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A World Without the MLS: It Exists



franceBefore you complain about what the local MLS is doing or not doing for you, read on.

Imagine if you will a world where there is no full or public list of homes for sale. Imagine that you have to drive through every neighborhood your buyer wants to live in to find what homes are for sale. Imagine you have to walk into every neighborhood real estate office to inquire about the for sale properties. Imagine you represent buyers and you have to charge those buyers an extra fee because the listing agent won’t cooperate with you. Imagine you’re a listing agent who has to routinely share billing with one or two more agencies? How does that sound? Like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone? 

Close, it’s France.

The country has no MLS and a cultural lack of cooperation when it comes to real estate. The Service Inter Agence, run by the Federation nationale d’immobilier (the NAR of France), has tried to rally the troops but has fallen short. It’s not required for real estate agents to participate in the SIA (although agents do have to be licensed), therefore the information is spotty. Bernard Grech, former president of ORPI, and even the illustrious Alain Pinel claim to have working French MLSs, but in truth, their systems pale in comparison to what we have in America.

Net result of this abstention: bad news for both French real estate agents and buyers and sellers of real estate in France.

For French real estate agents, it causes them to spend much more time searching and researching homes for sale for their buyers. In France a seller can list their home with multiple agencies (talk about a split listing). An exclusive agreement exists, but many owners choose to list their property with more than one neighborhood agency so they can get greater exposure. The good news is floor time looks good with a constant stream of walk-ins, albeit with stiff necks from looking up so much. Listing agents fight to get exclusives and buyer’s agents practically don’t exist.

Buyers face a daunting endeavor. If you don’t have a buyer’s agent, you simply walk neighborhoods and find listed property for sale or you visit brokerages in the neighborhood in which you want to live (and there are multiple per neighborhood).

Most sellers use one of the corner agencies, which by the way don’t have a whiz bang web site with multiple photos and virtual tours. As the French say, pas du tout (not at all). It’s back to the 70s with pictures of for sale homes in the window and maybe a printed home buyers guide in front or just inside the store.

Imagine being a buyer and doing all your own research without the assistance of an IDX web site. Forget finding comparables. And then once you find a home you want to purchase, after making numerous phone calls and scheduling appointments yourself, you have to deal with the listing agent without representation. Eeek.

I might be going out on a limb here, but I think France could take a big old lesson from the real red, white and blue country on this subject.

Ginny is a 360 degree marketing specialist with over a decade of experience in real estate-related fields. She’s held senior level marketing positions at Alain Pinel Realtors and Prudential California, Nevada and Texas Realty. She left the corporate world in 2007 to start her own marketing communications company, Cain Communications. She markets to segments that matter using media that matters. Follow her on Twitter @ginnycain.

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  1. Amy

    October 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Same in Poland, we bought and sold a home in Poland and it was a nightmare not having one database to search from. Also when we sold we “listed” the home with multiple agents so they could have the listing in their office. Buying and selling homes in Poland is a relatively new concept for them, hopefully one day they’ll have something similar to the MLS to help buyers/sellers/agents in the long run.

  2. Margaret Woda

    October 28, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Actually, when I started in the business four decades ago, the MLS certainly wasn’t what it is today. Weekly updates via index-card size slips of paper, no photos, no maps, no key lock boxes. Yes, we did sell homes, but I sure do prefer the MLS and IDX systems we have today!

  3. loftninja

    October 28, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    how about even closer to home…try NYC

  4. Claudia Gonella

    October 28, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    England also does not have an MLS and they’re quite happy with that, thank you very much.

    Having said that I completely agree that an MLS makes the market more efficient and more transparent for both buyers and sellers. Our focus is international real estate in Nicaragua, Belize, Panama and Costa Rica. None of those markets have a MLS, real estate agents are unlicensed for the most part, and the situation is how you describe in your post: Sellers don’t get a great deal because with open listings real estate agents aren’t particularly motivated in putting time and money into marketing a property that could easily be sold by another agent; and buyers have to trudge round with multiple real estate agent but are still left with the question: Have i seen all there is?

    Not ideal…. and one of the main reasons (along with the fact that there official market stats are not published) we set up our site.

  5. Russell Shaw

    October 28, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Eye opening post, Ginny. Thank you.

    Most interesting point to me was almost NO buyer agents. There are some buyer agent Realtors here in the U.S. working to “get rid of dual agency”. I have always thought that to the exact degree they were “successful” at their goal – they would be putting themselves out of business and creating less representation for buyers, not more.

  6. Jim Gatos

    October 29, 2009 at 7:07 am


    Something good about France!

    “buyer’s agents practically don’t exist.”

    Please… aside from my general disdain of french politics and food, Now I actually have something to LIKE France about!

  7. Fred Romano

    October 29, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Wow I guess I wouldn’t have a job in France! LOL

  8. Dan Homan

    October 29, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Requiring all agents and brokers to be part of a MLS is nothing but anti trust. When I practiced in NY, the most affluent areas – the hamptons and Manhattan were desperately trying to fight off Dottie Herman’s efforts to evangelize the well to do real estate heathen. Sadly, her despairation to bring a “code of ethics” to people who answered only to state licensing boards, and misconduct could result in a loss of livelyhood – way more effective than unpublished and sealed records of COE “violations.” Remember MLS membership also requires NAR membership (I like to vote for my leaders thank you) and all the baggage that brings (do you really want to go there?). I am glad that the French see the light about something.

  9. Portland Condo Auctions

    October 29, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Interesting. It certainly would make finding the right place for your client impossible. I may not really love the MLS, but it certainly has a place in the world.


  10. Dan Homan

    October 29, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Tyler –
    No MLS makes business as the NAR does it impossible, most brokerages are run like AMWAY of the 70’s and repeat referral business is a thing of the past. Funny the only agents that last are the agents who use the non NAR business model, and don’t sell their souls and the futture of their grand children through stupid gimics and tax legislation. They build business relationships that last their whole career, not just with customers but with other agents. If you belong to a local association you know that the bulk of cooperation is not polite but out of obligation.

  11. David Sherfey

    October 30, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Those all sound like areas ripe for some owner-sourced marketing.” The seller pays upfront for real marketing, has an innovative marketing company web-publish it and then make it available to all the “agents.”

  12. Melina Tomson

    October 30, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Remember MLS membership also requires NAR membership

    This statement is mostly true, but not totally accurate. 82% of MLS’s require Realtor membership. Mine does not. So not ALL MLS’s require you to be a REALTOR. Some leave it up to members to decide.

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