Are agents required to be members of a trade association to access the multiple listing service (MLS)?


Many real estate licensees still erroneously believe they need to join the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the California Association of Realtors (CAR) through their local Association of Realtors (AOR) branch to practice real estate in California. Worse, these trade union leviathans are too often equated to the California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) due to their past inappropriate top-level political liaisons.

Let’s clear the air: real estate brokers and their agents may continue to access an MLS without paying the excessive and unnecessary dues or entanglement in a trade union’s membership bureaucracy, codes and arbitration rules.

CalBRE-licensed brokers have the option of being:

  • a realtor member, which includes CAR and NAR membership along with MLS subscription; or
  • an MLS participant/subscriber only.

Thus, CalBRE-licensed brokers may opt to subscribe to an MLS without becoming a member of the trade association. MLS-only subscribers are able to post listings and access the MLS database, even if the MLS is owned by the association. Thus, MLS-only subscribers avoid the suppressive instrumentality of trade association membership. [Marin County Board of Realtors, Inc. v. Palsson (1976) 16 C3d 920]

For a real estate sales agent, the obligation to become a trade association member depends on their broker’s type of membership. The agent is to parallel the broker’s member or non-membership in the AOR since the sales agent acts on behalf of their broker – an agent of the agent.

Thus, if you are an agent of a broker who is not a member of an AOR, the AOR cannot compel you to pay association dues, in addition to the fees paid to access the MLS.

If your broker is a member of an AOR, you are required to be a member of the AOR, in addition to paying the fees to access the MLS. If you do not voluntarily pay your AOR dues, the AOR can bill your broker for your AOR membership fee.

Related articles:

Brokerage Reminder: MLS access – no board membership required