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What is the difference between an exclusive listing and an MLS listing?

Lindsay Smith

By Lindsay Smith/Columnist

I have driven by a home on my way to work over the past month or so with an “exclusive listing” sign mounted on the top of the sign. I thought about it often as it has not sold, causing me to ponder, as my son would say, “what the heck?”

Before we dig into the question of why a seller would choose to list a home exclusively, let’s look at the history of exclusive listings and the pros and cons of using this form of marketing.

When I first started my career, in 1986, we had a Multiple Listing System (MLS) that first appeared as “tear sheets” or new listings delivered weekly that you would assemble daily. Then a book became our tool that showed all of the available homes for sale, along with their details. During this period, exclusive listings were an option some sellers would opt to use, choosing not to have their home promoted on the MLS system. With the MLS system and a new way of marketing, agents would charge a premium to a seller to market their property to a wider group of agents and their clients. Within a few years, the Oshawa Real Estate Board (which is now called the Durham Region Association of Realtors) developed an online MLS system that greatly helped to market sellers’ homes. In time, the local real estate board took down their MLS system and, like many communities in the GTA, we started to access MLS through the Toronto Real Estate Board.

Back in the early days, an agent would take an exclusive listing and market the property locally and to the agents inside their brokerage. It was rare during this time to have agents, working primarily in Toronto, drive to Oshawa and show property to their clients. Pre-Internet, marketing was done mostly by open houses, newspaper advertising, breakfast meetings where agents would pitch their listings, and sharing of information inside brokerages.

Jump to 2020 where many agents choose to drive out of the area that their offices are located in and show property throughout the GTA. We are living in a time where marketing has become so wide in scope that if a seller chooses to opt not to have their home on MLS they miss many opportunities. MLS listings also appear on which currently is one of the most widely used platforms for buyers in their search for homes. When a seller chooses to list their home as an MLS listing, they are entered into the system agents use to find properties for their clients, however much more happens with the data to help market the property.

The property, once listed on the MLS system, is added, as mentioned above, to allowing buyers to search at their convenience. Along with this, the property also becomes searchable on individual realtor websites. Many agents have a tool called IDX on their websites allowing buyers to search MLS listings directly on their pages.

All of this begins with the property being listed on MLS.

So, back to the home with the exclusive sign sitting waiting for a buyer to appear. Why would a seller choose to list their home for sale exclusively? I can only think of a few reasons:

  • One being, the seller may feel if their agent found the buyer there may be some financial considerations.
  • The home is at a luxury price point that the seller wants to restrict the amount of buyers touring.
  • The home has furnishings, art and personal belongings of high value, and the seller is concerned with people coming through their home.

My experience has proven the more exposure the home has to the greater marketplace causes more buyers to become interested in the home, hence, the higher the end selling price. I sold a home this past week in a lower price range in Oshawa. In total, there were over 200 showings of the property and many of the clients came from the Toronto area. In fact, agents came from as far away as Mississauga and Bobcaygeon to look at the home. Without MLS, none of the Toronto buyers would know the home was even on the market.

So the question, “why would someone choose to list exclusive and not on the MLS system?” I honestly have no good answer. However, I see exclusive listings out in our area. My advice if you are a buyer and see an exclusive sign, have your agent call to gather info and know if you are interested in the home, you may be one of the few that know it is for sale. This may work out for you, knowing about a home that few others know about.

If you have any questions about the differences between exclusive or MLS listings, or if you can see a real estate emergency on the horizon, I can be reached at

Lindsay Smith

Keller Williams Energy Brokerage