I am a raving fan of my multiple listing service, Northstar MLS. But because I talk to agents around the country, I know that not all MLSs are equal.

I am a raving fan of my multiple listing service, Northstar MLS. But because I talk to agents around the country, I know that not all MLSs are equal. 

Over the years, Northstar MLS has added many features, and now offers several services that I used to pay for separately. For a mere $450 a year, I not only get access to a sophisticated database of local real estate, I also get most of the basic software that I need for my business.

Northstar MLS levels the playing field between the big brokerages and the small ones, and makes it possible for agents and brokers to stay focused on clients and selling real estate instead of technology. The products and services are high-quality and affordable, with accurate and up-to-date data in a system that has very little down time. Most of it is very easy to use, and there are classes and instructions available to all agents.

MobileRealtyApps, the developer of the mobile app that is available as part of our core MLS service at no extra charge, won an Inman Innovator award this year. The award was well-deserved. The app has a built-in augmented reality capability called "HomeSpotter." When I point my phone in any direction, the homes that are on the market nearby will appear on the screen.

The mobile app has proven to be an invaluable tool in the field. Clients will often ask more questions about the house we saw last week, or the house we just drove by. Or maybe I need another agent’s phone number. The app will have it.

Between my MLS app, my phone and iPad, I rarely have to print anything or bring anything else with me for my homebuyer clients when I take them house hunting. There’s also a version of the MLS app that I can give buyers, which helps me achieve a whole new level of awesomeness in their eyes.

One of the newer more innovative features for marketing homes is an MLS widget, which makes it easy to share listings on social media sites like a Facebook business page. Does your MLS have a property widget?

Here are four game-changing services that are built right into our MLS that save time, money, or both:

1. BookAShowing

A few years ago I had to make a phone call every time I wanted to set up a time to see a home for sale. Now I use BookAShowing — for free. I just select the homes I want to show and pick the times. I can select 20 homes if I need to, see them on a map in the MLS, and even choose the best route to get there.

The system is also accessible through the mobile app, and I can use data in the system to show my clients showing trends. The system also sends agents requests for feedback that can be customized and branded. Sellers can log in and view feedback from buyers’ agents directly. I used to pay extra for a seller portal through another system, but that is all part of the core service.

2. Personalized automated search

Automated searches that I set up for homebuyers can now be set to operate in "concierge mode," which allows me to do a quick check before the email goes to the buyer and remove any houses I know they won’t like. I get the best of both worlds: an automated search that I can personalize for the buyer before it is sent. Each buyer has a portal where they can save listings and a shopping cart that I use to keep track of what I have shown them.

3. Electronic contracts

Not only are electronic contracts available through our MLS, but many fields populate with data automatically. I used to pay extra for electronic forms through a separate system. Now when I am looking at a listing I can click "instaforms" and write an offer. It gets even better because I can also email the forms to clients for electronic signatures. I can even add my own forms to the transaction.

4. Reports and property information

For years I have accessed the data in the MLS and exported it and used Microsoft Excel to make charts, graphs and tables for my blog and for client reports. I still have that ability, but we also have infosparks through the MLS, which is drop-dead cool. I can make all sorts of charts and graphs and even select areas on a map and get data about homes in the area, and I can get Realist reports. When I go on a listing appointment I can go armed with all the data I need to support my pricing and marketing strategies and highlight my local expertise.

There is much more, including the ability to create a professional-looking comparative market analysis (CMA) and a seller’s net sheet.

The MLS isn’t just for entering information about homes for sale, or for finding homes for clients. If done well, the MLS can be a complete online office for real estate agents and provide many of the services we used to rely on brokerages for. Some of these features may not sound very sexy, but to someone who sells real estate, they are invaluable.

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