Two real estate entities in western Montana have combined their listings in an effort to boost exposure and expand reach, creating the largest multiple listing service in the state.

The merger between the Missoula Organization of Realtors and the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors in Kalispell took effect last month. It enables members to access data across a wider region, creating greater exposure for listings.

“It allows for better cooperation among realtors without artificial corporate boundaries or technological restrictions,” Mike Nugent, president of the Montana Regional MLS, said of the change. “As things become more digital, the need to have these artificial boundaries from town to town have gone away.”

The MLS serves as the database in which real estate members share information on sales, market trends, appraisal values and other industry information.

Because members pay hundreds of dollars in annual dues and fees to access information specific to a single market, the cost of working across market boundaries can quickly add up. Combining the two markets into one MLS will save members money, Nugent said.

“Our hope would be to have a few more markets come on board,” Nugent said. “It doesn't make sense to have agents who work across two boundaries of an area pay to access two separate listings.”

Combined, the two markets now claim more than 1,500 agents, representing the state's largest MLS, Nugent said. The Kalispell district includes Lake and Flathead counties while the Missoula district represents Missoula County.

Nugent said members in the Bitterroot Valley and Ravalli County have yet to join the expanded MLS.

“We're hoping to make them an offer that makes business sense,” Nugent said. “We've got a big chunk of western Montana and there's a lot that crosses over. There are people who look from Polson to Missoula, and we get that in the Bitterroot as well. It just doesn't make sense to have all these separate little MLSs if we can find a way to cooperate and ease the needs of our members who have to pay to access two separate listings.”

Dale Crosby-Newman, president of the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors, said the change will do more than save members fees. He believes the streamlined system will also make it easier for members to interact with clients and other real estate professionals.

“Realtors will be able to use one MLS system with all of the data necessary to best serve their clients,” he said. “They’ll have one point of entry to place listings and to search listings.”