Massachusetts Flat Fee MLS 101: An Interview with Dean Charles of Stuart St James, Inc.

Tell us a little bit about your company.

Stuart St James is a full service residential real estate brokerage serving Boston and the surrounding areas of Massachusetts. The firm was founded in 2011 and our headquarters is located in Boston's Financial District neighborhood. In addition to assisting buyers, sellers, renters, and developers in a traditional real estate agent commission based manner, in 2012 we launched a platform called Entry Only New England, which allows for sale by owner (FSBO) sellers to list their property on the official MLS for a one-time flat fee, sometimes referred to as flat fee MLS or an entry only MLS listing.

What are some of the services your company provides?

Stuart St James has the pleasure of assisting property owners list and sell what is oftentimes their largest single asset, their home. We also assist buyers, along with investors, in finding property that matches their search criteria. As well, we have the opportunity to work with landlords in leasing homes and apartments for rent, and we also work with renters looking for rental housing. Stuart St James has real estate agents that act as both listing agents, and separately, buyer's agents, and our team helps renters too. Separately, branching out to work with FSBOs, providing them the tools and platform they need in order to list their property on the MLS for a low fee, is something that we are seeing more and more of as well.

What made Stuart St James create a flat fee MLS listing service for Massachusetts FSBOs?

Great question. Some might think that offering a flat fee MLS service, while at the same time offering traditional services where a full commission is earned, is somewhat contradictory or is breaking the mold. While we do think that we're taking a progressive approach to real estate, it's really about providing our clients options and choice. A flat fee entry only MLS listing actually isn't for everyone and the majority of property is still sold with a real estate agent on both sides earning a full commission. However, we feel that our clients should have the choice to leverage a flat fee MLS approach if they're comfortable with the duties they'll take on during the selling process, like setting up showings and negotiating, while at the same time earning the benefits, like saving thousands of dollars in real estate agent commissions.

What exactly is a flat fee MLS listing, or an entry only MLS listing?

We have a really good explanation of what flat fee MLS is all about on the Entry Only New England website, with diagrams and the like to really lay it out and make it simple to understand, but in a nutshell, let me try and paint the picture for you. In essence, a flat fee MLS entry only listing is created when a homeowner wants to list their property for sale or rent in the multiple listing service (MLS), but they don't want to pay a real estate commission. Only licensed real estate brokers (and their licensed agents) can list property in the MLS. Keep in mind that the MLS is the fundamental starting point for all property that is for sale or rent, and it's from the MLS that a property gets syndicated to the most popular real estate websites like Zillow, Trulia, and - so, you really want your property in the MLS, to drive the exposure it needs in the market. With a flat fee MLS entry only listing, the property owner still works with a licensed real estate broker to get their property into the MLS, but instead of paying the broker a commission, they pay a one-time flat fee - that's where the phrase "flat fee" MLS is derived. The entry only component of the name is derived from the fact that the licensed broker is simply entering the property into the MLS, nothing more nothing less. It's then the property owner's responsibility to work through the actions to sell the property, doing things like setting up showings and negotiating. For those responsibilities that a seller takes on, the Massachusetts FSBO property owner avoids paying the real estate agent commission that a broker would normally charge for a standard full commission listing. At the end of the day, a successful flat fee MLS entry only listing could mean that the property owner saves thousands of dollars in real estate agent commission by selling without a commission based Realtor.

Are FSBOs in Massachusetts successful, and are flat fee MLS entry only listings being used more?

What we saw in 2013 is that Massachusetts FSBOs saved an average of $10,874 when using flat fee MLS. Not too shabby, saving on average more than $10,000 in real estate agent commission by selling FSBO is hard for property owners to pass up. With the strengthening of the housing market in Boston and across Massachusetts in general, homes are selling faster and close to, or above, asking price. What our MLS research shows is that flat fee MLS listings are oftentimes selling faster than homes being listed for sale or rent by traditional full commission real estate agents, and in many cases, for higher price per square foot values. While the majority of property is still listed by a traditional real estate agent charging a full commission, what we can say is that flat fee MLS entry only listings hit record levels in 2013, so more property owners are learning about the option and willing to try listing their home on the MLS without a Realtor that only works off commission.

When a FSBO uses your platform at Entry Only New England to list their property for sale or rent on the MLS, do they have "control" over their listing?

Absolutely. The FSBO has complete control over their flat fee MLS listing. The FSBO sets their own listing price, describes their property, uploads their own digital photos, and even selects what compensation to provide a buyer's agent if there is one in the transaction. The listing process is entirely online at Entry Only New England, it's the first all digital flat fee MLS listing service in Massachusetts, so there are absolutely no forms to print, mail, or fax. Most of our clients finish the listing process in approximately 20 minutes. Once a listing is in the MLS, the property owner has the ability to manage their listing online with full control including open houses - we allow an unlimited number of MLS listing update requests throughout the life of a flat fee MLS listing. In the MLS, the FSBO's name and contact information will be present so that real estate agents who want to setup showings for the property can contact the FSBO directly.

When using a flat fee MLS entry only listing, can the property owner use a "For Sale By Owner" (FSBO) yard sign?

The short answer is no, but, if a property owner wants to use a for sale sign in their yard, we can sell them one with the Stuart St James name on it. The longer answer is that the official MLS system of Massachusetts, called MLS Property Information Network, Inc., states in Article IV of their rules and regulations that only the "For Sale" signs of the Listing Broker may be placed on a Listed Property.

Should a FSBO hire a real estate attorney in Massachusetts when using a flat fee MLS approach?

We highly recommend it. While theoretically a FSBO does not have to leverage a real estate attorney to sell their home, there are a lot of great reasons to bring a real estate attorney on board and have them come alongside you in a transaction. The buyer is going to have a real estate attorney, and if the seller instead was listing with a traditional real estate agent charging a full commission, the real estate agent would take it as a given that the seller would have a real estate attorney (as the real estate agent is not a lawyer and will not prepare required legal documents like the Purchase & Sale Agreement). Real estate attorneys typically work off of a flat fee model as well, and their fees are oftentimes quite reasonable given the amount of due diligence they perform on the front end of the transaction, and then seeing the property through closure.

There are probably a lot of companies offering flat fee MLS service in Massachusetts, what do FSBOs need to consider when making a buying decision?

I recommend taking into consideration a few different subtle nuances when selecting a Massachusetts flat fee MLS entry only listing service. Those items include:

- Simple online listing process - Is the listing process straightforward, simple, and easy to follow? Can you list your property entirely online quickly. or do you need to print and sign forms, send emails, or faxes?

- Maximize MLS photos - Can you submit the maximum number of photos that the MLS system will accept, which is 30, at no additional cost, or are there extra charges the more photos you submit?

- Unlimited property updates - Once your listing is in the MLS, will you be able to update it easily, including open houses, at no additional charge?

- Reliable communication - Invariably, buyers as well as some real estate agents will contact the brokerage rather than the FSBO directly to see a home, are there systems in place to forward communication to the FSBO in a timely and accurate manner?

- Syndication to popular real estate websites - FSBOs will want to ensure their property listing will be syndicated to the most popular real estate websites with the highest traffic, including Zillow, Trulia,, Yahoo! Homes, and

- Local Massachusetts presence - Consider the value in listing with a Massachusetts flat fee MLS service versus a national outfit given that the national outfit is more than likely going to farm your listing out to someone else, putting a middleman in the mix, which could very well mean reduced control over, and less timely, property updates.

What is the best way for people to learn more and take the next step?

Please visit the Entry Only New England website, just Google "Entry Only New England" and you'll find us. We have a super "how flat fee MLS entry only listings work" article with picture diagrams, and have created a "How to FSBO Massachusetts" guide to help for sale by owner sellers successfully list and sell without a Realtor, saving thousands in real estate agent commissions.

- Self Service -

Earn 2% by doing it yourself!

Watch a demo of how it works!