Having described the areas that the various MLS systems cover, we’ll tell you why you shouldn’t rely on the area descriptions we’ve provided if you’re using these systems for a serious home search.
How the Situation Developed
First, you need to understand that these MLS database systems emerged not from an abstract drawing of geographic boundaries but from the sharing of real estate listing data among groups of real estate agents. Many years ago, when a home owner hired a real estate company to sell their home, the information on that home was held within that company and they worked on their own to locate a buyer for the home. This limited the home’s market exposure and forced buyers to contact many real estate companies to get a full inventory of the available homes for sale. Except for a few backwater areas like New York City, real estate companies figured out decades ago that buyers, sellers and real estate companies are all better off if a list of all available properties is compiled and shared among all the real estate companies in a community. These lists of properties were initially compiled and distributed in paper form, and later in the form of computer databases. Over time, the size of these Multiple Listing Services (MLSs) generally grew as community-based groups of Realtors merged their real estate listings into regional databases.
The Situation Can be Problematic
With this background, you can easily understand why the area boundaries we’ve described can be problematic. Imagine a real estate agent who works in a Boulder office, who grew up in Arvada and whose wife works in Denver. While this agent will probably focus their marketing for new listings in the Boulder or Boulder County area, he will get calls from old friends in Arvada or his wife’s business associates asking him to list homes in Arvada or Denver. Ideally, he’ll pay the extra bucks to join the MLS system that covers the Denver Metro Area, but if he’s broke or cheap he may just enter the listing data on Arvada properties in the system that covers Boulder & NE Colorado where he’s already paid his membership fees and hope for the best. If you’re searching for homes in Arvada and use the system covering the Denver Metro Area, you won’t find this property.
How Serious is this Problem?
That depends on what you’re using the system for and where you’re looking for real estate. If you’re just using the on-line MLS systems to get a sense of pricing and availability of real estate in various communities, you don’t need to worry much. But if you’re using the systems to find your dream home, you may miss that home unless you’re running searches in both systems. And the problem looms large if you’re looking in communities like Superior and Broomfield that are located near the coverage boundaries of two or more systems. While agents who do a lot of listing in Superior or Broomfield are more likely to pay to list their data in both the Boulder and Denver system, you could still be missing 25% or so of the available listings if you don’t duplicate all your searches on both systems.