At Placester, we deal with all kinds of real estate professionals, from part-time agents just starting out in the business to veteran brokers managing multiple offices. While all of these Realtors come from different markets, have different resources, and approach the business from different angles, most ask the same question: “Why are real estate websites so expensive?”
There are a number of factors that contribute to the high cost of building and maintaining a real estate website. Some of these are inevitable costs of doing business. Others stem from inefficiencies in the marketplace. Still, others are just plain unfair to agents and brokers. Want to know why you’re paying too much for your website? Here’s where your money is going.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
— STEVE JOBS
Web design is getting better every day, with developers producing more beautiful, more intuitive sites all the time. But behind all that elegant simplicity is an intricate ecosystem of tools, databases, programming languages and graphics, all working together. It takes a talented and experienced developer to create a website that translates that chaos into the search and browsing experiences you take for granted. Plus, as we’ll see below, real estate websites offer developers their own unique challenges.
Customization and Maintenance
A great real estate website is changing all the time, adding new listings, photos, blog posts, and other content that real estate consumers want. A bad developer will hold your site hostage, so that every time you want to make a change to your website, you have to pay somebody else to do it. Other designers will give you access to a content management system to make your own changes, but choose a platform that’s too technical for the average site owner. Either way, they’re passing costs on to you.
Lack of IDX Competition
While there are thousands of website designers working in the real estate space, there are only a handful of applications for adding real estate data to those websites via IDX. As in any industry with limited competition, fewer players means inflated costs for real estate professionals looking to display listing data on their websites — not to mention, less incentive for IDX providers to innovate.
Most of IDX applications are proprietary or “closed source,” which means third-party developers can’t modify or extend their code. That means users who want additional functionality or features have to wait for the IDX provider’s own engineers to update the product (which, as we’ve established, doesn’t happen often). Meanwhile, website and app developers are doing incredibly innovative things with social media, search, responsive design and other web technologies. The result is that these developers have no choice but to attach their new websites to increasingly outdated IDX technology. That means more development time, more bugs and, of course, more money.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on IDX providers. After all, they face the challenge of building software that conforms to strict rules concerning how real estate agents can use MLS property data on their own websites. While all of the US’s 800-plus MLSs follow standards set by the National Association of Realtors, many also have their own unique policies on top. In order to serve all of them, IDX providers have to create a slightly different version of their software for each MLS — and unfortunately, agents must bear some of that cost.
A website isn’t enough
In the end, many real estate professionals spend the time and money on building a great website, only to be disappointed when it fails to offer a decent return on their investment. But even the best website in the world isn’t enough. To see real results, you need to establish a consistent marketing and advertising machine, one that drives the right people to your website and keeps them engaged enough to take the next step. If you’re not working to deliver that experience, even the most affordable real estate website will seem like a money pit.