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MLS: The essential difference

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Ever since brokers and Multiple Listing Services began posting abridged versions of MLS listings on the Internet some 15 years ago and real estate consumers have been able to see for themselves what's available in their neighborhoods, the public has confused MLSs with online auction sites like eBay or electronic classified ads like CraigsList. To the layperson, the MLS looks like any other marketplace where properties are bought and sold. But nothing could be farther from the truth.  What makes MLSs special is not just that they introduce extraordinary efficiencies into the real estate transaction, or that they level the playing field so that the newest, smallest, greenest broker has just as much ability to profit from the system as the biggest guy in town. Even the fact that they are probably the safest databases on the Internet -- thanks to the standards of quality and care exhibited by the organizations that own and run them -- is not the single most distinguishing feature of...