Online Marketing

When there is no homebuyer already at the table, there are three principal digital venues for homeowners to use to advertise the sale of their homes: Craigslist, Zillow, and flat-fee MLS. There is no charge for Craigslist and Zillow listings. Limited Service brokers charge a nominal amount for flat-fee MLS listings.

All venues share similar paths. As they go to market homeowners retain an attorney to assemble a disclosures package. Unrepresented homebuyers have three options: (1) to share the homeowner's attorney; (2) to retain their own attorney; or (3) or to "go it alone". Fees and fiduciary relationships are discussed at our fees page.


Craigslist has housing categories for homes listed by brokers, and for those listed by homeowners. Every few months I track those listed by owner. Due to spam this CL category is basically worthless.

November 28, 2016 San Francisco Marin
Total 8 8
less spam 4 5
Legitimate 3 3

I label as spam those listings that have nothing to do with homes being marketed by homeowners: such as rentals, broker listings, options, out-of-area listings, real estate investments, business opportunities, condo project sales office, shells that won't qualify for a loan, boats, duplicates .....


Homeowners have two options on Zillow: MMM and FSBO. MMM [Make me Move] listings include this comment: "Note. owner will work with buyer's agents". FSBO listings carry no such comment. So homebuyer agents should treat MMM listings as similar to MLS listings - except that their commissions must be negotiated.

It may be that agents will not show FSBO listings. However, this may present an opportunity for homebuyers who are willing to make an offer through their own attorney, rather than through a real estate broker.


What is Flat-Fee- MLS?

There are Limited Service Brokers (LSB) whose business model is based on doing little more than placing homes on MLS. I am not one of them. They charge a flat-fee for doing so, circa $300 for their basic package. No marketing. No showings. No negotiations. No disclosures. The Limited Service Agreement specifies the total compensation that the LSB is to receive for placing the property on MLS. The homeowner controls the look and feel of the listing on MLS: both text and pictures. So the listing will look as elegant or as minimalist as the homeowner chooses.

Commissions are not set by law, but are negotiable. Compensation for the homebuyer's agent (called the selling agent) is entered on the MLS listing as either a fixed sum or as a percentage. That decision must be relayed to the LSB since the local Realtor association will not publish the listing without it.

Before signing a Limited Service Agreement, four considerations:

(1) that the LSB is licensed by the California Bureau of Real Estate. I recommend avoiding national referral services.

(2) that the LSB provides a short trial period [2-7 days] so that the homeowner can view the listing on MLS before paying for it.

(3) that the LSB processes changes to the MLS listing, such as Sunday Open dates/times. Homeowners cannot do this on their own. Is there an additional fee for this option? I consider it a "deal breaker" if this option is not available.

(4) that the LSB arranges the routing of calls/email directly to the homeowner. Homeowners cannot do this on their own. The LSB must place homeowner contact information in the "confidential agent remarks" section of the listing. Also a "deal breaker" if not available.


Without a doubt the "mother of all databases" is the Multiple Listing Service. Each MLS sets limits on the number of characters and images of each listing. For example, in San Francisco it's been 450 and 50, respectively. MLS websites are open to the public. In San Francisco searches can be saved. When last I looked, in Marin searches could not be saved. Also, agents can arrange to have every matching listing transmitted to their clients immediately upon publication.

Once on MLS the listing shows up on many Realtor websites, looking to attract homebuyers. Another major benefit of MLS.

For several years, wearing my Broker hat, I have asked prospective buyers at Sunday Opens where they found the listing. Usually on one of the prominent local brokerage websites. But not on MLS, not on And almost never, in the print media.

In 2006 a firm called Zillow was launched in Seattle. Realtors smiled and rolled their collective eyes. "Not another MLS wanna-be!" Gradually, Zillow began to overtake MLS as the source to which homebuyers turned. And where does Zillow draw the property descriptions and photographs? Currently, directly from MLS! To which Zillow adds Sunday Open dates, statistical detail, aerial maps with price tags on neighboring properties, virtual tours ..... And, Zillow includes for-sale-by-owner listings running toe-to-toe with MLS listings. A public MLS is born. A final note: Zillow estimates cannot compete with the thoroughness of MLS Sold listings - relied upon by licensees and by appraisers.

When I became a broker in the 80s listings were published weekly in catalogues that resembled phone books. They were zealously guarded. And then ..... Al Gore invented the internet.


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