While Flat Fee MLS Listings are new to most people, they have been around since the late 1990s and the industry is starting to mature. Most consumers are not aware of flat fee MLS as an option, but that awareness is growing. How do you decide where to get your flat fee MLS listing? This simple checklist will help you make the smart decision:
Brokers survive for a reason. Word gets around when a broker does not satisfy the seller. The safest route is to list with an established flat fee MLS broker (MLS=Multiple Listing Service). While some new brokers, or brokers new to the flat fee MLS business may do high quality work, going with a broker who can show you a track record of flat fee listings for five years or more is your best bet. It is important to differentiate flat fee experience from other experience, as more than one experienced traditional broker has tried flat fee brokerage as a last ditch effort to keep afloat in real estate.
Reputation is a big deal. You may not have friends who have used a flat fee MLS broker, but you can research opinions on Google and other websites to see what others have experienced. The Better Business Bureau’s BBB.org doesn’t have reviews but it does tell you when customers complain. Keep in mind even the best brokers will have the occasional negative comment from the “my house didn’t sell so it can only be the broker’s fault” individual. If you see a pattern of negative experience, avoid that broker.
Look for certified excellence. Consider it a big positive when you see that a broker shows affiliation with AREBA. Earning a membership in the Flat Fee MLS Broker Association, known as AREBA, shows the broker regards their work as a profession, not a side business or hobby. The same concept applies to Better Business Bureau Accreditation.
Watch out for low bid handoff. A few large companies recently started referring out listings on a bidding system, the broker that bids the lowest gets the listing. The referral companies/websites charge the same price to the consumer, they keep the difference between the consumer price and the low broker bid. Established and high quality brokers withdrew, leaving part time, buyer seeking, high pressure upsell brokers with checkered pasts to get listings. Avoid this type of broker referral like the plague. Ask for a promise in writing that the company won’t bid your listing out to the lowest broker. More info on this subject at this post.
Guarantees count. Many home sellers have been listed in the wrong MLS for their area. There are over 800 MLSs in the United States alone, and it can be difficult for the seller to determine what is the right MLS for their property. Flat Fee Brokers understandably would rather not pay fees to all the MLSs, so the temptation for the broker to put a listing in a nearby or cheaper MLS is undeniable. Being in the MLS that is not used by most/all buyer agents in your area is significantly less valuable and may be a complete waste of time and money. Make sure your broker guarantees you will be in the MLS used by agents in your area. Flat fee home sellers have always been concerned about hidden fees, and should be. Get the guarantees in writing.
Speak with them. Call the phone number. Is it answered with a live person or do you go right to voicemail? When you speak with them, are they professional, responsive, and willing to help? Or are they just trying to get you off the phone? Do they answer your questions clearly, or seem evasive? Some websites it is difficult to even find a phone number. More than one flat fee broker is known for refusing to take calls once a listing is entered, requiring all communication via email. Understand this before you pay.
Understand exactly what you are getting. Some websites don’t tell you what you will get in your area. The worst websites will show a “package” and imply that is exactly what the seller gets, but then in reality what you get varies depending on your zip code. Look for a website that tells you exactly how many photos are included for your zip code or county—you shouldn’t have to ask. Remember, if you have a dispute about what you are supposed to receive, what the website says will be the standard that the broker will have to prove they delivered. Unfortunately, more than one website’s fine print says that the “package” is just a sample and you don’t find out the real details until after you have paid. That severely limits your ability to hold them accountable.
Big names aren’t necessary better. A number of the bigger names in Flat Fee MLS Listings have had issues recently. Bankruptcy, a referral broker turmoil/revolt, business failure, liquidation and rebirth with new owners have occurred within the industry. These situations had big effects on customers and more than a few reputations were tarnished. Look for stability.
Protect yourself. Pay with a credit card, which gives you the option to challenge the charge if the service isn’t delivered. This is a powerful tool for holding a broker accountable. Avoid brokers who haven’t invested in or qualified for a credit card merchant account. The 5 minutes it takes to setup Paypal and other novel payment methods only show a lack of commitment and/or qualification on the part of the broker, and offer little or no protection to the customer.
The Agreement Matters. Ask to see the agreements and forms you will need to complete before you sign up. Some brokers refuse to provide this information. The question is: Why? Keep in mind these forms may be proprietary, a broker wants to make sure they aren’t giving out their intellectual property to a competing broker. Be prepared to confirm you are who you are, your property address, and contact information.
Traditional Media can be a guide. It is a real plus when the broker has been mentioned in stories by the traditional media. Media usually, but not always, mention or quote the more established and reputable members of an industry.
Do your research. Most importantly, avoid the thinking it is just a simple listing, the broker doesn’t matter. “Just get my listing in MLS and that is all I need” is a road fraught with peril. The history of flat fee MLS listing is littered with the carcasses of home sellers and brokers who thought “a listing is a listing, what difference does it make?” Reality indicates otherwise.