Photo of Multiple Listing Service MLS logo

You've seen those six digit numbers associated with house listings. You know they're used for identification. You know there's a whole system dedicated to identifying almost every house for sale. But do you know why the system exists, or who it's for? Do you wonder why these numbers even matter, especially if a home is listed online? Well, you've come to the right place. We're going to tell you everything you need and want to know about the Multiple Listing System (MLS®) in Canada.



Photo of computer hardware used for storage.

First off, MLS is an acronym. It stands for Multiple Listing Service. This service is actually an extensive database owned and operated by Realtors across the country. Imagine if the software you use for work everyday was available to the public - the MLS® database is, essentially, a Realtor's work program. The major aspect that separates this database from a regular work database is public viewing. A house listed by one Realtor is shared with every other Realtor, agency as well as the general public. To participate on the MLS® in Canada, Realtors must meet professional development requirements and adhere to a code of ethics and rules of cooperation. They must also carry Errors and Omissions Insurance, and follow a strict set of business practices. This ensures that no piece of information is left out of a property listing; marketing is fair and honest.



An aerial, historical view of Yorkton, circa 1939.

Let's quickly step into some history. During the second World War, people at home were still dealing with the effects of the Great Depression as well as the economic effects from both war efforts. Due to the depression, most mid-level and low income families still had difficulties buying their basic needs, so their homes went without repair and proper maintenance. Building supplies and services were strained, so even those who could afford to upkeep their home, couldn't make it so. This led to people selling their homes, and moving into rental properties. These former homeowners, in addition to servicemen and their dependents', caused a huge demand for rental properties. This demand was met by the Dominion government, who funded the construction of rental housing units. This temporary solution had serious repercussions when the war was over. Units became crowded, rent policies kept changing and control was entirely maintained by the government. Worried that these temporary measures would become permanent, real estate leaders came together to form a national organization which advocated for home buyers and renters. At first, it was only a few cities who boarded together. Soon after, more cities across each province joined. By 1943, all of these separate boards agreed to join under one name and drafted the first constitution (rule-set) of the Canadian Association of Real Estate Boards (CAREB, known today as CREA). In later years, its members would be known as Realtors. In 1951, the group created the "Photo Co-op System" - an early version of the MLS® system. It required organizations at the local level to establish rules and promote co-operation among agents to make the home buying and home renting process more accessible for people. It also required these organizations to fund the system, ensuring that it would endure locally and nationally. To sum up, the MLS® system is a creation of Realtors which regulates the housing market. This regulation puts control in the hands of the people using it, not the government who originally controlled it. Agents co-operate with other agents to share information about local and national listings, and agents work with their clients, the general public, to share the same information about local and national listings.



Photo of a mom and baby, playing comfortably in their home.

Realtors compete with each other for your business, but at the same time, they cooperate with each other to help you buy or sell property. This unique concept is grounded in the democratic roots of our Canadian real estate history (see above section). The MLS® system in particular allows anyone from the public to access accurate information on any given property. In addition, the system allows anyone from the public to choose any Realtor or agency they wish to help them buy or sell a home. If this system did NOT exist, sellers would have to choose an individual real estate brokerage to list their home. That brokerage would solely have the information about that home, disclose as they see fit, and be the only ones to sell that home. Buyers would have to contact each individual Realtor and brokerage to see what homes are available. Simply put, the MLS® system is extremely beneficial to the buyer and seller. It is the one stop shop for efficiently finding accurate information, looking at every home, and choosing a Realtor. The MLS® system puts the power of the local and national real estate market to work...for the people.


3rd photo in blog courtesy of Yorkton - Flashes of History, a Facebook page. It's an aerial shot of Broadway Street West, circa 1939. You can see more historical photos of Yorkton on their page:

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