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Almost 20% of Realtors pay for multiple MLSs, but for how long? 

Commissions lawsuits could accelerate consolidation and evolution — and save agents money, according to a new report on MLSs and Realtor associations.

February 13, 2024
3 minutes

Key points:

  • T3 Sixty rankings of Organized Real Estate also delve into ownership structure, which has become increasingly important in the lawsuit era.
  • Most subscribers — 82% — are in MLSs owned by Realtor associations.
  • California Regional MLS remains the country’s largest MLS, followed by Bright MLS, which serves the Mid-Atlantic.

Lawsuits and turmoil at real estate's largest trade association have weighed on the industry over the past year, but changes to MLS policies could be a bright spot for agents trying to make a living during this tumultuous time.

Currently, nearly 20% of Realtors need to access multiple MLSs — and pay for multiple subscriptions — to serve clients across their coverage area. That was just one finding from T3 Sixty's newly released rankings and report on Organized Real Estate, which includes MLSs and associations. 

But that could change as hybrid MLS models emerge, and more brokerages no longer require their agents to join the local association, said Clint Skutchan, senior vice president of Organized Real Estate at T3 Sixty. (Note: T3 Sixty and Real Estate News share the same founder, Stefan Swanepoel.)

MLS ownership structures take on greater importance

The report covers the latest data on MLSs, including membership and subscription numbers, and this year's rankings also specify each organization's ownership structure — something that is becoming increasingly important during this era of buyer agent commission lawsuits.

According to the report, 82% of subscribers are in MLSs owned by Realtor associations, 8% belong to MLSs owned by brokers, and 10% subscribe to an MLS with a hybrid model. 

Those MLSs owned by Realtor associations are coming under increasing scrutiny as consumers challenge commissions policies. Numerous local MLSs and associations, as well as large state and regional players like CRMLS, MLS PIN, Texas Realtors and Florida Realtors, have been named as defendants in the copycat commissions lawsuits following the Sitzer/Burnett verdict.

Top 3 unchanged; consolidation still happening

In terms of rankings, the three largest MLSs retained their top spots: California Regional MLS and Bright MLS, each with more than 100,000 subscribers, are No. 1 and No. 2, while Florida's Stellar MLS ranks third. 

And moving up three spots to the No. 4 position is Miami Realtors, with more than 59,000 subscribers.

Although the number of MLSs dropped by only one between the beginning of 2023 and 2024, there has been a notable downward trend in recent years. In 2020, there were 565 MLSs; just four years later, that number has fallen to 521.

Similar-sized MLSs are continuing to have conversations about consolidation, so the number of MLSs could continue to shrink, Skutchan said.

"But the real impact will be heavily dependent on the leaders of the MLSs being able to overcome the common objections of fear and protectionism that still keep the consolidations from occurring," Skutchan said, adding that there is more urgency to consolidate given the shifting markets and potential impacts from the lawsuits due to decreasing subscriber counts.

At the same time, litigation could stall consolidation plans as more MLSs find themselves mired in commissions lawsuits, Skutchan said.

Still, consolidation has led to an increasing number of large MLSs. There were only three MLSs with more than 50,000 subscribers in 2020; today, there are seven. 

The number of small MLSs (less than 3,500 subscribers) has fallen during the same period by 10.4%, but they still represent a significant share. According to the report, 43% of the 521 MLSs have fewer than 400 subscribers.

More MLS and association data can be found at realestatealmanac.com.

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