Just one more day…
If you’ve been uttering these words to yourself because you are finishing a project and it needs more time, like a lot more time you are not alone.
I’ve been uttering these words to myself every day for the past 6 months and thanks to you a ecommerce push post that I read on Chris Lema’s blog and his challenge that gave me a tight deadline to release my real estate plugin for WordPress.
This challenge gave me a launch date to strive for.
To participate in this challenge I have to create a new ecommerce product using Easy Digital Downloads plugin, iThemes Exchange or create a Bookings site.
This challenge could not have come at a better time, because after several months of daily coding, countless night and day hours of coding testing and planning the real estate plugin is ready.
Finally Easy Property Listings is ready to download, use and give us your feedback.
Chris’s challenge has given me the final push to get it out there.
What can a “novice” developer bring to the huge WordPress community?
After listing and selling houses for eleven years and being the tech head (was a graphic designer before real estate) using TopProducer I thought “I need a website for my real estate business” so quickly signed up for TopProducer’s website system and pretty much got an empty shell with generic content on it, it never worked.
Like that would ever work now with Google…
Mostly because I had no clue about niche marketing and how to deliver a specific message that actually generated a lead.
Years later and being the knowledge sponge that I am was introduced to internet marketing from a man by the name of Michael Russer, also known as “Mr Internet” who taught internet marketing for real estate agents.
This is where my internet marketing and website interest really began, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
In the end I built a custom site called Easy First Sale by using a developer in India. This was before WordPress was mature enough as a CMS and I pretty much never heard of it anyway.
It was a disaster, impossible to maintain, and adding new content was next to impossible.
The funny thing is there are a lot of these types of web sites still being built by big companies using old outdated software that the end client can’t update.
Looking back, WordPress is a truly fantastic extendable website system that can grow with your business needs.
Why build a real estate plugin for WordPress when there are others in the market?
Having tried and used other many of the available real estate WordPress plugins on client’s sites I’ve found them to be either:
- too basic.
- difficult to set up.
- don’t work with my theme.
- can be slow with lots of custom fields.
- hard to work with because of how they are written.
- and… don’t work for a non fixed price Australian real estate market.
Speaking to developers over the years most of them just say no to real estate websites, as they are too hard to build or quote a huge amount to do them.
Well being a problem solver kind of guy thought I could do better.
A lot of real estate agents want to use WordPress for their website but agents and brokers do not want to double enter listing data on several websites, and this causes a major problem.
Today there are solutions to handle the listing portals but they don’t play well with WordPress and again require hundreds of custom entry fields to be compatible.
One of my first commercial experiences with a real estate plugin was using a widely used plugin called WP-Property.
Getting WP-Property initially configured was a bit of a nightmare which later turned out to be worse because it bundles all the listings in the same post type, not to mention it didn’t handle “no-price” or “From Price” on listings and marking a property “Under Offer” was almost impossible trying to figure out their code.
It was fine for a time until one of my real estate clients Jarrad at Investors Edge Real Estate said “I want to set up a property feed and am going to use MyDesktop*, can we import listings from that Merv?”.
*MyDesktop now have a Premium Lite Version that just does listing data feeds.
Confident I was… at that time my WordPress knowledge was good, but my PHP and CSS non-existent. But like any young gung-ho padawan said “Jarrad, I can do anything”.
So we purchased the premium extras for WP-Property: XML import and the nifty Supermap and set out to configure the REAXML property feed.
I spoke too soon… everything seemed to be going so well. 🙁
That was like another language to learn with XML selectors, oh boy days went by.
Not to mention the challenge to get it to work with our theme.
Their premium theme was nice but what we planned for Investors Edge required a more robust theme framework that allowed us to customise widgets down to each page.
Anyone who has used WordPress knows many themes come with 5-6 layouts but we needed more. There are other frameworks now but the excellent training and iThemes Builder framework is fantastic, especially if you don’t want to constantly write php.
The second problem was how slow WP-Property plugin got with 30 custom fields. Any plugin that can create custom fields tends to slow to a crawl when you need over 10-15 fields, but I pressed on.
Another challenge was dealing with the REAXML format, you can read about here.
Just this year FeedSync REAXML Processor was released to developers which merges and geocodes the property entries into one file ready for import into WordPress or other software.
As you can see there are a lot of roadblocks facing WordPress developers today who what to build a real estate site using WordPress and import properties using a feed system.
These experiences and challenges I faced, first as a Real Estate agent trying to get online, and later as a developer has driven me to create a better solution
My goal has been to build a plugin that is easy enough for a real estate agent or PA, to easily setup a real estate website to display property listings and grow the web site over time. Hopefully they find a developer who can help them get better faster.
The second goal being a WordPress developer is that it is really hard to build real estate websites. And after 4 years I’m still struggling, you probably are too.
“Why can’t real estate plugins be as simple to set up and use as e-commerce plugins.”
Prototype the plugin using a custom post type and custom meta field generator
Early 2013 a prototype was created using PODS Framework which worked really well for a time.
I used PODS as I avoided learning PHP which later ended up causing me months of delays. PODS is great for smaller projects but it struggled as did WP-Property with what was needed. That ended up being multiple custom taxonomies, several custom post types, some using over 40 custom meta fields.
Harder still was using a prototype on several client sites and using PODS exporting and importing was a pain.
Any plugin where you need a lot of custom meta fields in WordPress can significantly slow and even killed a few websites. Not good.
My avoidance of learning PHP was really kicking me now when I was down.
But one thing was more certain now than ever, even with the shortfalls of a prototype. I was now able to set up the property listing parts of real estate websites in a few minutes.
Other real estate plugins needed several hours just to configure the various custom fields and XML imports.
No wonder developers often say no to WordPress real estate websites.
First hand experience being frustrated building real estate websites is what drove me to build Easy Property Listings
I set out to find out what was missing from other real estate plugins and what developers wanted. After reading hundreds of reviews on WordPress and visiting various plugin support forums helped help create a better solution for you.
Some of the core requirements we wanted in the real estate plugin are:
- It must be easy to set up for users of any experience level to get it working in a few minutes.
- It must also be able to work for large real estate businesses with many agents.
- It has to be flexible so it can be used in any market around the world.
- It must be able to be extended to support other services and offer advanced features through extensions.
- It must have dynamic widgets that can display listings so other plugins are not needed.
- It must use the standard archive and single templates and not short codes.
- It must have short codes for open houses lists.
- It must have customisable short codes for sold/current listings.
- It must have a clever search widget.
- It must use separate post types for different listings as rental and for sale listings are totally different.
- It must be able to output RSS for MailChimp property alerts.
- It must support multiple authors for each listing.
- It must be written using WordPress coding standards.
- It must not use too much CSS, because undoing CSS is a pain.
- It must be extendable with hooks and filters for developers.
- It must work with any theme.
These are some of the core things it needs to do, and above all else it must be able to be configured in minutes no matter what your skill level is.
Change is hard…
Argh, not only do I have to create a sophisticated easy to use real estate property listing plugin but also need to:
- Write documentation
- Write copy and posts
- Create videos
- Pricing options
- How to offer support
- Figure out what to call it
- How to get it to market
- Start a plugin codex
- Build a support forum
- Create a website for the plugin
- Provide automatic updates
These are very different problems for a WordPress developer who is usually worrying about design, creating themes and dealing with customers in person.
What do I charge for this thing… Do I make totally free and go broke, do I make it a premium plugin, sell extensions or what? Again some very different questions that really aren’t what I’m used to but Chris’s wrote a great e-book about pricing which helped a lot.
I had to make a decision…
Option 1: Full Featured Free Plugin with Paid Support and services
One business model is to create a free full featured plugin with paid support. However this is more geared for businesses looking to generate revenue directly from support or offering setup services.
Not good for a small team in a massive real estate market.
Yes we could grow our development team, but prefer to use our time to make the plugin better and help thousands of other developers who usually say no to Real Estate websites because they are just too hard.
A full free option can work for some plugins but is more difficult for real estate and property because of all the different third-party services like email, integration software and dozens of various real estate XML standards.
Option 2: Premium Plugin with a free demo
The Premium plugin model like Gravity Forms is great but will not allow us to get the exposure needed to get it into developers hands without spending thousands of dollars on pay-per-click or other marketing avenues to tell you about it.
We considered a cut down limited version for free with a paid upgrade but this can create more problems for a small team maintaining multiple versions.
Option 3: Free with paid extensions
After a lot of reading and research one thing really stuck which was offering a free core plugin and offer paid extensions just like Easy Digital Downloads, Ninja Forms and iThemes Exchange.
This option gives us access to the WordPress.org plugin directory so more people can find it use it and benefit from the plugin and extensions and offer premium support for those who need it.
My dream has been to create a plugin that can grow beyond the initial vision, and not limit it because “We can’t get to that right now”.
The extensions model really excites me because not only can we create cool extensions, but other developers can too and build tools and extensions to support the many different services and real estate standards around the world.
How do you make a Real Estate plugin for WordPress do everything and work for every senario?
You don’t… there are too many different standards around the world. Why overload the base plugin with excess code that a single agent doesn’t need, its crazy and creates additional complexity not only for the user but the developers.
In the beginning all the features were bundled, it was a mess.
Research what others are doing
Easy Digital Downloads with its Extensions model which adds features to the base plugin is excellent, because the core code is clean and not bloated with stuff I may never use. However when you need for example to build a subscriber list using MailChimp which I love, 2 minutes later its installed and working. To me that is really cool.
Thing is I use Mailchimp, you may use InfusionSoft or Aweber. Now with extensions we or other talented developers can create extensions for you.
Keeping you up-to-date
Our extensions are powered by Easy Digital Downloads Software Licensing extension to manage not only the software extension sales but we can deliver seamless automatic updates to your WordPress dashboard.
We have lots of extensions planned, and having been in real estate, I can’t believe they don’t exist already.
Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter and to stay tuned to whats coming.
With the extensions model selected, we needed a website and to select the tools to get the job done
Before getting into the tools, I have to thank the team at iThemes and WebDesign.com for making me a really happy customer and giving me excellent training over the years. I recommend you take a look.
Tools – Learn WordPress from the fantastic team at WebDesign.com
Perhaps you’re an aspiring developer and want to learn about WordPress. Hop over to WebDesign.com and you will get excellent web development training, from beginner, intermediate to advanced and master your skills as I have. Who am I kidding I’m not a master, but after being a member for the past four years, continue to learn from them.
Tools – iThemes Builder Theme Framework
I’ve been using the iThemes Builder Framework since version 2 and since then have watched it grow and get better and better over the years.
Back when I started building websites, my limited knowledge of CSS and PHP, I was looking for a framework that didn’t require me to know much code.
You can build any site with iThemes Builder. Most of my themes start from their Builder Air Theme which allows total control over CSS.
It’s funny, one of the reasons for selecting that framework many years ago was their Styles CSS plugin.
Now that my knowledge of CSS and PHP is advanced I still choose to use iThemes Builder Framework because I can build any type of web site using it, and it also gives you the freedom of endless layouts and widget configuration all without code*.
*As with every project, you need to know some code and they have an extensive codex.
If your PHP skills are limited and you want to be able to build dynamic web sites with multiple page layouts and are looking for a theme framework where you can build sites quickly, then do yourself a favour and look at iThemes Builder.
Tools – bbPress support forum
New to the bbPress WordPress plugin it was really easy to set up and integrated easily with the iThemes builder theme.
All i did was setup all the initial forums and connect it with iThemes Exchange to restrict access to the Premium Support.
Looking forward to seeing how it works for me.
Tools – iThemes Exchange with Membership Extension and Membership for bbPress add-on.
Using these plugins allowed me to configure a priority support area using PayPal as the payment processor. Once it was activated and after creating the two priority support levels the add-ons automatically restricted the Priority Support forum.
Tools – Easy Digital Downloads
This is the first time I’ve used the Easy Digital Downloads plugin for WordPress and it really is easy to setup and use to sell products online.
Now with the EDD Software Licensing add-on we are able to provide automatic updates for each extension so you can download updates to your extensions quickly and easily from within your WordPress dashboard.
Without EDD, this would have taken several months to developing a solution or hacking together something to handle what it does. It definitely would not do a fraction of what can be done with EDD.
After reading the instructions and watching some of the tutorial videos it only took a few hours to add the Software Licensing code into the core of the Real Estate Plugin, Easy Property Listings.
This is really helpful as we have lots of extensions planned for Easy Property Listings and can focus on them without having to worry about the technical side of delivery and providing automatic extension updates, it just works seamlessly.
Because of these great tools the vision for Easy Property Listings has been able to be achieved
Download the plugin, test it out and let us know how you go and what you think.
Leave your feedback and support requests at the Easy Property Listings Support forums.