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I'm in the very last stages of flipping a house, but today rather than finishing up, I decided to stop everything to write this post because of the phone call I just had with IDX Broker. I wish someone would have written a post like this when I first started building my real estate website 4 months ago.
I have personally invested hundreds of hours into my site, GreatColoradoHomes.com. It has only been live for a few months now, but is currently receiving over 60,000 page views each month. That may not seem like a lot compared to some veteran sites, but for just a few months of SEO, I'm very pleased with it. As I continue to invest even more hours, those numbers keep steadily rising.
One of the most important parts of my website is the IDX feed. I am using IDX Broker Platinum to supply my IDX listings through the Denver Metrolist MLS and Colorado Spring's Pikes Peak Association of Realtors. Since I have started using this service, I have experienced issues each month, to which the most common statement I receive from IDX Broker's tech support is, "I'm sorry, you'll just have to deal with it. It's not us, it's your MLS". Then I talk to my MLS and they say that it's my IDX providers responsibility. As I learn more about the RETS and IDX feed, I realize that most of these issues are IDX Broker related. They have so many websites setup on their service that they really aren't concerned with my site when there are issues.
MAIN ISSUE #1
A couple of months back, the Denver Metrolist MLS switched over to the Matrix System. It's a nice upgrade to our MLS, but it changed some things on my website that I now have to "live with". The main thing that has been changed is that the data feed automatically adds properties that are "under contract" to all search results. This really screws up the user experience when searching for homes, because many of the homes that they find on my site are "under contract". No one wants to look at homes that are not available for purchase. Seriously, who searches "under contract" listings?
My users now have to perform a custom search and choose to only receive active listings from the advanced menu, which is a major inconvenience. This option is not even available in the maps section, so the map search is now swamped with "under contract" listings. In areas like Briargate and Broadmoor where homes are only on the market for a few days, these "under contract" listings really botch things up.
IDX Broker told me that this is a Denver Metrolist issue, but when I search other websites in the area using different IDX services, they do not have this problem. I know that IDX Broker can change whether the "Under Contract" data appears, or not. They really don't care though. Many agents who use the service are not even aware of this problem. I reached out to a few of them and tried to get some social buzz going around this issue, but I had no luck.
MAIN ISSUE #2
Last week, the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors also switched over to the Matrix System. I noticed yesterday that there have been no new listings from Colorado Springs on my website since last Tuesday (6 days ago). I just called IDX Broker to resolve the issue. I was told that they have to manually change over each agent's website to start receiving the new data. I asked if I could have some sort of estimate on how long that would be, or how many sites they have to go through. I was simply told, "no". Then I stated that I receive more than 60,000 page views per month on this site and that I can't just sit around waiting for a service that I am paying for to randomly start working one day in the future. I was told, "that's just how it is". This is the phone call that sparked this blog post.
One of the reasons I decided to go with IDX Broker was that I liked their integration with Google Maps. I spent time customizing the CSS code to make it responsive and I worked hard to implement the maps on most of my pages. A few weeks back, I noticed that my maps weren't working right. Then a couple of days later I received a message that IDX Broker was not using Google Maps anymore and decided to use MapQuest. I didn't even know MapQuest was still around! When I called and asked about it, I received another "just deal with it" conversation. Now all of my maps are through MapQuest. Yay. (slight sarcasm)
Some days I'll be working on my site and the CSS coding will simply stop functioning properly on the property listing pages. At first I freaked out and started re-coding it to look right, but then I noticed the next day that everything went back to normal and I had to change my CSS code back. I've learned that if my pages look funky, I should wait a day before I work on them because IDX Broker is usually just screwing with the page templates for the day. I expect and require a much higher level of service than that for my website.
I have to use my site daily to know when it's not functioning properly as there is never an email giving notice of these changes. I'm sure IDX Broker was hoping that I am just an agent who has a website on autopilot for brand recognition, and that I will probably never know that all my users receiving property updates and all my pages displaying new listings have stopped working. Unfortunately, I use my website everyday as the major foundation of my business. Today I noticed the the load times were extremely slow on my IDX pages. When I checked the load speed on Pingdom, it showed that the DNS connect time to IDX Brokers servers took around 9 seconds. This is a new problem that I will have to look into tomorrow, because it may just be a temporary problem for today. All my site hosted pages are running fast. The problems just seem to never end.
As Bobby Carrol from Dakno Marketing recently stated in a great discussion on Google+, a website is" the hub" of a Real Estate professional and all the social platforms and external posting sites are the spokes that point back to it and hold it together. I have hundreds of hours into linking and promoting this website which I have spent many late nights working on. My personal investment into this site goes beyond money and time. It is something that I firmly believe I should be focused on as the foundation for my business and future advancement. The only 3rd Party involved in my success is my IDX Provider. After the last few months of issues, I am fully aware that I have to figure out a better solution to this problem. I would have benefitted greatly from a post like this when I first started my website. I probably would have spent more time looking for an alternative.
SO WHAT'S THE SOLUTION?
My current thoughts on my IDX feed are moving towards using a service called RETS Cloud. This is a new service which takes the RETS feed and maps it out in a way that makes the data manageable for a web designer to implement into a MySql Database from a cloud. I've been learning about this for weeks, and this phone call I had today with IDX Broker is further motivating me to move in this direction. I would be able to completely control all the RETS data on my site. There will be a learning curve, but I have already had to learn CSS, some PHP, and some HTML coding to get my website setup. If RETS Cloud doesn't work right, I'll keep going until I learn how to code it myself.
I am drawn to this option because I can work on it myself and I no longer have to rely upon a 3rd Party service anymore. I have used Diverse Solutions (no longer available in Denver), iHomefinder (seems dated), and Displet (had multiple issues) IDX services. All of these are limited in some aspects. There are other website options, such as RealGeeks, Market Leader (which I used for years but has lost it's luster), and Real Estate Webmasters. My main problem with these services is that you pay a setup fee (from $100 to $10,000+) and then a monthly fee, but you never actually own your site. If you stop paying your monthly charge, your site disappears and all your content goes with it. I want my site's content to be secure and in my possession for years to come. That's a non-negotiable point for me.
I also looked into Kunversion, BoomTown, and TigerLeads. I would have to say that I like their websites the most. The design and functionality of these systems are quite nice. My problem is (once again) that there is no long term ownership here. These sites are designed to use Google Adwords and other methods to capture instant leads and force them into a registration page. This is an effective strategy that I have used in the past, but I do not see it as a long term solution to internet leads and authorship credibility. I remember a friend of mine saying that he was looking at homes and every website that he went to was trying to get his email address so that they could spam him with listing alerts. He hated it. At the time, I was using this strategy and it was hard for me to hear him. I had over 5,000 people signed up on my Market Leader site and I spent hours managing those leads, but most of them were low quality. My gut feeling is that the best home buyers are smart enough to keep looking for websites that do not force their registration. They want responsive websites that offer nice, clean resources to use without any pressure. This is what I love about Wordpress. There are so many options to make very clean sites. The longer the real estate webspace is filled with sites that force registration, the more annoying they will become. I wanted out of that space a long time ago.
THE TAKE-AWAY POINT
The more agents that can learn about websites, coding, social integration, IDX feeds, etc., the more likely we are to adapt to the coming waves of new ideas online. If we rely on a 3rd party service to create, manage, and/or promote our business, we're not learning. When I get busy managing and closing deals, I have less time to do these things and I start to lean towards hiring people, but I am committed to managing these parts of my business so that I can stay in the practice of learning and growing with technology. It's like exercising- no one really wants to do it, but once you get started it's addictive and life giving. It's also like learning another language; it seems impossible at first, but the more you interact with people who speak the language, the more you naturally function in the conversation. Real Estate websites are major conversations that I want to be a part of for years to come. I would rather hire people to manage my real estate transactions than my online presence.
I'll update this post as soon as I have figured out a fix to my IDX Broker issues. May the force be with me.......
In the meantime, are there any other Techie Real Estate Professionals out there dealing with these issues?
UPDATE: I have recently switched to Real Estate Webmasters and have wrote a follow up post on my long journey through the IDX labryrinth that I have recently struggled with. You can read it here: http://www.greatcoloradohomes.com/blog/my-journey-through-idx-options-and-a-quick-review-of-real-estate-webmasters.html. Please feel free to contact me directly if you need advice or have questions about your IDX options.
Photo Credit to http://sxc.hu/
IDX Broker tried to reply to this post at the end of September, but my blog would reject their comments as Spam, so I asked them to send me their response so that I could post it here. It was nice to hear from them and to know that they have address some of the issues above.
A Response from IDX Broker
Thank you to everyone who has provided us with this valuable feedback. This is a great opportunity for us to clarify a few things.We take our client's concerns to heart, so allow us address them directly -
- “My users now have to perform a custom search and choose to only receive active listings from the advanced menu, which is a major inconvenience. This option is not even available in the maps section, so the map search is now swamped with "under contract" listings... They really don't care though.”
No longer an issue. Now, all clients can globally hide listings that have a specific status attached to them.
2. “I noticed yesterday that there have been no new listings from Colorado Springs on my website since last Tuesday (6 days ago). I just called IDX Broker to resolve the issue. I was told that they have to manually change over each agent's website to start receiving the new data.”
This has been addressed. We have already built several tools to resolve this issue.
3. IDX Broker was not using Google Maps anymore and decided to use MapQuest.”
Google Maps was requiring an expensive licensing agreement so rather than pass the expense on to our users we switched to MapQuest. Its easier for clients to customize, and helps keep our prices competitive. This solution has also enabled us to develop new Map features quickly - like Polygon Search and Pin Clustering.
4. “I've learned that if my pages look funky, I should wait a day before I work on them because IDX Broker is usually just screwing with the page templates for the day”
No longer an issue. We are using a versioning process. This enables clients to choose to upgrade to the latest version of the template.
5. "Today I noticed the the load times were extremely slow on my IDX pages. When I checked the load speed on Pingdom, it showed that the DNS connect time to IDX Brokers servers took around 9 seconds. This is a new problem that I will have to look into tomorrow, because it may just be a temporary problem for today.”
This issue was likely a temporary problem for that day, but we have also made some significant speed improvements recently to IDX pages. We are working on speeding up pages and MLS updates even more in the future.
We have a dedicated team of developers, and our product is under continuous development. We appreciate your feedback, and will use it to maintain IDX Broker's position as the #1 most trusted IDX solution on the market. Thanks for allowing us the opportunity to respond. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
Hi! I'm Andrew Fortune, the founder of Great Colorado Homes and the creator of much of the content on this website. Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to share this article with someone who might benefit from it. I appreciate your time here on this site and am always open to suggestions and ideas from our readers. Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.
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