The #1 Mistake Most Real Estate Brokers and Agents Make (1st Commandment of Real Estate Websites)

Title Image for a blog post about the number 1 mistake most realtors make
Founder of InboundREM an inbound marketing lead generation company focused on SEO. Blogger. Real Estate SEO expert. Real Estate Lead Generation expert. Real estate online marketing fanatic. Podcaster. Occasional public speaker and frequent vlogger.

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This isn’t going to be one of those articles where you have to read 1000 words to just to discover the six relevant things you’re looking for. We’re telling you upfront: the number one mistake most agents and real estate agents make? NOT OWNING THEIR OWN WEBSITE. Don’t believe us? Read on.

Now let’s be clear…are we talking about simply HAVING a website? No. According to the most recent annual Realtor Technology Survey, 72% of realtors have a website. What I am talking about is WHO OWNS your website.

I can almost hear you saying, “But how do I know if I own my website?” If you have to ask, the answer is most likely you do NOT own your website. If any of the vendors on the following list built your website, you DO NOT OWN IT:

Now some of these vendors occasionally make exceptions and might send you the site files that comprise your website, but in signing up for their service, you at one point had to agree that not only is your website their intellectual property, but often times so is the information being put on the website. Meaning you doesn’t own that either…even though it’s your information.

Why Should I Own My Own Real Estate Website?

Quiz: Should I Own or Lease?

If you can answer yes to any of the questions below, it VERY MUCH matters if you own your website:

  • Do you plan to be in the real estate business more than another three to five years?
  • Are you currently or do you plan on becoming a broker as opposed to an agent?
  • Do you need cost effective long term lead generation?
  • Do you currently spend over $10,000 per year on ANY kind of advertising?
  • Do you employ any kind of online marketing service including bloggers, social media, listing services with a focus in online, SEO providers, or just online lead generation?
  • Do your branding and personal images have to be 100% in your control?

But there are also circumstances when shouldn’t own your own real estate website:

  • Are you nearing retirement or unsure if you’re staying in real estate?
  • Are you planning any moves or major business changes in the near future?
  • Do you already have a multitude of technology projects underway?
  • Are you already so busy that an additional two hours a week to build, manage, and maintain a new project of any kind is impossible?
  • Do you have business partners but no clear partnership agreement?
  • Is your level of technical knowledge so low that you don’t know how to even attempt to build a website, much less manage it… and you don’t have the resources to hire someone to manage the project for you?

Let’s break the “why” and the “why not” down…

One of the ways website ownership comes most into play is when you have hired a third party to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on your website. One of the very first questions we ask clients looking to get their company on the first page of search results is… do you have FTP access?

The silence is typically deafening. “What does FTP mean?” That’s relatively easy: File Transfer Protocol. But what does that mean? Your website is made up of files. Let’s imagine these files are in a locked cabinet. File Transfer Protocol gives you the access to open this file cabinet, remove the files, take notes, and reorganize them as you need. Except in this case, the website providers are keeping the key.

Nine times out of ten, the people that built your website didn’t know jack squat about how to build it so Google could easily understand and find these files.

The problem is, making things easy for Google also means making things harder for your web developer. And you, the client, would never know the difference. So ask yourself a serious question:

What do you think the chances are that a web developer will spend A LOT of extra hours building you a product that will perform better under a limited set of circumstances when they know that you will never know the difference?

If we’re being realistic, those chances are very low.

So here you are. You’re three months in and you’ve given your website developer somewhere between $500 – $5,000. And they’ve given you a website that only looks functional. And you can’t even get in there yourself to actually make it truly functional on an SEO level.

But why bother dealing with it at all? There are plenty of companies out there that will sell you access to their lead generation platforms. You won’t own the platform, but it will generate leads.

You have to make a choice now. This is where YOUR business goals become relevant.

  • IF you plan on being an agent or broker for 3 or more years,
  • IF you want to keep experiencing a 15-25% revenue increase without ALWAYS having to jump up your marketing budget by a corresponding amount,
  • IF you want to see a two- or three-tier return on your marketing dollars instead of the standard-lead-to-conversion ratio offered by ALL lead generating services,
  • IF you have a LONG-TERM mindset related to all elements of your personal business

Then search engine optimization is the single most important marketing activity you can pursue. And you HAVE to own your website in order to be able to effectively pursue it.

Let’s circle back around to the circumstances in which you don’t have to own your own website.

What if you plan on getting out of the real estate business? Or if you’re uncertain about future plans because you’re new to the real estate business. Or perhaps you’re only working real estate part-time and you don’t know if you’ll ever make the switch to full-time. Maybe you’re making a major geographic move sometime soon?

Owning your own website is a long-term business strategy.

Everything that we’re recommending is irrelevant if your plans are uncertain or don’t extend into the foreseeable future. What’s more, if you’re in any sort of doubt about your commitment to real estate, a long-term strategy should be avoided. There are plenty of companies that offer low-cost, high-quality solutions in terms of real estate websites. Sure, you won’t own your site, but you won’t have to invest much of your time, energy, or resources in it either, as you should be able to keep your website budget under $200 a year.

The fact is, that while there definitely are reasons why real estate professionals might not want to own their website, in our experience eight out of ten real estate agents and near 100% of brokers want long-term, sustainable recognition and lead generation on the web.

Comparison of Owning vs. Leasing Your Website

The cons of leasing or renting someone else’s real estate marketing platform:

  • Most of the long-term value generated by your website is shunted to the website provider, increasing their company’s value past your own.
  • If you leave your vendor, there are serious costs and consequences ranging from STARTING OVER, losing your lead flow, losing your territory, having to pay for a new website, moving all content and existing progress to another site (which, of course, costs more money), and/or having your current provider fumble by accident… or on purpose… a site move (see: starting over).
  • Your vendor has Terms of Service Agreement signed by you giving them rights to the intellectual property on the platform they own (your website). Should a dispute arise, they have a very strong position, but lately taking grievances to platforms like Facebook and Yelp has put a lot of power back into the hands of the consumer.

The pros of leasing or renting someone else’s real estate marketing platform:

  • If all you want to do is pay for a lead and you don’t care about the cost or the long-term value of your brand, then there are vendors where you could achieve anywhere from a 4/1 to 10/1 return on your marketing dollars. You will have zero control over your lead source. You will still have a learning curve and thus need to invest your time to get decent performance out of “pay-to-play” vendors. However this learning curve IS a lot less than taking the longer viewpoint and learning how to manage SEO and Lead conversion providers.
  • That’s it. Convenience.

The cons of owning your own real estate website:

  • You’ll need to educate yourself more than if you had let someone else hand you leads. How much and in what areas is going to vary greatly depending on your business objectives and location.
  • You’ll need to “mind the store.” The advantage of letting someone else put their stamp on a website to a minor degree makes them culpable for appearance and performance. Unfortunately, since your name is right next to theirs, this is a minor advantage as anything with your name on it is also a reflection of you.
  • You’ll have to invest more time and resources upfront..

The pros of owning your own real estate website:

  • You have control over your brand. It’s more work, but for the detail-oriented and image-conscious owning a website is the only way to assert control over your first handshake to the world.
  • Your website is an investment, not an expense. We recently negotiated the sale of a real estate domain for a small brokerage. The sale itself netted the business owner around $45,000. He confided that that figure was roughly similar to the marketing costs for the entire lifetime of the site, meaning that the sale of the site zeroed out expenses. Big deal? Yes. The site made him 20 million in yearly sales solely from the leads it generated.
  • You’re able to be flexible. In the current real estate market, almost all leads are generated through an information exchange process. Being able to adapt yours to the constantly changing needs of your audience can only be achieved by avoiding getting “locked” in to any particular solution or slow-moving vendor.
  • You have control over your lead flow. In almost all cases when you’re buying leads, the vendor is dictating terms. Meaning that not only can they dictate what constitutes your “territory” and how “available” it is, they can also raise costs arbitrarily based upon your perceived success. Owning your own website allows you to control what geo-specific areas you target, how much effort you spend on each, and ultimately gives you complete control over how you handle a lead once it’s obtained.
  • You have negotiating power. Owning your site in name and copies of website files actually gives you the power to dictate to your vendors on services they provide and how they will provide them… because you can leave whenever you want. Not only that, but you can also grant access to multiple marketing companies without asking any of them for permission. As with all things in business, ownership is more effort but puts you in the driver’s seat.
  • You have a much higher dollar for dollar return on investment. Assuming you have a properly built website and your IDX is set up correctly to capture leads, $24,000 will go two to ten times farther than buying leads.

We could tell you all day about the benefits of owning your own website, but we’re going to cut things off here. Just remember: whether you buy traffic or attract traffic, a percentage of those users will bookmark your website and you become their go-to real estate search tool. Even if you stopped paying for marketing and your traffic dropped by 70%, the remaining 30% would completely recoup your marketing investment if you stayed in business for another 5 to 10 years… at the end of which you can sell the website. There are a good number of real estate business owners that entirely recover the cost of marketing on top of whatever their lead-to-transaction conversion rate was. No direct marketing platform is ever going to beat a cost of $0.

Are you ready to start your real estate website search?

Whether you think you want to rent or lease your new website I’ve made the research part easy. I’ve reviewed the top 10 companies that make real estate websites in 2017. I hope you enjoyed this first installment of “The Ten Commandments of Real Estate Web sites.” There are nine remaining commandments, which will be rolled out over the next 30 days. Thou shalt… P.S. I did a video tutorial FOUR years ago. It’s success and considerable feedback from viewers is what inspired my 10 Commandments of Real Estate website content. Here is a link to that video if you’re interested. Top 10 mistakes Real Estate Website Owners make | Mistake #1


  1. Brendy

    I was very pleased to find this website. I wanted to thank you for your time for this wonderful post!! I dentliiefy enjoy reading it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

  2. Brea

    You did not list REW or Sierra Interactive. These companies are supposedly good for SEO but are “rental” sites. What are your thoughts? THX

    1. Robert Newman

      I haven’t actually researched those companies. I will now:-)

      1. Jeannie

        Did you ever look into REW and Sierra Interactive? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

        1. Robert Newman

          I have run across REW many many times. They are one of the better vendors in the real estate marketing space. If you want to hire someone permanently (as in you KNOW you will NEVER want to control your leads and you don’t mind handing over $15,000 a year x?) I don’t think ANYONE should invest $150,000 across the span of a real estate career and not end up with a website they can sell for as much or more than they invested into it. It DOES take the time to learn. But the concept is 100% similar to renting or owning a home. 95% of ALL people would be better off owning. Sierra interactive I HAVEN’T run across. Do you have experience with them? I would be happy to do some research for you if your looking for a specific question to be answered.

  3. Annette Skalomenos

    Very timely for me – I am looking for a new vendor. I look forward to the rest of your RE commandments. informative, insightful and Useful! – Annette skalomenos, Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper, Realtors in San Antonio, TX


    Honestly, I think the No. 1 mistake real estate agents make is this idea that if a lead isn t ready right now, it s a dead-end lead. And they make the mistake of giving up on that lead.

  5. Patti Fortune

    Hi Robert, Your article was very informative. I’m glad I came across it. I have owned my own website for 20 years. however because I am a very busy agent, it has become outdated many times, not functioning at times and managing content and updates is a nightmare! I’m currently working on a real Geeks site to take this full time never ending site management off my hands. One thing I’ve learned that I thought would be good for your readers to also understand, is that managing a personal website is a full time job, not just 2hrs a week. When this is not your business you need to spend many hours a week keeping up on technology as well as your own profession. Then backend updates. In this profession its better to have a current website that is user friendly and gives you leads than to own your own and its outdated and DYSFUNCTIONAL.

    In addition, trying to find a web person to manage is another can of worms. I have gone thru many. They never do what they say they will do, it always takes 4x longer than they said it would take and your will be billed twice as much as the quote. the content will still not be up to date and in the end you will spend more of your time managing this than doing the activities that get your you paid. That’s just my two cents.

    1. robert


      Finding high-quality vendors is another blog post I will be focusing on. Also after much consideration, I think I will be moving in the direction of educating my website visitors on HOW they can own a website, get leads from SEO or social marketing…all without making it a full-time job. Im glad the article inspired a response. Real Geeks make a good website using the best IDX currently available that will produce leads (IDX broker). You’ll have to pay to drive traffic to the site and you will be beholden to real geeks to keep up with market trends. However so far in my experience they have done so. Thank you so much for leaving a comment. It means alot to me. I’m sure my readers will appreciate your insight.

    2. Doug Taylor

      I couldn’t agree more Patti! I’m “in the tech business” and I still couldn’t keep up. Currently switching over to RG’s platform. Just wish their customer support included phone support for quick questions. Other than that I’m pretty happy so far. Robert, great article! Provides lots of value and gives the reader much to think about. Like everything in life, it all comes down to choices.

      1. Robert Newman


        I run a real geeks website for a client in preparation for a detailed review. Perhaps I can help with questions. I’ve watched about 6 hours of videos and read maybe 10 pages of support documentation.

  6. Jane Gordon

    I did not want to sign up for a web host but I was pressured by a company named Agent Elite in Newport Beach. I kept telling them that I was not sure I would continue as an agent because I am retired and want to travel instead of work. They wore me down and I said ok. I was never told that this was an uncancellable contract for one year. I informed them seven days later that I was no longer a licensed agent, had no IDX or Association board but they refuse to cancel a contract that I cannot use. The man in charge, Nick Reis angrily told me he would put me in collection if I do not pay them $199 set up, $101 partial month of August and $119 monthly service. Fee and $9.00 monthly IDX fee. Since I am no longer a Realtor, why won’t he simply cancel this contract (the domain is inactive so I do not even have a site). Please take a look at Jane4Homes and you will see it is no longer active.

    I really do not know what to do about this company and the man in charge (or what he really does at this company.

    1. Robert Newman

      Jane, sadly this kind of behavior runs rampant in the real estate technology space. It looks like you set an appointment with me. Ill be happy to provide the suggestions I have to give you some leverage.

  7. Upset REW client

    I’m at a crossroads. I’ve been a REW client for 15 years. I was one of their clients back when they did allow FTP access.

    They have always been expensive but it’s gotten ridiculous. If you google REW’s owners net worth it’s over $75 Million, yet when I talk to their customer service they have to increase their prices because they’re not making enough money…

    I’ve been to a few REW conventions, the owner is always staying in the nicest penthouse in the hotel at a cost of over $10,000 a night. REW clients made the owner a very wealthy man, now those same people who helped make him wealthy are getting shat upon with absurd price increases.

    I’ve been a webmaster and still host a number of my own websites. Decent web hosting that can handle thousands of visitors a month can still be found for less than $100 a year. That’s right, One hundred dollars a year will cover the price of hosting a website, so why is REW charging $4000 to $20,000 for a website and then an additional $499 ($500) a month for hosting? Do the math $500 x 12 = $6000 a year for something that should cost no more than $100.

    I’ve invested over $50,000 with REW over the years and they are giving me no choice but to leave them.

    Not posting my real name or real email address for fear of REW backlash.

    1. Robert Newman

      I appreciate the candor. I might be able to provide another option. If you would like to discuss privately leave me some contact info via my contact page or you can schedule a meeting directly with my calendar that is on the homepage to my website. The information you shared RE price increases and retrobution are stories I have heard before from other REW clients. Even if you dont reach out I very much appreciate you sharing your experience. I think its important that other real estate professionals have a chance to weigh the facts before making decisions on who they are going to partner with.

  8. Sharon Greene


    Your site was very detailed on how to do business with website companies. You are giving back.

    Much appreciation.

    1. Robert Newman

      Sharon, Thank you so much! I hope Keller Williams is treating you well. I really appreciate you taking a little time to comment. Did you check out my The 10 best companies making real estate websites post?

  9. siehead

    Hi there, so how do I go about building a website that I own (or paying someone to do it). When I need certain tools like a decent IDX set up? Any people/companies you recommend that can do this?

    1. Robert Newman

      If you’re going the “do it yourself” route. Agent Evolution is a good place to start. They are owned by IDX broker so IDX is built into the solution. If you want someone to just build you a website Agent Image is a good place to start. Please read my review carefully before signing up for them.

      1. Tamara

        If I go with Agent Evolution will I need to still get a web developer to make my site?

        1. Robert Newman

          Usually yes. I emailed you a link to a case study I wrote using the Agent Evolution theme. It’s not as detailed as some of my other work which is why it didn’t make it onto IREM. But I think it is helpful in terms of being a decent outline.

  10. tamara

    I contracted last November with REW- still do not have a live site- and they told me I need to pay more for the customization I already agreed to. We were promised one person to be our go to guy and for the first 30 days he did not even call back- then we got another guy who explained the first guy is two busy- then that guy got to busy- so we got a third guy who takes days to call and 12 weeks to make any changes each time.
    we paid the 5K for the site and 2800 up front for customization on the CRM- and signed a 3 year contract- we want out – our site is still not live and we have reached out by email and phone to try and cancel and now no one will return calls.

    1. Robert Newman


      First I am very sorry you had that experience. Second, thank you so much for sharing. Leaving a review publically might speed up the response process.

  11. Rick

    I’m new to real estate industry and even more so to your site and it’s content. I’m finding it authentic, useful and relevant. Thank you for that.

  12. Barbara

    Thanks for your words. What are your thoughts on KVcore? I have bounced around on different options learning about this kinda crazy website building world. It becomes hard to know who to trust.

    1. Robert Newman


      I’ve actually already done a full written and video review of Kvcore. It’s on the agenda for publication. Since it’s not out yet I am going to email you the unpublished video which fully covers the pros and cons of Kvcore in my opinion.

  13. Patrick Walker

    Owning a website is very helpful for the business and to get leads.

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