The term "kerb appeal" is familiar to all property market participants, encapsulating, as it so succinctly does, the impact of first impressions on house-hunters who are viewing potential homes. Estate agents will, as a matter of course, explain to their clients the established fact that prospective buyers usually make up their minds about whether a property is worth further investigation within seconds of first seeing it and that careful attention to external appearances is therefore vital if they wish to sell their house quickly and profitably. Which isn't, of course, to say that the more substantial internal features can be neglected. These are, in fact, typically the factors that will ultimately seal the deal.
The same principles can be directly applied when estate agents are building a company website: a great homepage, with its kerb appeal, will entice customers to explore your services further, while superb content and functionality will win and retain business going forwards. In this Nethouseprices guide, we set out the rules for building a site which perfectly combines form and function - the perfect estate agency website.
Part One: before you start
1. Know your budget
Establishing exactly how much you can afford to pay to set up and maintain a website is of crucial importance. It will help you to determine whether to employ an external professional design agency to produce the architecture and aesthetics of the site or whether it would be a better idea to build a site in-house using one of the many online web construction tools. Equally, it will help you to evaluate the different methods of accumulating and updating content and to decide whether this is a project that could be managed by you or a member of your personnel or whether the more cost-effective and time-efficient approach would be to outsource content creation and maintenance.
Budgets are usually tight and margins narrow for start-up enterprises, so there will be an understandable temptation to cut corners and look at cheaper design packages. While this will often be the correct way forward, do bear in mind that the lowest prices in this marketplace are often accompanied by basic production values and limited functionality - issues which could compromise your service in the future. Just to exemplify, you might find that you have limited options for receiving online payments when you opt for the less expensive platforms.
2. Be realistic
This advice isn't intended to curtail your ambition, but rather to stress that the award-winning property websites which you have no doubt explored in depth have been developed over quite a number of years. They started from zero, too, and it's unrealistic to expect to match their product when you first go online. Do use them for inspiration and to inform your own efforts, but don't expect to challenge them directly in the short-term. There's a collateral benefit in managing your website start-up expectations, namely that it will mean that you are more likely to make realistic offers and be able to deliver on the services you promise.
3. What's your offer?
In other words, what is your promise to customers? Are you offering the lowest fees in your part of Scotland, along with a free instant house valuation? Are you serving a niche high value market in Edinburgh, for example, with house styling provided as a complementary service? Are you operating in an area like the Lake District, where your specialist knowledge of the holiday-let industry makes you the ideal agent for those buying and selling second homes? Perhaps you are based in a city centre with a diverse population and many different types of housing, and your expert insight into the community's idiosyncrasies means that you have an excellent track record in matching buyers with sellers on a lucrative and timely basis.
Your offer or your unique selling point should be inherent in every aspect of your website's appearance and functionality and, in turn, every aspect of your website's appearance and functionality should be geared to delivering on this promise. Ask yourself whether these criteria are being met whenever you are asked to make a decision about your site. This will help you to:
- exclude the irrelevancies and detours which are off-putting and frustrating to clients
- ensure that you stay "on message" and retain your customers' attention
- guarantee that your efforts are constantly directed towards providing the excellent service that will attract and retain customers.
4. Who is your customer?
In many ways, this is a refinement of the above point. Put simply, as well as being clear on what you are offering, you need to be attuned to your likely customer base. If, for instance, you are selling lower priced homes, your clientele might be largely comprised of first time buyers who will require guidance and may appreciate some web-based education on procedural issues, such as conveyancing. At the other end of the scale, if you are working in the luxury sector, your clients are likely to be experienced in the house-buying process and more interested in added-value investment commentary or analysis of the movement of house prices in the UK.
Similarly, there are regional and demographic variations to be borne in mind. Customers in a leafy, affluent London suburb will have a different set of expectations of an estate agent than their counterparts elsewhere in Britain. Your website needs to be sensitive to these issues and to provide an online experience that is relevant and satisfactory. Again, do try to be mindful of this throughout the whole process of building your site.
We hope you have found the first instalment of this guide to building the perfect estate agency website useful. In the second part, we will look at design and content considerations. Visit Nethouseprices again soon for this, as well as for our up-to-date coverage of house prices in the UK, the health of the private rental sector, property legislation news, and the other property investment issues affecting your business
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