You’ve probably heard the term “IDX”. If your market is similar to mine, it’s a fairly common term used among real estate agents and brokers. Those who use it are eager to implement it’s lead capture features yielding vast opportunities for those willing to take a step into online lead generation.
Choosing your IDX vendor can be a daunting task, however. What features do we need? Do I want customization or not? Are all IDX vendors this expensive? In this article, I’ll go over the history of IDX, suggest features you’ll need, and then offer suggestions on various vendors throughout the country that I’ve personally used or know someone who has. I’ll finally go into detail on my predictions for the future of real estate IDX.
Sit back with a cup of jo; this is going to be a long (but good) one!
In the Fall of 2000, the National Association of Realtors issued a legal update announcing a new policy for brokers to “consent to display one another’s listings on the Internet”.
The Houston Association of Realtors was one of the first real estate associations to adopt a reciprocal policy like this; in anticipation that local brokers would eventually be exchanging data anyway. Their preemptive steps led them to adopt policies with regulations to deter “data pirates”, or brokers who were exchanging data without display regulations.
Later, this idea was known as “broker reciprocity”, then “Internet Data Display (IDD)”. It finally settled with “Internet Data Exchange (IDX)”. IDX is the acronym we use to describe this national policy today.
NAR predicted these new policies to be in great benefit to local real estate brokers, and in hindsight, they were dead on. The main aspect of IDX was to allow brokers the ability to nurture a new prospect that resulted from viewing properties on their real estate site. Prior to this, that contact may have gone to Realtor.com to view additional listings and then possibly contacted another real estate broker.
By having all available listings for sale on one site, a web visitor was more likely to contact the site owner for real estate assistance.
Today, an IDX powered real estate site has become a significant source of new business for many progressive real estate brokers. Either through investing in paid campaigns or through organic search engine rankings, the goal is to drive as many consumers to their website as possible. Their site is usually then equipped with forced registration that captures the contact information of the visitor and offers the opportunity for the broker to convert this to new business.
Simply put; an IDX powered real estate website in today’s real estate market is an absolute necessity. Real estate agents around the country are empowering their lead generation strategies by adding this new source of prospecting, and reaping the numerous rewards through effective and consistent follow up.
The public doesn’t often know that every site out there is not accurate. For the consumer, an IDX powered site provides in-depth detail about homes from a reliable source. Personally, I find it a great tool for niche marketing. – Indianapolis Homes for Sale
A quality IDX solution will have a few key ingredients when offering search tools and showcasing listings. The two most important features you’ll need are:
- Search engine friendly design and indexable/spider-able
- Lead capture tools (forced or open registration)
Search Engine Friendly, Indexable, and Spiders. Oh My!
A search engine friendly IDX solution will give you full control over modifying page titles, meta description, and header and page content for all real estate pages you’ll serve to visitors. It is also a solution that allows the major search engines (Hi, Google) to “spider” or “crawl” your site and index each page.
Once a particular listing or page on your site has been indexed, it may be served to visitors from search engines searching for targeted keywords you can optimize and market for. Search engine marketing is out of the scope of this article, but spending time reading through the free material at SEOMoz would prove useful to anyone in the online lead generation business.
With the increase usage of smart devices, we see more and more customers entering complete addresses for properties they’ve passed by or noticed from various sources. Having an indexable idx provides more opportunities for these customers to find my website and utilize my services. – Panama City Beach Condos
Lead Capture Tools – Making Visitors Register
There may be a case for open-registration in the near future, but in today’s real estate market, you will get the best results by forcing registration. This lead capture strategy will allow you to have visitors register to view listings on your IDX website, and even to see search results (if you choose to be more aggressive).
When should you make a user register? There are quite a few strategies available, and you’ll get the best results by trying it in your market and comparing the results. In order from least to most aggressive, the most popular methods for capturing the contact information of your visitors are:
- Allow visitors to view x number of listings, then force registration
- Force registration immediately upon landing on a listing detail page
- Force registration on property search results
- Registration required to search for properties
Once their information has been captured, the method you employ with following up varies from broker to broker. The most successful brokers, however, utilize a frequent and consistent email and phone campaign.
The best thing about owning an IDX powered real estate site is a constant flow of leads to convert into prospects and ultimately clients, along with the ability to systematically follow up with these people whether they are looking to buy today or 5 years from now. – Gulf Shores Beach Condos
Each real estate association has policies in place to regulate the IDX data passed between brokers. These regulations set rules for displaying the listing information on various sites, many times requiring listing broker attribution or displaying a verbatim disclaimer.
Your IDX vendor will enter a binding agreement with your local association to display the listing information accordingly, which is why you may hear about a particular IDX vendor being “approved” with your MLS. This simply means that your vendor has agreed and prepared their software to comply with your local association’s rules and regulations for displaying IDX data. The next step is for you to choose an approved vendor, pay any applicable fees, and then allow your vendor to build your IDX powered real estate site.
Being that each association has various approved vendors, I’ll detail the most popular ones below. You’ll want to contact your association to get a complete list of all that are available to you when choosing your IDX vendor.
List of Vendors
The IDX vendors below are a few of the mostly widely approved by associations around the country. In no particular order:
Real Estate Webmasters (REW)
Basic site costs not listed, contact them for details
Limited Edition Custom (LEC) costs range $10,000+ plus hosting fees
In 2004, Morgan Carey created Real Estate Webmasters with the intention of building an IDX product that was search engine friendly. He succeeded. The REW platform is built from the ground up to be a great content management solution that provides all the necessary ingredients to create effective landing pages, display appropriate meta information (search: SEO meta descriptions), and gorgeous listing detail pages.
Their high end product, the limited edition custom (LEC), is a one-per-market offer and features a gorgeous design that’s updated annually (upgrade not free). Purchasers of their LECs pay quite a sum of money (into the $10s of thousands) to build their LECs, but many are rewarded with top notch real estate sites that convert.
The following are a few examples of some of the many REW sites.
Displet (pronounced “dis-play”) began as a proprietary RETS/IDX system for Eric Bramlett, a real estate broker & part time techy, and Braxton Beyer, a full time developer and part time real estate agent. After they deployed the system on their own sites, local Austin agents took notice and approached them to lease the application for their own websites. From there, Displet was born.
Check out some of these sites powered by Displet IDX technology:
Diverse Solutions / Zillow
dsIDXPress (basic): $99.95 setup + $29.95/month (no lead capture)
dsSearchAgent (premium): $999.95/year + $99.95/month + $199.95 setup
IDX+: $599 one-time license fee
Recently acquired by Zillow, Diverse Solutions experienced much of their success with their dsIDXPress product because of it’s implementation with the popular, free blogging platform: WordPress. The basic startup fees are quite affordable as well, and is probably one of the easiest IDX solutions to implement.
Out of the box, the basic dsIDXPress product from Diverse Solutions does not provide any lead capture tools (their premium product does, though it’s considerably more expensive). IDX+ is a third-party plugin released by Zachary Katz of Katz Web Design. This commercial WordPress plugin offers user registration and lead capture, backend lead management features, and front-end saved search and saved listing interfaces for registered users for a one time license fee.
The following examples are IDX real estate sites powered by Diverse Solutions.
Pricing: $99 setup + $39.99/month
IDX Broker was founded in 2003 by two long time residents and entrepreneurs from Eugene, Oregon. Even to this day, the two original founders are still involved in the day to day operations at the IDX Broker main headquarters.
IDX Broker provides one of the most flexible and customizable IDX interfaces on the market. They currently service over 500 markets as of today, and pride themselves on having low employee turnover which leads to better customer service and high quality product design. They’re planning on releasing a new version of IDX Broker in the second quarter of 2012 that will offer more customization and an updated user interface, named the IDX Broker Platinum.
IDX powered broker sites are listed below; randomly chosen from their portfolio.
Agent Basic IDX: $199/setup + $39/month OR $399 annually
Broker Basic IDX: $399/setup + $79/month OR $799 annually
Mapping solution also available for additional fees
Wolfnet is one of the oldest IDX vendors, dating all the way back since 2000. The moment IDX was announced by NAR, they built a product to meet then ensuing demand. Currently based out of Minneapolis, MN, their IDX product is approved through over 300 MLSs around the country and includes lead management and mapping solutions (premium product).
One major critique of the Wolfnet solution is that it is not a native implementation. In other words, search engines may not index every listing for sale in your market, which has proven to be a great way to attract additional visitors to a real estate site. The Wolfnet product is a framed solution that can be “plugged in” to any existing real estate site.
Although the framed solution isn’t the best for generating organic search engine traffic, for many real estate agents it’s the easiest option to implement without hiring an outside web developer. These agents can then simply drive traffic to their sites using the more costly method of PPC, or pay-per-click.
The images below detail the various features of the Wolfnet IDX solution. Each can be implemented on any real estate site using a simple iFrame.
In the future, as more agents and brokers adopt IDX solutions, the need for an open registration system will emerge. Consumers will eventually demand free access to all listing information, forcing IDX site owners to look for new and creative ways to capture contact information.
Mobile Internet browsing for projected to overtake desktop browsing in the next 18-24 months. Design that responds to being resized and therefore suitable for many different types of browsers (mobile specifically) will become a prominent request to real estate web developers; commonly referred to as “Responsive Web Design”.
The demand for indexable, customizable IDX solutions will grow as the economy steadily grows out of it’s recent recession. More real estate agents begin to return to their businesses, while looking for a new online presence to showcase their services. New competition in the marketplace among IDX vendors will lead to lower pricing, setup costs, and implementation. Local real estate associations will continue to expand their approved IDX vendor lists, offering more solutions for real estate broker members.
In addition to expanding the IDX vendor options for real estate brokers, local associations will begin to adopt a solution for individual real estate agents to have access to the same data feed as real estate brokers. This will cause an even greater increase in IDX powered real estate sites on the web, offering a plethora of websites for consumers to peruse real estate listings. Real estate website search engine optimization will become increasingly more important and valuable to agents and brokers looking to attract the most amount of traffic from popular search engines.
Real estate brokers around the country are arming themselves with the latest Internet lead generation tools to spur up new business. An IDX-powered website is the essential foundation to a profitable online lead generation strategy. Investing in a quality IDX is never a regretful decision for anyone who is considering a career in real estate, or even for veteran agents or brokers looking to expand their lead generation portfolio.
In the meantime, survey your local market to analyze your competition and see if adding the Internet as a source of new business is worthwhile (it probably is). Many real estate agents and brokers are experiencing great success with their IDX powered sites; are you going to ride the wave or arrive late to the party?
Continue the discussion in our real estate forums.