Web Presence: Pro or DIY?

To create an effective online presence, you have two options: do it yourself or hire a pro. What’s best for you depends on your available time, technology skills, budget, and expectations, both in the long and short term.

Option 1: Do It Yourself

  • Why? Creating a Web site yourself minimizes the expense. For relatively little or no investment, you can start slow and add content as you become more knowledgeable about the process and experienced in your career.
  • How? You can start from scratch with web design programs and HTML editor software such as Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft Expression. Also check out the features of your favorite word processing or graphics programs. Many applications now include the option of formatting documents in HTML for posting to the Web.

There also are free software tools and utilities you can use to design and fill a Web site. Search the Web or contact customer service at your ISP for advice on what’s available.

An even easier solution: purchase a real estate template set. Templates are preformatted Web pages with the background, color borders, and boxes for images and text already in place. Add your content and pictures, and you’re ready to go. You’ll find companies offering them by searching by the keywords “real estate templates” at your favorite search engine. Prices for templates range from free to $30 a set or higher, depending on the complexity of the design. Real Estate Designer, Template Monster, Dream Template, and Allwebco Design Corporation are some examples of sites offering real estate templates.

After you’ve built your site, your ISP or site host can explain how to load the files from your desktop to its server. It can be surprisingly simple, requiring little more than selecting the file names from a menu or dragging and dropping the file icons.

  • Pros: Building your own Web site is the cheapest approach to having a Web presence. You enjoy creative control over all the content, and can make revisions and add pages as needed. With software and tools available today, you no longer need to worry about mastering HTML to create a Web site. When you want to start slow and add to your site as you become more confident in your career and focus, this may be the way to go.
  • Cons: Cheap and cost-effective aren’t necessarily the same thing. When you assume responsibility for building and maintaining your own Web site, you’re committing a chunk of your time. At this stage in your career, your hours might be better spent with potential buyers and sellers, learning the market, and trying to build referrals. For the convenience of a Web site template set, you also surrender some individuality. That may work for now, but as you discover effective ways to use your Web site, expect you’ll want a more distinctive look and feel to how you present yourself online.

Option 2: Hire a Professional Web Site Developer

  • Why? Unless you have a background in graphic design, you may not be equipped to build the best Web site for your business. Even for the simplest of sites, some knowledge of HTML and coding is required, as well as an eye for what is visually stimulating and what will enhance both the desireability and functionality of your site's design. These skills—while not impossible to learn—are best gained through experience. Anyone who specializes in Web design understands what works online and what doesn’t, how to package content and graphics so visitors are inclined to explore your site, and ways keywords and meta tags can be used to guarantee your site ranks high on search engine results. That’s a lot to learn when you’re also trying to jump-start a career in real estate.
  • How? You can hire a Web designer or turn the project over to a company that specializes in real estate Web site development and hosting. In either case, visit and explore other client Web sites before choosing your vendor. If you’re leaning toward a Web designer, you’ll be best served with someone who has already built sites for other real estate professionals. Ask your colleagues for leads.

You’ll pay for the convenience of professional Web design services, so make sure to budget your finances accordingly. Rates will vary by designer, (a freelancer may charge you less than someone working for a large design company), and complexity of the site. Some designers may charge a few hundred dollars for their services, while others could easily cost you several thousands. If you decide to hire a professional, it's important to do your research and know what you're getting for the amount you're willing to spend.  

When you’ve selected your vendor, but before you sign a contract, thoroughly explain, in writing if necessary, what your Web site should include. Insist on a written estimate of all costs, including the ongoing maintenance fee. If the vendor will host your site on its server, make sure you own the content and domain name and can take them with you if you ever decide to move your site to another server.

Hiring a professional will relieve you of most, but not all, the work. You’ll probably need to write or approve copy about yourself and your company and take pictures of your listings for inclusion on the site.

  • Pros: The convenience. When you’re just starting out, handing off responsibility for developing and maintaining your Web site allows you to concentrate on selling real estate. Since Web site developers typically host and maintain sites, they’ll also handle domain name and search engine registration. The vendor will test and find ways to guarantee good search-engine placement and make suggestions to attract new and repeat visitors to your Web site. Plus, you’re likely to get a much more appealing and effective Web site than you could build yourself.
  • Cons: The expense can be prohibitive when just starting out. Right now, you may not know enough about real estate or your local market to justify the expense of a professionally designed Web site. Also, if you become too reliant on an outside vendor, who isn’t always on-call, you may not be able to update your site or add new home tours as quickly as you’d like.