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Taking the long way there

taking the long way there

Chest forward, notepad in hand we walked into our web designer’s surprisingly large office in the heart of West University. I had researched numerous companies and their portfolio looked exactly like what we had in mind. The perfect antithesis to Realtor websites: Fresh, contemporary, functional. And in my pad, I had the intricate blueprint of how we were going to make it happen. The more specific I am – I thought – the easier their work will be which should be a relief to my trembling wallet.

“We start at $8,500”

Before I got too far down my bullet list, he stopped me and without wanting to offend me (or anything) told me their work started at eight and a half Gs, for a basic site. Thanking him for his time-saving honesty, we walked out of that office, our doubts about how they paid the rent fully answered. Destination: Barnes and Noble Geek Section for some HTML fun. Numerous picturesque heavy books and about four Video Professors later, I was staring at a blank 900px wide square on (queue the dramatic music) Microsoft Frontpage, so help me God. I present to you the (then) finished product.

It’s been a long way

At first, I hated the fact that I couldn’t just hire someone to do what I needed. Instead I was stuck making sure I closed my tags and validated my code, both of which ranked just above sticking a fork in my ear on the fun scale. But even though my knowledge is still very much limited compared to pros, I am better off today because I took the long way here:

  1. I am better off, because I not dependent on my webmaster (what an arrogant job title, btw) to make even the slightest changes. This allows us to be nimble and flexible when we need to adapt our marketing message to an ever changing market.
  2. I am better off, because our site today looks like this and I built everything in it. Could it be better? Of course. But I’m proud of how far we’ve come from that blank 900px box.
  3. I am better off, because now I’m more aware of what’s possible. Believe it or not, having some fundamental knowledge about how websites work can help you make better decisions and demands when you partner with a pro to take your site to the next level.

What about you? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

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Written By

Houston Real Estate Rainmaker and Uberproud Father/Husband (not necessarily in that order). When I'm not skinning cats or changing diapers you can find me on Twitter or Facebook. I blog about marketing, social media and real estate. I might not always be in agreement, but you can rest assured I'll be honest. Oh, and I can cook a mean breakfast...



  1. Ian Greenleigh

    August 13, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Looks nice, Erion. If you’re savvy, quality web design is not as difficult as some may lead you to believe. I do, however, see a major benefit to having dedicated web guys, and that’s stability. I can make things aesthetically pleasing, but as far as the ones and zeros behind it, I’m an ignoramus. If errors were to occur, they would most likely be difficult to remedy.

  2. Seth Parker

    August 13, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Been there before! For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been doing all of my own web design/development. Because of that, the ceiling on what I can provide in my site is only limited by what I can learn, not cost. I don’t have to wait on anyone for anything. If I think of something new to add, I can do it ASAP.

    There’s also a downside to this, though. TIME. Time is very valuable, and the thought has crossed my mind many times during one of those 36 Hour web sessions “Damn, I should just pay someone to do this, and I could spend this time running my company/selling real estate.”

    I imagine things will stay the way they are for me for the time being, though. I’m one of those guys that can’t get past the “no one can do it better or faster than me, so why let anyone?” (even though that’s not true) thing.

  3. Russell Shaw

    August 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Nice job, Erion!! I totally agree. My first websites were all designed by professionals at high prices. Now – but not to save money –I design my graphics and my new web sites and pages myself. I do have a “computer pro” I can call to fix things when I hit a snag (and I do hit those snags) but I just love the freedom of being able to conceive something and to be able to go from my idea to seeing it on the internet without having to wait forever for someone else to get around to it. One company that hosted my site took weeks and weeks to get anything done and I often had to call my sales rep so he could call the president of the company to get the IT department to actually do the work. Now, those changes happen in just a few minutes (okay, some take a LOT longer:-) after I decide I want them.

  4. Todd Waller

    August 13, 2009 at 2:54 pm


    Seth hits pretty close to an analogy we use as agents.

    As real estate agents, we run into folks that want to sell their home by themselves. We generally take the viewpoint that folks CAN sell their homes without our assistance, but they often save time, money and hassle by employing a real estate agent to do what they do best.

    I think the same applies to web design and upkeep.

    Your final point about knowledge leading to better decision making is bang on.


  5. Austin Smith -

    August 13, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Nice job Erion! Some of the pix on your site didn’t load for me, but what I did see was impressive! I especially like the “Education Corner” and the mortgage rates on the left-hand side. Very informative!!!

  6. John Wake

    August 14, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Well done!

    The next challenge for us real estate geeks is to develop systems to convert more of those internet leads into sales, incoming referrals and long time clients.

    Generating internet leads isn’t the big problem anymore for many. Lead management is the main constaint and the solutions aren’t going to be purely technical despite the tendency of many of us who are good at generating internet leads to try to find technological solutions to all problems.

  7. Fred Romano

    August 14, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Why not just use WordPress and a nice theme? That’s a better start them messing with Html, then you can modify the theme to your taste.

  8. Matt Stigliano

    August 14, 2009 at 9:57 am

    @ErionHouston – I’m actually impressed with the first site you built (the second version’s not so bad either). It’s shocking what can be charged for a website and even more shocking what some of these companies charge real estate agents. I think our industry has a sticker on their foreheads that says “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout them computer machines. Please take my money.” The amount we as an industry spend on technology that we could do for less (or get for cheaper) is astounding to me.

  9. Laurie Matthias

    August 14, 2009 at 10:56 am

    You’ve inspired me to follow in your footsteps and try my own site.
    Thank you!
    Laurie Matthias
    Long and Foster Real Estate, Inc.
    Haverford, PA

  10. Erion Shehaj

    August 14, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Something that would certainly condition the decision to fly solo or have “dedicated web guys” is the complexity of the site and its popularity (traffic). Having an esthetically gorgeous site that no one can reach because is down all the time in no way to play it either.


    The opportunity cost of time is definitely a valid argument. You could focus your energy on your primary business (RE) and leave the tech to the techies. But I would argue that taking the time to learn how your site works, is working on your real estate business. Because, if you know what’s possible, you might implement it on your site thus helping yourself save some time on generating business or converting more out of your traffic.


    The flexibility to change and try out different strategies on your site is key to getting it right, especially when you are a new agent. After all, no one comes in this business with clear ideas about what marketing message will surely work. We are always fine tuning, trying out new variations, measuring and fine tuning some more. Having to wait weeks for your webwiz to turn your changes around is no way to go IMO.


    If all we’re offering to our clients is time savings, we’re in trouble. Our value proposition should be that even if the homeowner did it themselves, they couldn’t match our results because of our expertise and market knowledge.


    >Generating internet leads isn’t the big problem anymore for many

    Generating leads, no. Generating clients, yes. There’s a difference. Most people’s troubles with internet leads is their quality or lack thereof, but that’s an entirely different post for a different day.


    At the time, I had no idea what WordPress was 🙂 And now that I love WP and I have about 4 blogs running on it, I’m still in favor of the idea that a company site, needs to be a site with a blog element, not just a blog. You can use magazine style themes that transform WP in a content management system but to get something that will work requires extensive customization.


    Thanks! If you only knew how long it was taking me to update it every day back then, you’d freak 🙂 You do bring up a solid point however. The “market rates” on real estate websites that are not template based are out of control. When I was considering an upgrade to my site recently, I was talking to a company which I will not mention by name. We were talking $9k website and this salesperson was treating me like I was buying a pair of tubesocks at a dollar store. On a different note, while I was following Inman Connect on Twitter, I found out that one of the real estate sites that I admire the most cost $40,000 and its owner could not change a thing – no copy, no pictures, nothing. You’d think you should get at least a t-shirt for forty grand…

  11. Erion Shehaj

    August 14, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks Laurie. You made my day.

    If you need any assistance while your go through your design, hit me up on Twitter @ErionHouston and I’ll help you out any way I can.

  12. Paula Henry

    August 15, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Erion – Very Nice! I paid the high price for one of mine and wouldn’t trade the freedom of time. I have a lot of freedom with it and only need to pay for custom work and design. It’s a fair trade off for me.

    OTOH – I have a couple of blog sites I am totally responsible for and like learning new things. When I get stuck, though, I need people who can help me.

  13. Gwen Banta

    August 15, 2009 at 1:22 am

    OMG – You mean my template SUCKS? I can’t take the pressure, Erion. …But maybe I don’t need to worry about it, because no one visits my website anyway. Or is that the point? 🙂

  14. David Sherfey

    August 17, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Very nice site, Erion. My first impression is that it feels trustworthy. Very clean, not loud, just very cool.

    Of course, now you’re a web developer…. and now that you have done this you probably understand why web developers charge so much. They know how much work they are ‘saving you’ so there you go… If you add all the time you have spent and charge it out at developer rates it is a bunch of bucks.

    Much better to do it yourself and know what it takes. When you get so successful that it pays to have someone else do it, you will know how to supervise them.

  15. Duke Long

    August 18, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Oh the rant I could go on.I have been thru every scenario.
    I have told countless experts exactly who what how where when and why I want my site to be.
    Proposals not submitted e-mails not returned ,I got a guy I went to school with,my husband does that from home,Our company only works with 5 milllion and sales or up,we are a social media intergeator, web/social media expert or(insert the latest bs catch phrase)DOOOOD.
    I applaud your path and will follow and hopefully learn along the way with you. WOW I feel better already Thanks for the post.

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