A-to-Z Consumer Guide to Real Estate Website Design in 2023
We often get asked by our members the following questions about the real estate website design:
- “Should I get a custom website design or use already existing template?”
- “What is the difference between a custom design and a template?”
- “What is the cost of a custom design comparing to a template?
… and many other questions that real estate professionals, like yourself, want to get the definitive and clear answers to when they are looking to invest in their website.
So if you are currently on the market for a real estate website, keep reading, because in this in-depth consumer guide I’ve addressed every critical aspect you should be aware of to help you make a more educated decision based on your individual situation!
Understanding Your Available Options
Regardless whether it’s your first real estate website that you are planning to invest in or a fifth one, you should first understand the options available to you.
There are website templates and builders tailored to different types of professionals.
Website providers as well as real estate professionals themselves, often throw around various trendy names and terms such as custom website design, WordPress themes, IDX websites, landing pages, etc.
But do me a favor, don’t pay attention to it. You will only be more confused from trying to figure out what best fits your needs.
Instead, you just need to understand that there are only three main types of real estate websites that you can choose from regardless of all the hype that’s out there:
- Fully custom-designed websites
- Customizable existing templates
- Not customizable existing templates
That’s all you need to know when looking to invest in your new real estate website.
A lot of website providers try to complicate or sugar-coat it in various ways. But it is pretty simple – you have three options to choose from, period.
So, whenever you have your conversation with your next website provider, ask them what type of the listed above three website solutions they offer.
However, before you do that, you yourself need to understand the difference between those three.
Fully Custom-Designed Websites
Fully custom-designed real estate website means exactly what it says – it’s a fully custom-designed website 😊
In other words, fully custom-designed website is a website that’s designed and developed (don’t forget the development part which is different from the design itself) completely from scratch and based on a customer’s specific wants and needs.
Let me tell you something…
The process of custom website design and development is a VERY labor-intensive task, which is why it is significantly more expensive than any other option.
Here is what the entire custom website design process should consist of (at least this is what it consists of here at Real Estate Bees):
- Discovery Phase – this is the phase where a service provider gathers all the information about your project. They ask you a lot of crucial questions such as design preferences (color palettes, desired style, fonts, etc.), functionalities (property search feature, users account creation feature, etc.), and much more. You’ll be asked to provide guidelines on your brand’s visual style. While not obligatory, consider designing a unique logo and choosing a color scheme for your brand in advance. Or, the design agency may offer it as a separate service.
- Planning Phase – during the planning phase a service provider processes the information collected from the phase one, conducts additional market research that involves SEO specialist (it is critical to have SEO expert be part of the planning process because during this stage your website’s infrastructure is being created) and a digital marketing strategist who puts together a website’s content architecture plan.
- Wireframing Phase – once the website’s content architecture is done, a service provider starts wireframing (or prototyping if you will) a raw interface of all the future pages’ layouts that represent the skeletal framework of a website.
- Visual Design Phase – in this phase the creative process begins. A professional we designer starts his/her magic of translating all the thoughts, desires, ideas and requirements from previous stages into the actual visual image. This is the phase where you will be able to actually see how your future website will look like and provide additional feedback if you want something changed or improved.
- Development Phase – once you are fully satisfied with the look of your future website, a service provider passes your project to the next department – development team. During the development phase, your visual design will be coded and converted from visual images into the actual web pages.
- Testing Phase – after your website got coded, it moves to the next department – quality assurance. During this phase a QA engineer will thoroughly test and de-bug your website for various critical and minor issues. Once all the issues have been resolved, a website will be ready for launch.
- Launch Phase – the launch phase is typically a coordination phase in which a service provider coordinates with you or your staff when (date and time) you want your website to go live and what server it needs to be migrated to (in case the hosting of your new site is not included in your transaction).
Now, does every company that actually provides fully custom website design service follow the same exact seven phases?
Not necessarily. They can have slightly different process in place.
However, it still would look very similar because fully custom design of a website requires everything I’ve just mentioned (maybe except the real estate SEO part because it only affects website’s future search engine visibility) in the seven stages above.
In other words, if one or more activities are missing in the process, it will automatically disqualify a website from being called ‘fully custom-designed’.
The more important question here is – do all the website design companies follow these or similar steps when designing a custom real estate website?
The answer is – absolutely NO!
In fact, very few companies do follow these or similar steps, yet claim they provide fully custom website design.
Frankly, I would not even call majority of these companies – ‘website design’ companies, because in reality they don’t design anything. They simply customize existing templates designed by somebody else, which we’ll be discussing in the next section.
Congrats, now you know what a fully custom-designed website involves. You’re also aware now how much work it takes to create one.
So, the next time someone tells you they offer this service, ask them to elaborate what their fully custom design process looks like and what it involves.
If they respond in a vague manner, feel free to ask them directly about each of the listed above seven phases and see what they have to say.
Customizable Existing Templates
Customizable existing templates is probably one of the most frequently utilized website solutions currently used by real estate professionals these days.
Fortunately, there is a wider variety of real estate agent and brokerage website templates than products for other real estate professionals such as mortgage lending websites.
In contrast to the fully custom-designed websites, existing templates don’t require most of the phases like those involved in the fully custom web design.
In general, this type of website solution will partially involve the following five phases:
- Discovery Phase – this phase is similar to the Discovery Phase of the fully custom website design process.
- Planning Phase – this phase is similar to the Planning Phase of the fully custom website design process.
- Development Phase (limited) – in many cases there won’t even be development involved when using an existing template as a website solution. This is because many of those existing templates have a built-in website builder functionality that allows one to easily manipulate various sections of a template however you want. Therefore, there is no need for a developer in this situation. That being said, from time to time, it will require having some minor customizations made to existing templates according to client’s requests. However, these customizations are nothing compared to the amount of work that’s involved in the fully custom design process. In fact, while customizing existing templates, a web designer is almost never involved in the process at all because a design of a that template already exists. The only person needed during that stage is a person with a basic development skills who will be implementing required customizations.
- Testing Phase (limited) – this phase is very limited and only applicable when there are actual customizations made.
- Launch Phase – this phase is similar to the Launch Phase of the fully custom website design process.
Now you might ask where in the world all the rest of the phases are?
Well, neither of the following phases are needed when having an existing website template customized.
- Wireframing Phase
- Visual Design Phase
- Development Phase
- Testing Phase
The reason is simple – these phases are not required when getting your new website built with an existing template because all of them have already been done during the initial design and development of that particular template.
You see, every existing template once went through a 7-phase process because every existing template once was a fully custom-designed website.
The difference is that the end purpose of a template is other than the one of a custom-designed website.
Simply put, website templates (also called themes) are created for the purpose of re-selling them over and over again to multiple customers.
Therefore, after a template went through a 7-phase process when it was originally designed and developed, you no longer need to go through the same process again every time you use that template for a new customer.
Unfortunately, very often this solution is presented by many service providers as a fully custom website design or at minimum as a website design (which we’ve already learned is neither).
Luckily, for you, now you know the difference between the fully custom-designed website process and a customization of an existing template.
So, the next time you speak to a website design company, ask them whether they are going to design and develop your website from scratch, or they will get an existing theme and just customize it here and there for you.
Not Customizable Existing Templates
Not customizable existing templates are also quite popular among real estate professionals. This website solution is really straight forward – it’s the same like the customizeable existing templates but without the customization part.
In other words, when investing in an existing website template without customization options, most likely you will be able to only make some minor changes to the look of your real estate website.
Usually you will be able to change a logo, main accent color, fonts and perhaps to pick one of the available styles.
That is pretty much where your customization capabilities will end for this website solution. But it doesn’t mean it’s bad or doesn’t worth it.
It all depends on your individual needs.
Real Estate Website Design Cost Comparison
So let’s get to the bottom line. How much would it cost you to have a real estate website?
Well, I hate to say it but the answer is – it depends…
You see, real estate websites can cost as little as $100 and as much as $100k + monthly retainer. It really all depends on how crazy or simple you want to get with the customization, functionality and your ambition.
Here is a typical range of prices per each website solution. Please note that these are just estimated amounts.
|Website Solution||Cost (one-time)||Cost (monthly)|
|Fully custom website design||$20k-$100k||$100-$500|
|Customizable existing templates||$3,000-$7,000||$50-$500|
|Not customizable existing templates||$0-$500||$30-$500|
As I already said, these are just estimates, but it will help you to gauge the ballpark of what you are looking at in terms of the budget.
That being said, yes the fully custom design sounds like a lot of value. But in many cases the price you pay for it doesn’t worth it, unless you really need your website to be one-of-a-kind.
In my opinion, the customizable and not customizable website solutions will satisfy all the needs of 99% of real estate professionals.
In order to pick the right solution for your individual needs, I’d concentrate on what you’re really planning to achieve. A website is just a tool that can help you achieve certain goals.
You might not even need a website. There is no point in getting a website just because everyone else has it.
Trust me, based on what we see, probably 99% of real estate professionals who own a website don’t utilize even a 1% of its potential.
Yes, some sites might look cool and fancy (which is frankly quite rare) but they generate ZERO $$$ in business!
Why in the world would you invest your hard-earned money into something that brings you zero return?
I mean, yes, it can feed your ego for a while but come on… how long can this last?
Website is an extremely effective marketing tool if used correctly. In fact, it is your 24/7 salesperson that never sleeps!
But of course, you need to know what to do with it to get to that level. This is why I personally believe that it’s complete waste of time and money to invest in a website just because everybody else has one.
Concentrate on what you want to achieve and who you want to become in your market.
Here is what I mean…
After speaking with hundreds of real estate professionals and evaluating thousands of real estate websites, I came to the following conclusion that simplifies everything.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re not planning to invest in establishing your website as a go-to local market resource, which is indeed a long-term strategy that requires ongoing investment, you won’t need 95% of all the features.
You can confidently get yourself the cheapest possible website solution and never worry about it.
You might ask: “but what does ‘go-to local market resource’ mean for a website?”
It means that you will be investing in two essential aspects of your website:
Besides other advantages of real estate website, one of the integral aspects of being a local market resource is providing your target audience with an in-depth, informational content that comprehensively answers their questions on various subjects of your local market.
For instance, you can start creating extensive relocation guides for your target area’s neighborhoods. This way you can get in front of the people who are looking to relocate to your area in a very early stage.
Another good example would be to create educational seller and buyer guides in which you will be walking your potential customers through the entire process step-by-step.
These are just to mention a few.
There are numerous topics you can start creating content about that will help your website to eventually become a go-to resource for local information and position yourself as an industry expert.
Here are some of the topics you can create content around to leverage it for your business’ benefit:
- Buyer guide
- Seller guide
- Investor guide
- Relocation guides
- Community guides
- Senior living guides
- School guides
- Housing market report
- Real estate trends
- Things to do
- Upcoming events
- Local business highlights
- And much more
Besides various local guides and reports, how about being THE place for home search in your market?
Wouldn’t that be great?
Well, this brings us to the second essential aspect of a successful real estate website – usability.
Usability of your website is extremely important! Regardless how quality and amazing your content is, if the usability of your website sucks, visitors will not consume your content and leave elsewhere.
When I talk about usability, I’m referring to the overall user experience on your website including one of the most important functionalities that every real estate website’s owner wants their visitors to use.
Can you guess what it is?
You are right – home search functionality or in more technical terms – real estate IDX.
Well, you could say, “Zillow, Realtor, Redfin and other real estate tech behemoths dominate home search space, so I don’t stand a chance.”
And I will agree with you. But together we can change it!
You see, tech giants like Zillow, Realtor, Redfin and others have identified a loophole – lack of technological advancements in the real estate industry – and exploited it to their advantage in the best possible way.
In one decade, they took you and other licensed real estate professionals, the specialists who are qualified to provide real estate advice, off the picture and now selling you leads that could have been yours in the first place.
Does not that sound bizarre?
On one side it does. However, on the other side, they saw the opportunity and ceased it. Nothing wrong with that. It is business – survival of the fittest.
But let me tell you a little secret.
Do you know why home shoppers are so crazy about using these tech giants and will continue using them more and more unless you guys, professional real estate agents and brokers, will wake up?
The answer is quite simple – consumers LOVE the usability!
“But how this relates to website design?” you are probably asking yourself.
Well, it relates to it directly.
Home shoppers enjoy using these platforms because they are extremely user-friendly, convenient and easy to use.
It all boils down to the overall experience with a website (UX and UI in technical terms) and the functionality (technology) they offer to users.
Like Google took over the lion share of the search engine market thanks to their easy-to-use, user-friendly, convenient and effective search engine, the same exact way Zillow and others dominated home search space.
That is all. There are no other magical powers involved.
Unfortunately, today even the largest real estate brokerages (except Redfin), franchises and holdings in the Unites States fail miserably in that regard.
They still don’t get it that they are slowly but surely being taken out of business and all that due to their ignorance towards the technology and its crucial role in the real estate space!
Today’s consumers are looking for a convenient, quick and easy way to shop for homes. They certainly don’t find it on the 99.99% websites that belong to licensed real estate professionals.
As our attention span is shrinking from year to year, we will only have more demanding expectations for home shopping experience.
So if you guys don’t start investing in technology, I afraid over time the profession will go extinct.
You see, if done correctly, your website over time can become the main source of business through consistent and diligent content creation along with skillfully optimized user experience.
People will come to you seeking your expertise instead of you chasing them because you will establish yourself as a local market expert and provide all the tools for your audience to accomplish their goals.
There is an enormous advantage in being perceived as an authority figure. I’m sure you are aware of it. So how this relates to website design, you would ask?
Well, this is something you will need to consider before getting your real estate website if you are planning to utilize the essential strategies I described above.
It doesn’t really matter whether you choose a fully custom-designed website or an existing template. The main concern here is whether or not the solution you pick will be able to accommodate your needs.
If you too want to contribute your expert advice on a topic of your expertise, feel free to apply to our Expert Contributor Program.
About the Author:
Oleg Donets is a serial entrepreneur, technology and digital marketing strategist with a solid track record. Since 2013, he has been successfully helping numerous startups and established companies from a wide range of industries to launch, grow and scale their businesses by utilizing his innovative technology solutions and progressive marketing strategies. Oleg is a founder of Real Estate Bees, a cutting-edge technology & marketing platform for the real estate industry. Oleg is also a proud business mentor at SCORE, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.