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Technology and You/Users/adamp/Desktop/MAR_IMGS/TechYou

Run Your Own Website

With a son-in-law who’s a Web designer, Frank Lipscomb has an inside track on just how much it costs to outsource the development and maintenance of an online presence. In real estate since 1988, this sales associate with United Realty Group of Fort Lauderdale prefers the do-it-yourself approach and has been handling the tasks himself since launching his first site back in 1996. (Although his son-in-law shared his insight, Lipscomb learned the ropes of Web design on his own. He admits that this can be time consuming but says it pays off in the end.)

Lipscomb opted to teach himself how to write HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and create pages to be displayed in a Web browser. In 2002, he paid about $300 for a copy of Microsoft’s FrontPage program, which he currently uses.

“Using FrontPage was a lot easier than writing HTML code,” says Lipscomb, who is able to input text, pictures and videos into the program and sit back while the HTML coding is written for him. The site creation and management software tool (folded into Microsoft Office in 2006 and now known as SharePoint Designer 2007) is one of many applications available today.

Here are four ways that Lipscomb uses his Web authoring tool in the course of business:

1. Maintain a Web Site
Lipscomb devotes a few hours a week to updating his site, frequently adding pages to highlight new community information or add a new listing. Real estate professionals also have the option of hiring a Web designer to create the initial site and then updating it themselves using Web authoring software.

 “Anything that I want to pass along to the customer gets added to the site on a regular basis,” says Lipscomb, who uses a Microsoft Word document to write copy and insert pictures, charts and graphs. He then uploads the document into FrontPage, clicks on the appropriate icon (e.g., one expands thumbnail photos into full-sized pictures) and waits as the program translates the information into HTML for Web publishing.

Making the Web authoring tool especially easy to use, says Lipscomb, is the fact that within the software, his Web site’s address is stored for easy access. “As soon as I pull up FrontPage, I’m editing online,” he says. “That makes it easy to go to an existing page and change listing prices, update photos and edit verbiage dynamically online.”  

2. Hyperlink to Virtual Tours
Lipscomb uses VisualTour for virtual tour creation and publication. He paid a start-up fee of about $100 and now pays $29 a month to develop an unlimited number of tours monthly. Using FrontPage Web authoring software, he’s able to hyperlink from his Web site to the VisualTour site, where all pertinent information is stored for every tour he creates. Using an icon in the authoring software, Lipscomb can quickly add each virtual tour to the appropriate page on his Web site (typically the one devoted to the property listing) and the local MLS, thus allowing visitors to view the tour with the simple click of a button.

“I can go into a listing, snap a few photos and have a virtual tour ready and linked to the listing within 15 to 20 minutes,” says Lipscomb. “By being able to do my own tours—and update my own site—I can save both time and money that would be spent farming the tasks out to subcontractors.”

3. Edit HTML Documents
Sometimes a basic Word document just isn’t dynamic enough to have much of an impact. When he really wants to get his point across, Lipscomb pops open FrontPage and creates HTML-based documents that include animation, video and more.

He uses e-mail to deliver those documents to prospects and customers, who in turn open them just as they would access a Web site. In the past, he’s included animations like a waving American flag (for Fourth of July correspondence) to create marketing messages having more of an impact than can be conveyed in one-dimensional correspondence.

4. Monitor Loading Times

Knowing that his customers and prospects have limited time, Lipscomb uses the meter in the bottom right-hand corner of FrontPage to monitor exactly how long it will take for a page to load. A few years ago, that meant using photos sparingly, but now that most computers have ample processor speed, he can be more liberal with his use of graphics and videos.

“The program tells you exactly how long it will take to load the page with a 28.8 modem,” says Lipscomb. “If it goes over five or 10 seconds, I’ll redesign it to make sure the loading time is minimal.” To further minimize the loading time, Lipscomb’s Web site uses mostly thumbnail photos that visitors can click to view enlarged versions.
 
Having saved both time and money by learning how to use Web authoring software for his real estate business, Lipscomb enjoys being able to insert photos and videos into his site’s pages and to e-mail dynamic HTML documents to his customers from a single program. “Web designers are expensive, and can take time to get things done,” says Lipscomb. “When you can do your own editing, it gets done as quickly as you want at no ongoing cost.”

This column, designed to offer examples of how salespeople and brokers are using technology in their offices, won first place in the 2006 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association. The column is for general information only. Opinions expressed here don’t necessarily reflect an endorsement of the views by Florida Realtor® magazine or the Florida Association of Realtors® (FAR).