While you do need an agent to list you on the MLS, you do not need to pay that agent a big commission. You can get a flat fee MLS listing, which is basically paying an upfront fee to an agent to list you on the MLS, where you can offer a commission to buyer agents.
For example, instead of paying a 6% commission to a typical full-service agent to list you on the MLS, you would pay a flat fee agent $100 and then offer 3% commission to buyer agents. The savings are big and this is something the U.S. Department of Justice advocates.
In general, the big things you want to look for in a flat fee MLS listing are:
1. The listing MUST be on the local MLS.
There are dozens of MLSs in California alone. Sellers want to be on the MLS that covers the area where their home is located, so they can offer a commission to LOCAL buyer agents.
2. Cost to list + changes to listing.
Can range from $100-$400 for the exact same listing on the MLS. Watch out for fine print that requires an additional fee at closing. Make sure you are able to make changes to the listing after it has been posted for a nominal fee.
3. Photos on MLS.
Make sure you can upload at least a dozen photos. Some services offer a great price, but it is only for 1 photo - which is not useful for most properties.
4. Length of Listing.
Get at least a six month listing and be sure that there is no charge for cancellation.
5. Fine print.
You should never be required to use any closing service (e.g. escrow) provided by the flat fee service agent. This is a violation of federal law.
Ultimately, we have found that the three most important things when listing a home are 1) price, 2) pro photos, and 3) offering a fair buyer agent commission on the MLS (typically 2.5%). Also, always check the reviews of any flat fee agent you work with.