WordPress for Real Estate? Part 2: WordPress Themes and the Semi-Custom Sweet Spot

Now, if you want the site to look good... you're still going to need a designer, but because you're asking the designer to customize an existing theme to make it work for you, what you're essentially asking for is for a semi-custom design.

Spark Site Success Tips

Nelson Quest
Founder & CEO

There was once a time, long long ago (about 5 years in technology time), where there were really only 2 categories of websites for real estate professionals who wanted a website. Either you could get set up with some sort of 'template' solution, which usually consisted of choosing a theme, customizing it with your logo, photos and content (and in the process turning it into a hideous monstrosity), or you could pay a designer thousands of dollars to give you a custom solution, which may or may not have been effective depending on the content of your website and the quality of the 'ingredients'. Regardless, these were the two opposite ends of a spectrum with very little, if anything, in terms of 'in between' options. First, let's cover the bases on WordPress Themes, and then we'll explore the sweet spot

WordPress Real Estate Website Frameworks and Themes

With WordPress, there are tons of different themes that you can choose from. Unlike template solutions, themes differ in the sense that they serve more a highly customizable starting point than anything else. With some basic technological understanding, you can, with relative ease, tweak a few different options and get a somewhat custom looking site that meets the criteria of what you're looking for.

Now because you're a real estate professional, you're going to want a theme that meets two criteria.

  1. Is made for real estate (duh)
  2. Easily integrates with your chosen IDX solution

Now if you're going to be a dummy and iframe your IDX into your website, you don't really need to worry about finding a compatible theme, since you can put an iframe in any theme and quite easily at that. For those of you that opt for a WordPress specific IDX solution, like Diverse Solutions or IDXBroker, there are some definitive theme + framework combinations out there that you're going to want to be aware of. Please note that, any of these themes can be integrated with any WordPressIDX, it's just that as in the cases below, these themes have been specifically designed so that when you install that particular IDX plugin, there will already be a lot of custom styling etc. in place so that you don't have to do a lot of work really making the IDX look like it's part of your site. 

For Diverse Solutions

  1. AgentPress Theme by StudioPress (http://my.studiopress.com/themes/agentpress)
  2. RealPro Theme by StudioPress (http://my.studiopress.com/themes/realpro/)
  3. Realty de Classique Theme (http://classique.simplerealtytheme.com/)
  4. Estate Theme by WooThemes  (http://www.woothemes.com/products/estate/)

For IDXBroker

  1. WP Chromium (http://wpchromium.jccyber.com/)
  2. Luxury Mobile by RealtyCandy (http://luxurymobile.ultimaterealestatewebsites.com/)

Now, these aren't the only themes out there, and they certainly aren't the only IDX solutions available, although these are definitely among the most popular.

A Quick Note on Frameworks

The StudioPress themes use the Genesis Framework, while the Estate theme by WooThemes uses the Woo Framework. All you need to know about frameworks is that they are essentially code libraries that benefit all associated themes. They're intended to be used as a 'Parent Theme' sort of template that dictates general functionality, whereas the 'Child Themes' are used to dictate the general look and style. To say this another way, the theme generally dictates how your site 'looks', while the framework alters a lot of the stuff in your sites dashboard and behind the scenes stuff to give you more features, more control, and in some cases, better SEO, better security etc.  If this is a hard concept to grasp, don't worry too much about it.

Here at Agentfire, we use the Genesis Framework for all of our themes. We could delve into this one in more detail but as a real estate agent, if you chose any of the theme + framework combinations above you'll be ok!

How Hard is it to Customize a Theme?

Most themes come out of the box with lots of options for changing between different color schemes and have areas when you can upload your logo, photos, slider images, etc. Most of these themes also have in-depth read-me files or tutorials on how to get close to the custom design that you're looking for.

You're also going to need to get familiar with plugins, which we'll cover in our next article. These are what let you add custom elements to your sites, like the IDX itself, forms, social media stuff, etc.

If you really want the site to look great, in my opinion, you're going to need to learn some CSS, which is what gives you complete control over colors, fonts, spacing, margins, and anything else design related. If you don't want to do that, you're going to have to hire someone that can make those changes for you. I italicized 'my opinion' because I get calls from people all the time who don't seem to think their websites look horrible when they do :)

The Case for Custom Design

Now a lot of you may still be thinking, "but I don't want a template site." Maybe you don't want your site to look like everyone else's. Maybe you equate spending a lot of money with higher quality and better results. There are lots of companies out there that will build you a custom WordPress website for lots of money, and perhaps we'll write a 'Custom versus Template' post at some time in the future, but for now, let me just pose a question... if you could take a pre-existing theme that has a proven track record in terms of aesthetics, lead capture, and all the above, and just customize the crap out of that, would it be worth if you saved thousands of dollars and still ended up with a custom look?

Semi-Custom WordPress Real Estate Websites: The Sweet Spot

Now, if you want the site to look good... you're still going to need a designer, but because you're asking the designer to customize an existing theme to make it work for you, what you're essentially asking for is for a semi-custom design.

If you've been keeping tabs on some of the big players in the WordPress real estate design industry, you'll notice that most of these companies are now offering some form of semi-custom website design.

Why are they offering semi-custom? Here are the main reasons.

1) WordPress and modern style conventions make this easy Semi-custom design has always been possible, although now it's just much easier to accomplish and thus, more financially viable for web designers and companies. With WordPress you can click a few buttons to essentially 'duplicate' a theme, and then using custom CSS on a per-site basis, you can change almost every visual element of the site. Heck, you can even move things around to an extent although at that point you start venturing into more 'custom' territory.

2) Optimized Design These aren't just your run of the mill templates. The industry is rife with boxed solutions like z57 where you can choose from lots of different templates. With WordPress, most of the available real estate templates have been really optimized. I've poured over the click patterns of over 1 million unique visitors, and our Agentfire themes have been designed to reflect that. High-quality themes like AgentPress are extremely well designed, and you can't really go wrong when you take a BMW and give it a new color (excluding Maroon and Mauve).

3) Fast Turnaround equals Lower Cost Because they're working with an existing template, they're going to be saving a ton of time. It only makes sense that you should save a ton of money in return right?

Here at Agentfire, we still love to do custom design and advocate it when the clients needs are unique, but for real estate pros that want the most bang for their buck, a semi-custom design is where it's at.

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