Montana’s largest city by population, Billings is a major center of commerce, finance, medicine, education and culture in the state. Billings is also the first place in the State of Montana that flat fee MLS listing programs were successfully introduced to homeowners. Just as being situated on the Yellowstone River made Billings a commercial center, the right mix of growth, inflow of people from other areas, and overall real estate appreciation has made Billings a leading place for sellers to look for alternatives to the steep listing commissions existing brokers charged. While these programs are now available in other areas, the initial success homeowners in the Billings area have had with them is a big factor in their overall popularity and growth of flat fee MLS and other discount programs in the state.
Understanding these programs is important for any Montana home seller. Many are familiar with the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) database; it lists homes for sale in and around Billings, as well as homes under contract and comparable sales information. Besides the actual City of Billings, the database includes other nearby cities such as Laurel, Park City, Roundup, Nye, Lockwood, Huntley, Ballantine, Absarokee and others. People are familiar with the MLS because they either used it directly by working with a Realtor® in the purchase of their home, they used it indirectly by searching one of thousands of websites that receives MLS data, or they previously listed with an agent that placed their home on the MLS in order to attract buyers and other Realtors®. The idea with a flat fee MLS program is to attract the same buyers and Realtors® without paying a listing commission. Instead of paying this commission, the seller pays a small, upfront flat fee to the broker, thus the name “flat fee MLS.” It is important to note that the seller can continue to offer a selling commission to a Realtor® who brings a buyer; however, this is a fraction of the total commission. It is also important to note that if a buyer finds the property (through the Internet, the yard sign or some other means) and ultimately purchases the home without using an agent, then the seller could truly avoid paying any commissions whatsoever at closing.
Billings, “The Magic City,” continues to be one of the faster-growing cities of its size anywhere in the United States. Many people will continue to seek out quality properties, regardless of temporary downturns in the marketplace. People will, in general, move more frequently than past generations due to job transfers, more mobility, longer lifespan and many other factors. As such, the typical Billings homeowner may want to consider alternatives to the “business as usual” approach when it comes to the marketing and sale of their home. There is no doubt that if these flat fee MLS programs continue to be successful in Billings, the word will spread to other parts of the regional 500 mile radius that Billings anchors, including the rest of Montana, Wyoming, portions of Idaho, the Dakotas, and south central Canada.