The number of businesses that provide the multiple listing services used by real estate agents across the country to post and find listings in local markets is dwindling as rival online offerings make it easier for homebuyers to shop on their own.

There are now around 700 multiple listing services in the country – down from about 800 a couple of years ago, according to industry sources.

Some observers expect that number to eventually shrink to less than 100 due to mergers.

The prospect doesn’t daunt Annie Ives, chief executive of Beverly-Hills based Combined LA-Westside Multiple Listing Service Inc., which operates website TheMLS.com.

Combined LA is jointly owned by the Beverly Hills-Greater Los Angeles, Malibu, and Southwest Los Angeles Realtor associations, which receive a dividend based on the company’s profits. Agents pay $440 a year to access the website, which would put its annual subscription revenue at $6.6 million.

The organization is intent on keeping Combined LA independent, serving its more than 15,000 agent members across Los Angeles County from Malibu to the west, Highland Park to the east, Hollywood Hills to the north, and Inglewood to the south.

“By maintaining local control, we can better assist our members on local matters,” Ives said. “Real estate is local, and business is done differently in different cities. For example, the laws are not the same in Beverly Hills as they are in Newport Beach.”

ITech MLS, a 1,700-member company owned by the Glendale Association of Realtors and Pasadena Foothills Association of Realtors, also has chosen to remain independent.

Agents using Combined LA have access to more than 95,000 active listings, including information from other markets it receives through data-sharing agreements with seven other multiple listing services companies in Southern California. Ives said her members have access to 85 percent of listing information in that region. The company is also spending money to improve its online platform for both homebuyers and agents.

“Because of the massive amount of data that our members have access to through data shares, there is no need for a statewide MLS,” according to Ives, who said her company has received acquisition offers.

Combined LA has signed a data-sharing deal with San Dimas-based competitor California Regional MLS. That company grew its agent membership to 82,000 this year from 20,000 in 2005 after a series of four mergers, according to Chief Executive Art Carter. It is now jointly owned by 35 Realtor associations.

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