Having built over 1,800 websites for estate and lettings agents in the last 20 years, it will come as no surprise that I have pretty much seen it all by now.
We’ve seen sites built by ‘a mate doing me a favour’, sites clearly copied from another company, text literally copied from Foxtons word for word and many more perceived shortcuts to savings that usually end up costing more in the long run.
But the one mistake that we see made far too many times is when an agent instructs ‘the local firm’ to build a website.
This is often done in the mistaken belief that they are better off saving a few pounds and, because the firm is local, they can just pop round if anything needs doing. So surely this is the right thing for the company…
Of all the bad decisions, this is usually the worst. A true false economy.
Of course, we understand the perception that being able to have a coffee with the local guy feels better, but it is vital that what they don’t or can’t do is understood and subsequently added to the decision-making process.
A non-specialist will be unlikely to understand the very specific legal requirements placed upon an agency. Failure to comply could cost you tens of thousands of pounds in fines. Here are some of the regulations your website needs to comply with:
• Consumer Rights Act 2015
• Companies Act 2013
• Data Protection Act 1998
• Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003
• CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) Compliance for Lettings agents
• Cookie legislation 2012
• EPC Regulations
• Copyright Law
• GDPR 2018
These laws all affect agent websites and unless understood and implemented correctly, can result in financial implications. It’s a minefield which specialists understand and ensure are properly covered.
Despite having the opportunity to consolidate on one common format for sending property data to web developers, the leading suppliers all have their own bespoke solutions in various XML, JSON, CSV and API formats.
As specialists we have built systems that read all of them, so an agent can change supplier at any time they want and we can switch data feeds in a matter of hours.
The local firm usually has to build something from scratch and then charge for it. This problem gets worse when an agent changes software supplier as they have to build a new system to read the new feed – and charge for it again because it’s not something they are likely to be able to sell to someone else.
Sharing successful strategies
By working on so many agency websites, specialists are able to understand exactly what an agency does and also what it needs to succeed. By working with some of the UK’s leading and most successful agencies, we are able to develop and share best practice methods.
A local guy building their first agency site can’t possibly know what functions work best, because they have no experience in the sector.
Investment in R&D
The local supplier will invest nothing in Research and Development (R&D) to build the best tools and features for agents to use. Why would they? It’s not their industry.
As specialists, we have developed an array of features and add-ons that encourage visitors to become customers. To convert anonymous surfers into people agents can do business with. All of this is designed to increase the customer experience, make sites more ‘sticky’ and brand penetrative.
An industry specialist continually invests in new technology to maintain their own market edge.
A good industry specialist will also have performance measurement tools to advise an agent on agency specific Key Performance Indicators such as visitor to valuation conversion ratios.
This is the biggest problem area for the local supplier to handle. Oh, for a pound for every conversation where the agent says something like: “They were great when they were building it, but now we can’t get hold of them”. Or “everything takes three weeks and they charge a fortune for thinking about it”.
The mistake is made in believing that building a website is a one-time event. It’s not. Building a site is the start of a journey and whoever an agent partners with has to be there, responsive, proactive, engaged and be able to contribute to the growth of the site and the value it delivers to an agent.
Only specialist suppliers of agency websites can provide the level of technical resource, legal compliance, industry best practice and ongoing support that an agent needs to succeed on the web. The local alternative represents a false economy.
*Mike Smithson is managing director of The Property Jungle