Many real estate licensees mistakenly believe they need to be members of the California Association of Realtors® (CAR) or a local association of realtors (AOR) to access a multiple listing service (MLS). However, it seems more licensees are shaking off this long-held fallacy.

In a recent poll, 67% of voters said they believe CAR membership is not required to place listings in a local MLS, while 24% believe CAR membership is mandatory and 9% are unsure.

Comparatively, a poll from a year prior revealed then a smaller 62% of readers understood CAR membership is not required. 31% believed it was a requirement and 7% were uncertain.

The results indicate an ever-growing understanding that CAR membership is completely separate from the MLS — though the belief continues for some.

The membership misconception

The myth that CAR membership is a prerequisite to MLS access is as widespread as it is persistent. Worse, the trade union is often equated to the California Department of Real Estate (DRE). Even some licensees with a better grasp of the implications of membership vs. non-membership in the trade union still mistakenly believe union membership is required for MLS access.

But here’s the plain truth: association membership is unnecessary! Real estate brokers and their agents may continue to access an MLS without paying the excessive dues or entanglement in a trade union’s membership bureaucracy, codes and arbitration rules.

Further, a whopping 74% of voters in a recent poll revealed they believe CAR services are worth less than the value of the high membership fees — providing more reason to forego unnecessary association membership.

So, where does the mandatory membership myth come from? Before 1976, most real estate trade unions owned their local MLS and required all access to come through membership in their association. However, such practice was prohibited in 1976. [Marin County Board of Realtors, Inc. v. Palsson (1976) 16 C3d 920]

Associations are now barred from making membership a requirement for MLS. Instead, an association may exact a “reasonable fee” from nonmembers for MLS access.

Thus, trade union membership is neither required to practice real estate nor required to access an MLS.

As an agent, any obligation to become a trade union member to access the MLS depends solely on their employing broker’s membership.

AORs give brokers the option of being:

  • a Realtor member, which includes MLS subscription and membership to CAR and the National Association of Realtors® (NAR); or
  • an MLS subscriber only.

When a broker is a member of the association, their agents are also required to be members. However, when a broker chooses to subscribe to the MLS only without an association membership, their agents are also free to subscribe to the MLS without association membership.

To subscribe to the MLS, an agent needs to:

  • have a valid California real estate license;
  • be employed under a broker who is a member of the MLS;
  • apply for access to the MLS; and
  • pay an MLS fee, which varies by AOR.

No other restrictions apply to MLS access. So, save yourself some money and pay for the MLS access you need — without unnecessary association dues.