The do-it-yourself real estate Web site

Realtor Notebook

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This week I got rid of my Realtor Web site. I have had the site for seven years. It gets some traffic but the origin of the traffic and business is my blog. I have been using the Web site as a kind of business card and it had some forms in it that potential clients could fill out, and they did.

It also had a page for my listings, and an Internet Data Exchange (IDX, an online data-sharing agreement among brokers) solution that I pay for separately.

Even though it didn’t do much for my business, I kept the site for years longer than I needed it because Realtors are supposed to have a Web site and I didn’t take the time to change it. I paid $600 dollars a year for hosting — $420 a year seems to be the going rate for template site-hosting. Self-hosting one Web site costs about $60 a year. Once the initial setup is done it doesn’t generate any more work than maintaining and updating a template site.

Realtor Web sites are almost universally unappealing and they all have a similar look. I have tried three different popular template sites. What I found is that no matter how much the template is modified, the "ugly" cannot be removed. I also found that it took longer to try to make something out of a template site than it does to build a new site.

It seems that some real estate Web site designers have no imagination. The graphics on the sites include a set of house keys, a sold or for-sale sign, a happy couple with a small child, or just a couple.

The top and bottom of the Web site are filled with large logos. NAR has rules about marketing and the Web sites need to have logos to be compliant, but they don’t need to be so huge that they overwhelm the viewer — one logo will do.

Vendors tell us that we need a Web site and that it is too much work to build our own and that their sites are designed for search-engine optimization and lead-capture. One day after I launched my new site, a potential client filled out the form for a free comparative market analysis. That constitutes my first "captured" lead, from my homemade, self-hosted site.

When I mentioned to some of my friends that I planned on canceling my Web site, they started telling me some of the same things that I have heard from vendors for years. The ideas have become part of the real estate cyber-culture. Technology has changed but our ideas about Web sites have not. …CONTINUED

Most brokers offer free Web sites to their agents. Those sites are alright to use but they do not create the kind of Web presence that agents need. In some cases they are just pages of the company’s main Web site, and in other cases they are freestanding. I have not seen any that stand out. They all look pretty much the same, and agents can’t take the sites with them if they decide to leave the company.

We work in a competitive industry where we need to distinguish ourselves from our peers, yet our Web sites all look pretty much the same and have the same features. I added a unique feature to my new site: the option to hear a duck quack. Maybe someone will remember my site because of it.

Real estate broker Web sites are not very pretty either. The rows of agent photos with the bio by them have the same design as the local newspaper’s obituary page. How does a consumer pick an agent when they see all of the faces? I suspect that they pick the most attractive looking face. I understand how the site helps the brokerage, but what does it do for the agent, especially the agent who doesn’t look like a fashion model.

All I really need is a blog. Blogs can have separate pages with the same content and features that a Web site has. They are very inexpensive and easy to create. The only reason I decided to create a Web site is because I can.

With all of the emphasis on technology in the real estate industry, why hasn’t anyone come up with a decent-looking, functional Web site for Realtors? Why did I have to build my own?

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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