problem with using your companies web site to offer your visitors an IDX search is two-fold.  One, it drives people OFF your web site onto the company web site. Good for the company, bad for you. You want to keep people on YOUR site.  Two, should you ever decide to change brokerages, you'll lose that company site. Maybe you don't plan on ever switching brokerages. I don't plan on it either. But you never know, so it's best to have your own site with full capability, and not rely on a brokerage site that you may or may not have access to in the future. 

Aug 27, 2006 06:30 AM
Christopher Smith
TREGO REALTY - Cedar Rapids, IA
Jay and Francy, yet another post that's informative and also one that I'm printing right now!!!  Our MLS has the IDX feed and it's just another great service for our clients.
Aug 27, 2006 06:46 AM
Mitchell J Hall
Manhattan, NY
Lic Associate RE Broker - Manhattan & Brooklyn

Thanks Jay and Francy. Good advice.

I was only considering having a link to it from my site. My site is already indexed and nobody would ever find cbhk/mitchellhall but you are right I rather have them stay on my site. Thanks

Aug 27, 2006 07:05 AM
Ben Kakimoto
Keller Williams Greater Seattle - Seattle, WA
Seattle Condo Specialist

I'm in the no registration camp...but then my company doesn't allow agent IDX access.  The best I can do is to frame the company's search page which is a bit tacky.  IDX is available by the MLS but it's the brokers discretion whether to allow their agents to have access to it.

But there are other reasons for my reasoning, too.  First, like you, I hate when I have to register on other sites and I do make up fake names and made-up email addresses.  Since I don't like it as a user, I don't make use it...much.

Second, I think most people in the Seattle area use the large brokerage sites (rather than individual agent sites) to do home searches and all provide free access such as the corporate Windermere or John L Scott websites. Windermere has a 40% market share in Seattle and I'm sure they are number one for buyer home searches.

Therefore, it doesn't make any sense for agents here to use MLS/IDX registrations.  

Aug 27, 2006 07:09 AM
Christopher H
REAL ESTATE - Shelby Township, MI

I agree with Christopher B.  Being user friendly they will pass the site onto others which means more potential clients. 

Aug 27, 2006 07:15 AM
Jim Lee
RE/MAX Shoreline - Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth NH Realtor, Portsmouth, NH

I don't require registration because my years of Internet experience tell me I get far better results without it.

I do have several freebies on my website you have to either register for or give me your name & address. I think serious people use these.

Fortunately our MLS IDX system is not only "OPT OUT" for firms but we also provide each and every member, including sales agents, a free IDX link you can put on your personal website.

Every listings displayed on on there says something like: "Interested in this property? Contact Jim Lee @..........."

I get LOTS of inquiries.

Aug 27, 2006 09:52 AM
Gerhard Ade
RSVP Real Estate - Seattle, WA
What sets me apart, will set you apart.
Ade HouseLittle wrinkle to the "search the MLS" lingo. As a Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) member or subscriber you can't use language like that anymore. Reason: it suggests that anybody has access to the MLS, so why use a real estate agent? Even if your MLS allows it, by saying to your website visitors "Search the MLS" you may be fostering the FSBO mentality. If I can search the MLS the way you can why would I need your professional help for anything?
Aug 27, 2006 10:35 AM
Jay Thompson
Zillow - Seattle, WA

"If I can search the MLS the way you can why would I need your professional help for anything?"

Because there is far more to buying a home than being able to search the MLS? Contracts, negotiations, disclosures, liability, dealing with loan officers, escrow companies and inspectors. There's more... we know that. But do our consumers?

You make a great point, and a lot of buyers out there probably DO think all there is to it is finding a home in the MLS.  It's our job to help them understand that's just a small part of it.

So what can NWMLS members say about "searching the MLS"?

Aug 27, 2006 10:54 AM
Pam Hofmann
Third Tennessee Realty & Associates, LLC - Crossville, TN
Your Crossville, Lake Tansi & Fairfield Glade Specialist
If I don't ever register for anything then why would I expect anyone to do that on my site! Let them stay, enjoy and call me!!Lake Tansi Crazy Lady
Aug 27, 2006 11:55 AM
Ben Kakimoto
Keller Williams Greater Seattle - Seattle, WA
Seattle Condo Specialist

So what can NWMLS members say about "searching the MLS"? 

The NWMLS prohibits members from using the phase "search the mls" or any derivative.  We cannot suggest or infer that visitors on our websites are accessing the MLS.   We cannot have the term "MLS" anywhere on our websites except to state we're members of the NWMLS.  It is a fine-able (sp?) offense.

We can homes, search Seattle area homes, home search, etc. 

Aug 27, 2006 04:01 PM
Branden Schroeder
Gybeset Homes - Annapolis, MD

This is a subject I've been mulling over in my mind recently b/c I hate logging in to sites, but it is one of the best ways to capture internet lead info.  Currently, I have a login and do capture some real contact information with varying degrees of success, but I also have Disney characters visiting.  (Not sure why they are looking in Maryland when they've got such a nice place down in Florida.)  And, like Jay and Francy, Ben Dover has visited my site, too (what are the odds?).

I've decided to redesign my site search to allow for a "hybrid" search without any login, but only provide limited search result data (a thumbnail photo w/ basic description) and then ask for very simple login in order for them to access additional details, save searches, access virtual tours, etc.  In my opinion, at least this will get them a bit deeper into the site without scaring them off with an immediate login request.  Anyone using this approach?  If so, how has the success been?

Aug 28, 2006 02:13 AM
Toby Barnett
KW North Sound - Marysville, WA
Toby Barnett

We offer a 100% free IDX access to our site but this was not always the case. At first we did have a registration set up but users were not getting through the sign up process to access the IDX link. This got me thingking; would i rather have content info or retain usership to gain trust and achieve sales in the future?

I chose to retain usership and instill trust with our users. For our offices success it was important to keep visitors coming back over and over for FREE property search.

Since then we get calls from people on our website, viewing a property and wanting more info from an agent. Getting visitors to call is a high priority and what better way to instill trust.

Aug 28, 2006 04:01 PM
Max Chirkov
Phoenix Homes Team - Scottsdale, AZ

I'm not an agent, but I work for a company with about 100 agents, and I do have some experience in online lead generation. I did both - required and gave it out for free. I actually still do both. Well, if you believe that real estate is numbers game - you should require. If you don't believe it is - you might not want to require it. I didn't require to register before you can search, but did require registration to see more details on the property listings - non-registered users could search, but they get basic info and one picture - to see more and get access to additional features like email updates, saving your featured properties etc. - you have to register. If you don't require any kind of registration - your number of leads will be much less. If you don't know how to work large number of different leads - you may be wasting your time, money and the leads. When we required registration, we got extensive mailing list with an option to opt-out. I know everyone hates it, but it is no different than post cards or any other direct marketing approach. Even when the lead hits "dead" status - we still do a few followups later on just to make sure we cant resirect it.. and let me tell you, from the large number of "dead lead" defined by other agents - we get quite a few that start working with us and we get quite a few that say that they aleady bought.  I think there is always a good chance to get business from a lead, rather then no lead at all. I also can tell you, that earlier generation of realtors very often can't work online leads at all - they just don't work out for them.

Just think about it - whom do you target? When you get a phone call from a customer - very often that means that people are ready to buy or sell. When you get an online lead - that means they are certainly thinking about it, but you don't know in which stage of their decision they are. Internet allows them to make their own very detailed research and make up their mind. If you don't want to target those customers at early stage of their decision and try being there when they need you... don't target them - someone else will. If you want only those who ready to buy right now - you can do like those oceanfront pre-constructions do - give them contract in PDF right there online, make them sign it right away and mail it with the 10% deposit. Is that a better lead? Of course it is :) but is this what you're targeting? you should target all of them, organize them in separate groups, prioritize and work each of them differently since there are those that ready to buy, and those that might be ready in 6 months or later... etc. You can't work all your leads the same way - just as you can't look at all of your online customers and leads the same way. Create different online forms, for different need as many as you can. Provide services (manual, automated, semi-automated) which are worth signing up for depending in which stage of your decision you're (as a customer).

Aug 29, 2006 02:01 AM
Timothy Butterworth
Taking a break - Portland, OR

Great article, In Porltand Oregon, we have a public MLS and a Registered MLS with all the addresses on the registere

Aug 30, 2006 04:45 PM
Mark Alder
Salt Lake City, UT
I am still undecided.  I think I will just have to test it both ways myself
Aug 22, 2007 04:42 PM
Jim Lee
RE/MAX Shoreline - Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth NH Realtor, Portsmouth, NH

Nope, I don't do MLS registration. Look all you want and then contact me to buy one. ;-)

Jul 21, 2008 03:07 PM