The history of listing search: 40 years of NWMLS powering the region’s real estate industry

by Tara Marino

As with other industries, technological innovations have had a significant impact on operations in real estate and home searching, transitioning from hard-copy listing input sheets all the way through to modernized and to-the-minute mobile phone apps. During the celebration of Northwest Multiple Listing Service’s 40th anniversary in 2024, we are reflecting on the methods of how brokers advertised and searched for listings for their clients over the last four decades.

Pre-1980s through 1989

Paper copies of listings were an industry standard for real estate brokers in the 1970s. Before a database was available, MLS staff gathered paper copies of listing input sheets from member firms. The listings would be transcribed onto listing cards, which were stored at the MLS office and were copied to be shared back with member firms. In the early 1980s, we saw the creation of the first MLS database, allowing the MLS to provide printed listing books to member firms each week.

At this time, only MLS staff could input and search for listings. MLS staff would collect new listings and changes daily, and the information was manually input into large terminals in the MLS data room. This data was transmitted to a Seattle-based company named International Graphics and was compiled and printed on large presses to create “the book.”

Member offices would subscribe to receive printed books with active listings in six geographic areas. MLS route drivers would pick up the books from International Graphics each week and deliver them in-person to member firms. Because these books were only printed once per week, a supplemental packet of information called “The Daily Bulletin” was printed at Puget Sound Multiple Listing Association (PSMLA), later renamed the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS), and delivered to member offices each night by MLS route drivers. This ensured that all member firms were aware of new listings, price changes, open house information and important messages from the MLS.

An innovative computer terminal device, the Silent-700 from Texas Instruments, was adopted by the industry in the late 1980s. This technology allowed brokers to print listing information themselves for the first time by “plugging” their landline telephone receiver into the Silent 700 computer with dial-up. Listing information was then transmitted over the phone and printed onto thermal paper via a modem.


The ’90s saw huge strides in personal computing technology, and corresponding software programs were developed to view listing information. In 1992, an innovative mapping software program, Latitude, was developed by Northwest Geografx of Kirkland. Latitude was specifically designed to communicate with the MLS computers and listing database, showing homes on a colored map display with listed houses identified as stars on the map. A broker could point to a listing’s star and pull up a window of information about the house.

Moore Data Business Systems purchased International Graphics (the company that compiled the listing data for the printed MLS books) and introduced RealTrieve MLS, another software program that allowed brokers to search through MLS listings on computers. Later, this system was updated to SuperTrieve MLS. Interestingly, Moore Data Business Systems eventually became CoreLogic, the company that provides NWMLS with Matrix and Realist today.

To perform searches in RealTrieve MLS and SuperTrieve MLS, brokers needed to type in specific field codes and values. A laminated card was created and distributed to members with all the field codes for easy reference. For example, to search for a three-plus bedroom, 1.75-plus bathroom home in North Kirkland with a listing price of $100,000-$300,000, brokers would need to key in the following:





With the advent of the public internet, Surveyor was introduced in the mid-’90s, giving brokers access from any location with a phone line using any modem-equipped laptop or computer with internet access. PSMLA, which officially became NWMLS in 1996, was one of the first MLSs to have listings on the internet.

In conjunction with its name change, NWMLS subsequently launched NWRealEstate.com in 1996, one of the first public-facing websites for consumers to access MLS listings. When clicking on the map, a list of properties came up that showed all the public-facing listing information, including one photo of the home.

Another platform in use in the mid- to late-1990s, Compass gave brokers the ability to perform a map search for specific locations using area designation maps books such as the Thomas Guide. Brokers could enter the Map Page and Grids into their search, such as (Map=506 GRD=A1-A5) or, when a neighborhood straddled two pages, brokers could use operators to link them, such as (Map=506 AND GRD=F1-F5) OR (Map=506 AND GRD=A1-A5).


The Locator platform was introduced and used in conjunction with Compass for several years while brokers learned how to use all its advanced features. Searching became much easier with drop-down menus and checkboxes, allowing brokers to enter their search criteria without the need for field codes. Brokers were able to save searches, create custom searches and search marketing remarks. Eventual upgrades to Locator included a convenient online interactive map search, which gave brokers the ability to interact directly with the map rather than having to enter specific map book parameters. There was also access to an integrated tax database, integrated parcel mapping, hot sheets prospecting, open house information, statistics and additional reports.

2010-2024: The advent and adaptations of Matrix

Immediate past president and CEO Tom Hurdelbrink was responsible for driving many of the technological innovations we use today within our systems. Our primary system, Matrix, was introduced in 2010, which processed searches with lightning-fast results. New auto-email features allowed brokers to set up a search for clients with the option to review listings before sending or have the results delivered directly to their inbox. The map search became even more intuitive with the option to draw a custom search outline on the interactive map to find all the listings in a specific location.

NWMLS devised its first mobile app, HomeSpotter, in 2012, allowing brokers to quickly navigate Matrix using an iPad, iPhone or Android device. The app was fully integrated with Matrix and gave brokers access to saved searches, contacts and carts with the ability to use their mobile device’s GPS to search for listings while on the go. Brokers could share a branded version of the app with clients, allowing them to search for properties and message their broker directly through the app.

An upgraded version of Matrix was launched called “Matrix 360,” which integrated listing data with the public records and tax data from Realist to provide a 360-degree view of properties. Brokers had access to unlisted properties through the Public Records search option and could use the “360 Property View” display to see listing data, tax information, history and more. Further upgrades in 2019 allowed brokers to display up to 40 photos per listing. OneHome, a brand-new client portal that integrated with the Matrix system, was introduced in 2021. Using the latest technology to offer a better browsing experience, OneHome offered valuable insights about client activities, and brokers could provide clients with an instant text/SMS notification when they received new or updated listings in OneHome.

In a continued effort to directly serve consumers, NWMLS launched a new public-facing listing search in 2023 to replace NWRealEstate.com, as well as a corresponding mobile app. Today, consumers can now search for all active NWMLS listings by clicking on the “Search Listings” button on the NWMLS.com home page. In addition, the NWMLS mobile app is fully integrated with Matrix and OneHome and offers powerful search tools, listing and showing details, property history and comparables. Advanced features include hotsheets, market statistics, Realist tax data and property/parcel lines. The consumer version of the app offers the same search features and allows brokers to communicate with their clients and track their activities, all from the convenience of a mobile device.

Looking into the future

Over the last four decades, NWMLS has been committed to embracing new technology that makes searching for homes faster and easier for our members. We are continuously reviewing existing products and tracking new and advanced technology, including artificial intelligence, or AI, to ensure our membership has access to an array of products, services and support to help them deliver an exceptional experience to their clients.

Tara Marino is the director of communication and training at Northwest MLS.

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