A few years ago, real estate professionals could test the waters or limit exposure for a buyer by marketing a house as a “pocket” listing to a select group of peers before the listing officially hit the market on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). 

In 2016 what had been an ad hoc practice — which some agents utilized and some did not — was codified when the Midwest Real Estate Data, also known as MRED, created a private listing network, or PLN, that was accessible to all Chicago area agents via their paid access to the MLS. 

The PLN caught fire in 2019 when the National Association of Realtors banned the use of pocket listings, pushing agents to use the PLN for any property they wanted to show or sell before it officially was listed on the MLS.

MRED defines the PLN as a database separate from the standard listing network, and says it allows brokers to share information with other brokers before exposing it to the public. 

On its website, the agency defines it this way: “The PLN provides MRED customers a secure network in which to enter their ‘coming soon’ listings with an opportunity to premarket them to peers in the spirit of cooperation and compensation.”

Catherine Simon-Vobornik

Catherine Simon-Vobornik, 2021-22 president of the Oak Park Area Association of Realtors and a broker with Baird and Warner, says that prior to the 2019 rule, pocket listings could be tightly controlled by real estate agents or brokerages. 

Some would only share pocket listings internally with their own brokerage’s agents, leaving other local agents in the dark and allowing properties to sell without being available to a broader audience. When inventory was low, this kept a lot of agents from getting what she calls a “fighting chance.”

Prior to the PLN, she says agents relied on their personal networks. 

“We all know each other and talk, so it was more word of mouth,” Simon-Vobornik said. “We might ask, ‘Do you have anything in the $600,000 range coming on the market?’”

Now, the PLN is part of the search criteria on the MLS, so all agents have access to it.

Beyond leveling the playing field and giving all professional real estate agent access to private listings, Simon-Vobornik says a major advantage to using the PLN is that agents can list a home without accumulating market time. 

In a world where appearance is everything, she says that a house that has been on the market a long time can be a red flag to buyers who often mistakenly assume that there is something wrong with a house that’s been on the market too long. Average market time in the U.S. right now is 18 days, so every day counts.

Another advantage for seller, she says, is that listing first on the PLN can keep your home’s photos off the internet, and means you have control over who sees your house. During the pandemic, Simon-Vobornik says many sellers were concerned about having too many people in their houses with open houses or multiple showings per day. 

“You can save people coming in your house all of the time,” Simon-Vobornik said. “You might just have one family visit versus having an open house.”

The PLN also allows sellers a bit more time to get their house ready for market. Simon-Vobornik says some agents will place a house on the PLN while waiting for staging or photos. She says it might take more time now to get on a painter or carpenter’s schedule to make small repairs, but a house can go on the PLN while waiting to get market-ready.

The PLN can also be a good way to test the market and see if there are any issues with a home before it’s officially listed and collecting market time. Simon-Vobornik points out that people might notice an issue the seller didn’t know about, which will give the seller time to fix it. 

“It can be an opportunity to work out the kinks before it goes live,” Simon-Vobornik said.

The current state of the local market makes the PLN more attractive according to Simon-Vobornik, who notes that the lack of inventory for would-be buyers is a real issue. 

“It’s harder to find listings these days,” she said. “This year, I’ve got a lot more buyers. There are four to five buyers out there for every house that’s listed.”

The shortage is nationwide. Simon-Vobornik cites a recent survey which shows that there were 12 million new families created last year, but only 8 million new homes. 

“There’s a gap there,” she said, adding that she thinks the shortfall of homes could last another three years.

While the PLN can be a boon to a buyer who wants to see a house early and a plus for a seller who wants to sell their house with minimal showings and less internet exposure, Simon-Vobornik says that it still pays to be realistic with expectations. 

“A buyer may still be up against multiple offers, but maybe not as many,” she said.

For sellers, it can mean fewer eyes on your house as not all agents look at the PLN on a regular basis, and the general public and people working without an agent do not have access to the PLN.

“The seller is entering the PLN with eyes wide open,” Simon-Vobornik said. “They’ll get the eyes that are smart enough on it.” 

She also adds that regardless of whether the house is listed first on the PLN or the MLS, pricing is important. 

“A seller really can’t sell their house for way, way more than it’s worth,” Simon-Vobornik said. “You have to price it correctly. You still need that appraisal to come in, or it causes issues.”

In the current market conditions, Simon-Vobornik says that both sellers and real estate agents can benefit from access to the PLN. 

“It’s another selling tool in your bag to bring to your sellers,” she said.

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