How to talk about IDX

Best solution will depend on platform, price and MLS

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Whenever agents and brokers gather to talk about tech stuff, the discussion often turns to Internet data exchange (IDX) listings solutions for websites.

"What’s the best IDX?" people ask. Or "What IDX should I use?"

The result is usually a hodgepodge of craziness. Often the original asker of the question and anyone listening in end up being more confused than they were to begin with.

Let’s fix that. In just a few minutes you’ll be a badass at figuring out what IDX solution to go with, and how to talk about IDX issues with other agents, brokers and vendors.

Location, location, location

First, let everyone know your specific multiple listing service. I know this sounds crazy, but there are well over 500 different MLS organizations in the U.S.

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Even crazier: They all have different rules and standards both for what can be displayed, and how the data gets shoveled from the MLS to your website.

The result of this situation is that not many IDX vendors cover every single market. If you ask "What IDX should I use?" without stating what market you’re in, you may get answers that you can’t use because the vendors don’t work in your area.

So let everyone know which MLS — or MLSs — you belong to, and you’ll get the most relevant answers. Keep it a secret and you’ll get a giant list of potential vendors to sift through, some of which won’t be relevant for your market.

Make it easy on yourself and let people know your MLS.

What does "affordable" mean?

If you have a budget, go ahead and state it. I know this sounds crazy, too, especially to all the expert negotiators. But IDX today is, honestly, kind of a commodity service. Most vendors aren’t going to give you one rate and the next person a different rate because you posted a question in an online group. If you’re really anxious, give a range.

What you consider to be "affordable" might not be affordable to anyone else, and vice versa. Also, remember that the different display requirements and technology requirements of each MLS will have an impact on how challenging it is for a vendor to make an IDX solution for each market.

Not to mention the access fees may be different as well. So being clear about your budget upfront is really the only way to get a reasonable response.

If what you really want to know is, "What is the going rate for IDX websites?" then go ahead and ask that question. That will start to give you a ballpark anyway.

If people know what your range is then you’ll get responses that are better for your specific situation. Don’t worry, people won’t laugh and snicker and point at you behind your back. And if they do: Screw ‘em, they’re bozos.

Platform

Let people know what platform your website uses. For example, if you already have a WordPress site and you’re not going to redesign or rebuild it, let everyone know that. If you’re open to redesign or rebuild, then let people know that as well.

Some IDX solutions require you to be on the vendor’s hosted platform. Some IDX solutions are plug-ins for WordPress. Some are plug-ins or components for other software.

If people know what’s going on in terms of platform, then they can help you find the right fit.

One more quick thing to do

Another good practice when considering choosing an IDX vendor is to simply look at the websites of your competitors in your MLS. The IDX vendor is often listed on the website somewhere.

Make a list of IDX vendors that you see operating in your market. You probably know your competition well enough to know whether their tastes are richer or more humble than yours in terms of price.

With this information you might ask a different question: "Can anyone talk about their experiences with IDX vendors X, Y and Z?"

Wrapping it up

Asking other real estate professionals about what technology to use is a great way to get relevant insight into whether a piece of technology is useful or not.

But asking the right question, with the right context, is the difference between getting good advice and getting a jumbly mess.

If you don’t mention these three things — platform, price and MLS — then you will likely end up with a jumbly mess and not a helpful answer. Which is a shame for everyone.

Those of you who made it to the end of this column will notice that I didn’t recommend a specific vendor.

That is on purpose. Vendors change, new vendors come up, old vendors fade away. But this question gets asked at least twice a week. So keeping it vendor agnostic helps people continue to find whatever the next best thing in IDX will be.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.

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