11 minute read

As a real estate business, your website is your most important digital asset.

Plain and simple.

Outside of everything you may do on social media or email, and so on — your website serves as that final destination. It’s the culmination of all your efforts, sealing the deal with potential clients to choose you over all other competitors they may have come across.

And yet, you’d be surprised at how many real estate agencies and individual agents approach us on a regular basis with outdated or, worse, no website to begin with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We understand exactly why digital marketing in relation to a real estate business can fall to the wayside. After all, we’ve built an entire business around solutions for just that.

You’re busy listing and selling (or managing) property. Marketing and website optimisation is one of the easiest tasks to neglect. But it’s also one, that when given the appropriate amount of attention and done well, can serve as another salesperson that is switched on 24/7 and will drive new business for you while you sleep.

At the start of any new client project, we’ll host a website development kick-off meeting. This allows our client and their team to put all website layout, functionality and design questions and concerns out on the table before diving into the real nitty gritty around deliverables. It helps us assess the needs, wants and marketing challenges within the business, as well as define the scope and give direction when it comes to setting realistic expectations.

Before diving into a website redesign or building a new one from scratch, let these tips below serve as your guide to getting a real estate website that delivers real outcomes for your business – not just ‘another real estate website’ or a prettier version of your old one.

We feel our website is out of date. What do you think?

This is one of the most common website design questions and is usually founded on some pretty solid reasoning. The main point is that, if your cousin’s best friend (who was studying web development at the time) or the local web guy gave you a good deal to build out your website a few years ago, it’s probably time for a refresh.

Other signs that your website might be outdated include:

  • It still incorporates elements built using Flash or Java (that’s so 1997!)
  • Your website isn’t mobile-friendly.
  • Your website isn’t secure (http:// vs. https://).
  • There are no clear or prominent calls to action.
  • The imagery is poor quality (i.e. dated, stretched, pixelated, or bad stock photography).
  • Sounds automatically play upon a visitor landing on your site.
  • Menu items are laid out in a busy sidebar format.
  • It includes image-based text (i.e. images that have text embedded within them instead of text on the actual page – bad for SEO).
  • Rather than providing visitors with a contact form or ‘tap to call’ feature, you link to an email address that opens a new email message pop-up window or phone numbers don’t automatically call when tapping via mobile.
  • Your social media icons and widgets are far too prominent on your website.
  • It takes forever to load.
  • Your website is a mini version of realestate.com.au (i.e. your website is all about listings).

Our website is slow.

Forty per cent (40%) of consumers abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.

A slow website is one of the biggest drivers towards a real estate website redesign. This is understandably so, considering how much of an impact loading time can have on your bottom line.

When people are visiting your website on a desktop device (or more likely mobile), they want to be able to access information instantly. Technology has conditioned us as a society to side step wait times at all costs, offering alternative avenues at every turn for faster, more reliable service.

Luckily, there are plenty of things that can be done when developing a new website to ensure that speed is a primary focus. For example, you can optimise imagery for the web (i.e. reducing the file size of your image without losing image quality – here’s a good tool for that). Or, build your website using a content management system (CMS) that offers caching solutions so that a browser isn’t forced to generate your web pages from scratch with every new visit.

It’s also critical to ask your real estate website developers where and how your website is hosted. In many cases, real estate websites are hosted on a ‘shared server’. This means tens, maybe hundreds, of other websites are using the resources on the same server as your website.

If one of these other websites puts a strain on those resources, your website suffers. Also, if your server is located overseas, your visitors in Australia will experience a time delay while their internet browser fetches your website from across the globe. Furthermore, if your website is hosted overseas, the ability to get support during Australian business hours is next to impossible if something goes wrong and you need help.

At Stepps, all of our client websites are hosted on a dedicated server located in Sydney with Amazon Web Services (AWS). When a new website is added, our servers automatically allocate the additional resources that are required and if AWS was to experience a power outage, our websites remain live – as each website is mirrored across Amazon’s network of data centres.

We feel our website is ‘tired’.

Functionality aside, clients will often call out the overall appearance of their website as an issue. In comparison to other fresh and modernised versions of real estate websites they may come across, it seems like theirs is lacking.

There are a number of ways to reboot that ‘tired’ look when it comes to designing a new website. The creative itself is a major component. Dedicating time to curating quality photography and video, for example, goes a long way. Additionally, being mindful of navigation from one page to the next can be crucial not just for appearance, but usability as well.

How long will it take to build our website?

The answer to this will inevitably vary from client to client, depending on a project’s complexity. However, in most cases, making ‘band-aid’ fixes to an existing website can be far more costly than starting a new website from scratch. Each change or tweak to an existing website almost always brings up another ‘thing’ you want to change. And another… And another… you get my point.

Regardless of what the actual website design time frame may be, we can say with certainty (based on experience) that it’s probably going to take longer than you think.

For a full custom website – which is our area of speciality – as a general estimate, set your expectations for at least 12 to 16 weeks from kick off to launch. However, forlarge multi-office projects, these can take 6 months or longer.

Can we do this super amazing feature that we saw on another website [*halfway through development*]?

Sure thing, but it’s gonna cost you.

It’s easy to think new elements and design features are easy to plug in and play but when it comes to writing the code to make that ‘thing’, it’s a very different story.

A super amazing feature you saw somewhere else, after all, may be completely out of left field for the decided upon layout at kick off. And if this is the case, not only will its inclusion require more development time, but additional time for design and wireframing will also be necessary.

This is why it’s important to do as much research as you can at the start and come to your project kick-off with a ‘wish list’ for what you’d like to see included in the final product.

Before touching any code, our design team spend a number of weeks ‘architecting’ a website blueprint (known as wireframes). We do not move into development until our client is 100% happy with our recommendations. This ensures that once we start building their site, there are no speed bumps or unexpected costs as a result of changes to the website functionality.

How much does a website cost?

There are three budget levels for real estate websites — both agent and office — that I often point to. These include Template, Hybrid, and Custom projects. And at each level, you can expect to see a bump in pricing.

On the simpler side, you can see website costs range from $500 to $2,000+. The more customised your website, the greater the costs become, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000+.

Watch our video below which outlines these 3 options in more detail:

Can you just take this other website and copy it for our business?

This is a no-go for us.

Here at Stepps, we’re not just in the business of developing quality websites, but helping to build powerful brands. If you’re looking to simply copy another real estate agency’s website, you’re missing the point of marketing yourself online in the first place. This behaviour happens in real estate more than we like to admit and in an industry already struggling with differentiation, it does nothing to help you stand out in the pack.

Sure, take inspiration from other businesses, and maybe even certain features of their website, but don’t simply rip it off altogether.

Your website needs to be structured and designed in a way that serves your business. And every business is different.

We don’t want to invest in a full website rebuild. Can you just make tweaks to our current website?

Again, this is going to be a no on our end.

Almost always, you’re going to find that it ends up costing you much more money, in the long run. This is especially true if the core code of your website is already outdated.

One little tweak will turn into another, and another, and another, as it conflicts with something else that’s already been built into the system. After a while, you’ll find yourself playing a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ as you try to keep issues at bay when you could’ve just squashed them from the start with a full rebuild.

Our current developer takes forever to make changes, and when they do, they’re expensive.

In relation to your website, you should always have the power to make changes yourself – when you want. And this is the beauty of most user-friendly content management systems nowadays.

Some website developers have spent years building their own proprietary website platforms which is all well and good. But only they can support it because only they know how. If you ever wanted to part ways with that company (or worse, they go out of business) it’s unlikely that another website company is going to want to help you. Furthermore, we live in a time where technology is moving so fast and your CRM, data provider and website can all work together to provide a rich experience for your clients and prospects. But without constant updates by a team of specialist developers, your website can fall behind very quickly and it be timely (and expensive) if your website team need to play catch up.

We have built a custom real estate website framework on top of WordPress – the most common open source content management system (CMS) on the web today which also powers some of the biggest companies on the planet. Open source platforms allow you to plug (just about) anything into them – data from your CRM, CoreLogic, Pricefinder or Domain for example.

Some website development companies will tell you to stay away from WordPress but don’t be swayed too quickly. It’s usually because they have their own software to sell, or someone they know had a bad experience with their WordPress website once – which is usually because they didn’t keep up to date with software updates and security patches.

When we work with clients, part of the website development process also involves training our clients on how to make regular changes to their website themselves. These assets are your garden and should be tended to regularly in order to avoid becoming outdated.

To do that efficiently, you need the right tools in place to bring those minor, everyday tasks in-house, rather than having to rely on your dime and outside help to get the job done. WordPress, if configured correctly for a real estate business, just happens to be one of the easiest platforms to manage your website.

Final Thoughts: A Roundup of Our Clients’ Most Common Website Design Questions & Pain Points

Developing a real estate website is all about expectations. And, as with any business, time is money. Realise that upfront investments made for the sake of quality are ultimately going to save you down the road, and provide you with more time to build out areas of your business that will make an even greater impact on overall growth.

What about your website keeps you up at night? Ask us your website design questions and tell us those concerns in the comments below. Or check out our process for building real estate websites for some of Australia’s most interesting brands.

Author: Josh Cobb

Phone Number: 0427 184 183

Email Address: josh@stepps.com.au

Stepps was founded by Josh Cobb in 2014. Josh has advised more than 100 brands since starting the company and hundreds of agents who have attended his workshops. He is the host of the popular Real Estate Pros podcast, oversees digital strategy for top performing real estate agents and teams, and travels the globe with several international speaking engagements each year.

Recently, Josh was named as a finalist in the 2017 REB Awards for Industry Thought Leader of The Year and the winner of  Brisbane Young Entrepreneur of The Year 2017 – Marketing, PR & Events.

In addition to web development and digital strategy consulting, the company also runs Stepps Media, a fast-growing education company that produces an iTunes top-ranked podcasttraining events, email and webinars.