When real estate agents are asked to provide certain data about the local real estate market they do so primarily by accessing the local Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. Each metropolitan area has its own MLS and some can serve a small community of say 500 or so agents or serve tens of start your own searchthousands. In order to have access to the MLS, not only is a real estate license required but also membership in the local real estate association.

The MLS is the central database for all residential properties listed, sold and rented in the area and is the resource agents use when preparing a comparative market analysis or giving an investor a price range that a potential investment might sell for.

That’s some rather valuable information to have and a precious resource for real estate investors. For instance, are you thinking of building a new single family rental property but not sure what the market rent might be? You have to cash flow, right? What if you bought and financed a newly constructed property only to find out your mortgage payments, taxes and insurance are higher than what you could collect in rent? Wouldn’t that be valuable information?

Of course it would. You can contact a real estate agent to provide you with that data or you can simply decide to do it yourself. While you can’t access the MLS without a real estate license and membership you can log onto most any real estate website in your area that lists homes for sale. Real estate websites pull data directly from the MLS and it can appear the homes listed are actually listings presented by the real estate agent’s website when in reality it’s nothing more than a conduit.

You can log onto one of these sites then search for rental properties in an area you’re thinking of investing in without having to contact an agent. Type in the zip code, price range and click “rental property” and the list will come up. The listings will show what the home is being rented for. It’s not the final piece of the puzzle, you will still want the assistance of a real estate agent, but it’s the place to start.