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Do-It-Yourself Web Sites/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/JULY08/images/doityourself

You can do it yourself—really! Here are some options for building your Web site by yourself.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that your Web site is the single most important tool in your marketing arsenal. Customers past, present and especially future use it to browse your property listings, learn about you and/or your brokerage, request help and information, and so on. Yet some real estate professionals continue to rely on shabby, outdated, uninviting sites that look like they were slapped together before the turn of the century. That’s no way to win customers.

It’s time for some new Web digs. Although the task of creating an entire site may seem daunting, like trying to build a house from the ground up, it’s actually easier than you might think—provided you have the right tools. If you want total control over the process and don’t mind taking a do-it-yourself approach, there are software packages that let you design sites from scratch. If you’re in a hurry and want to whip together an attractive, functional site without the steep learning curve, consider using one of the Web-based services that can help you get the job done inside an afternoon. And let’s not forget the simplest option of all: hiring a pro.

While you’re at it, look at services that help you augment your primary site with secondary sites, like blogs, social networks and temporary Web pages. We’ve rounded up seven options to help you create, improve and/or expand your Web presence.

FREE!
ActiveRain
www.activerain.com

By now most real estate professionals have heard of ActiveRain, which launched in 2006 and offers both social networking and marketing tools. So what’s it doing here amidst Web site–building solutions? Simple: One of ActiveRain’s marketing tools is a personalized site. It won’t showcase your property listings, but it will provide contact information, a bio, links and the like.

Consider it a supplemental Web site, one you can share with fellow real estate professionals and use to drive referrals to your primary site. ActiveRain also provides you your own blog space, and one look at the service’s Success Stories page (http://tinyurl.com/38hlbr) should be proof that there’s gold in them thar blogs. Best of all, ActiveRain doesn’t cost a penny. If you’re new to real estate or just looking for a way to promote your existing site, it’s a solid place to start.

You may also want to check out Zolve (www.zolve.com), which emulates ActiveRain’s blogging and social-networking capabilities but adds a real estate professional–to–real estate professional referral system to the mix. It also offers a more attractive design and interface.

FREE!
Google Page Creator
pages.google.com

Suppose you just got back from a killer new property and want to whip together a Web page to showcase it. You don’t have a lot of time or programming skills, but you do have some customers you know would be interested. Enter Google Page Creator, quite possibly the fastest, easiest site builder on the Web. Just name the page, add some text, import some photos, and embed links, videos and any other elements you want.

Each page you create gets its own Web address that you can link to from another site or e-mail to customers. Plus, like virtually all Google products, it’s free. Certainly Google Page Creator is not the place to design your primary site, and it’s still technically a beta service (meaning you might encounter a few bugs). But for getting photos and text onto the Web fast, it’s hard to beat.

FREE!
Florida Association of Realtors® Florida Living Network
http://fl.living.net

Supplement your Web site by taking advantage of the free Web page that FAR offers each member on the public Florida Living Network™ site. There is also a free company web page accessible to the Broker.

All you have to do is go to the Florida Living Network (http://fl.living.net).
  1. Click on the "Find a REALTOR®" link at the left hand side of the page. 
  2. Enter your name in the "Search by name" on the left.
  3. Click on your name. You will then be directed to your free web page
  4. Click on "Personal Profile" located under your name and company affiliation.  If you have already registered a password for www.floridarealtors.org you will use the same password, otherwise, there will be a registration button below  the instructions.  In order to continue, you must have a registered password.  To register your password, press the Registration button. 
Once you enter the password-protected area you’ll be able to control the page’s design, content and links—even refer people to your main Web site from there.

You can also select which market areas you want to feature, community information and even your specializations and designations.

When set up through the company Web page, consumers can access IDX listings (in up to 30 languages) from your free Web page through a "Search Properties" link located under your contact information on the left side.

Homestead
www.homestead.com

Homestead offers soup-to-nuts site design and hosting. That makes it an appealing solution for real estate newcomers who don’t yet have a Web site and want to hit the ground running.

The service lets you choose from more than 2,000 professional-looking templates, at least a few of which are devoted to real estate, and then start adding content immediately. You also have the option of registering your own domain name when you sign up for service, effectively killing two birds with one stone.

If you want to test the Homestead waters before signing up, you can try the company’s starter package free for 30 days. It includes site hosting, five Web pages, toll-free phone support and tools for tracking visitors to your site. After the trial period ends, you can continue for just $4.99 per month—though you’ll probably want to upgrade to Homestead’s Gold package ($19.99 monthly), which includes your own domain name, five e-mail addresses and unlimited Web pages. The service offers other hosting packages as well (http://tinyurl.com/2hojym).

FREE!
KompoZer
www.kompozer.net

A what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) site-design application, KompoZer offers many of the same features as high-end programs like Adobe Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage—but it doesn’t cost a dime. That’s the good news; the bad news is that KompoZer does require some knowledge of HTML (Web programming language), so it’s not a particularly novice-friendly tool.

But if you don’t want to blow your budget on software and can invest a little time in learning, you’ll be able to design a versatile, good-looking site from the ground up. Not sure where to start? There’s a comprehensive online tutorial (http://tinyurl.com/24bf9x) that also includes information on getting your own domain name and promoting your site once it’s done.

NetReal Website Builder
www.netreal.net

If Homestead is a site-building service that happens to include a few real estate–specific templates, NetReal Website Builder is a site-building service created expressly for real estate. For $14.95 per month (or $149.95 annually), you get to build a site using one of more than 300 templates, each containing useful sections like sales associate profile, featured listings, a real estate glossary and home evaluation.

You can stick with the included NetReal Web address (such as killerfloridahomes.netreal.com) or register your own domain (such as killerfloridahomes.com) and have NetReal host it for an additional $25 per year. As with Homestead, you can try the service free for 30 days.

Local examples of NetReal-built sites include Pennie Arneson’s (www.south-floridaliving.com) and Diana Casper’s (www.dianacasper.com). Even if you don’t sign up for service, you may want to check out NetReal’s impressive library of articles (www.netreal.net/articles), which cover topics ranging from advertising to lead generation to phone marketing.

Real Estate Web Site Creator
www.code9software.com

With a name like Real Estate Web Site Creator and a price tag of just $129.99, this site-building package sounds like a winner. It allows you to create a basic site including your logo, picture, listings and so on. And unlike other site-design software, it was built with real estate professionals in mind.

Just make sure you download the full-featured demo version before you buy, as the software hasn’t been updated since 2003. That means it doesn’t offer any of the latest Web goodies, like blogs, widgets and so on. In fact, you need some knowledge of HTML if you want to modify the included templates. You also need a host for your site; the software offers no help in that department.

Finally, Real Estate Web Site Creator doesn’t integrate with MLS systems, so you’ll have to enter all your listings manually. The price for this site-building package may be right, but most sales associates are likely to find it too limited.

The Real Estate Host
www.therealestatehost.com

Like Homestead and NetReal, the aptly named The Real Estate Host offers site design and hosting, a choice of professionally designed templates and domain name registration. So what sets this service apart? In a word, MLS/IDX integration. Your newly created Web site can automatically pull listings from the Multiple Listing Service (using Internet Data Exchange technology), meaning you won’t have to manually enter listings as with the other site-building services.

You’ll pay a premium for this capability—packages start at around $650 for TREH’s property management software and MLS integration, plus $29.95 per month for hosting—but if you want a site that requires a lot less work over the long haul, this might be the way to go. To see how one Florida Realtor set up a TREH site, check out Tampa Bay Real Estate (www.realestateclearwaterflorida.com).  



Rick Broida is a freelance writer and the co-author of “How to Do Everything with Your Palm Powered Device,” 6th edition. Broida does not have any affiliation with the companies mentioned.

The Florida Association of Realtors® and Florida Realtor magazine do not endorse any products mentioned in this article.