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Responsive real estate website design – a DIY project, Part 1

A few of you may know that I’m currently redeveloping our Atlanta real estate website,, to give it a design refresh. Though I considered outsourcing our website to an all-in-one design / hosting / idx service provider, in the end I decided I was too much of a WordPress addict (read: control freak) to give up that flexibility.

With WordPress, for virtually anything you want to do, “there’s a plugin for that.” (In fact, there are some excellent plugins that come in very handy specifically for mobile design, which I’ll cover in a follow-up post.) And if I want to tweak anything on my site, I can jump in myself and get it done. With an all-in-one provider, you’ll end up paying for every minor tweak, and having to wait for it to be completed on their schedule. If you’re a set-it-and-forget-it type with regards to your website, perhaps that will work for you. I have another website with that arrangement, and frankly, it drives me crazy! I tend to analyze (perhaps overanalyze) every detail on my site, and like to change things often to make A/B comparisons to see what works better. That’s just not practical unless I have direct control of all aspects of the site.

Our current design is about 3 years old now, and much has changed in those 3 short years. Though my primary objective is to make the site mobile-responsive, since I’m starting with blank slate, I might as well make sure I encompass the latest in web design trends. So I Googled around a bit about and this is what I found I should seek in a web design:

  1. In: Responsive (duh).
    Out: Redirecting mobile users to “m.” or “.mobi” version of your site
  2. In: Retina support.
    Out: fuzzy graphics on High-DPI screens.
  3. In: Flat design. (Think iOS 7, Windows 8, etc.)
    Out: Skeuomorphic or 3D elements.
  4. In: Fixed header bars. (Menu remains visible as you scroll down.)
    Out: Having to scroll all the way back to top to find the menu!
  5. In: Simple designs.
    Out: Overwhelming complexity.
  6. In: Large photo backgrounds.
    Out: Skinny graphic header, all text below.

Anyway, there are plenty more emerging trends, but those are some of the biggies. So my next step was to head over to themeforest and find a theme that met those criteria. For most agents, there’s no need to get a real estate-specific theme, in fact they can be counterproductive. Real estate-specific themes typically have a listing search function that can search only listings that you entered, not IDX listings. Buyers want to search all the listings, so providing them anything less than that will result in an inferior user experience, in my opinion. So, if you’re going to use an IDX-provided search form instead of a theme’s search function, the entire world of WordPress themes opens up for your consideration. There are many professionally-designed, responsive WordPress themes that, for 50 bucks, look as gorgeous as any $10,000 custom website.


Sneak preview of how our new site looks when viewed on an iPhone in portrait mode. (Subject to change, of course!)

Of course, the trade-off is, you’re going to have to do some work yourself. That means it’s not for everybody, and many would argue that most agents/brokers would be better off minding their business and letting a pro handle their website. If you’re going to tackle a project like this yourself, I’d suggest you should have the following skills.

  1. Experience working with website hosting providers.
  2. Working knowledge of WordPress in general.
  3. Familiarity with integrating your chosen IDX provider with WordPress
  4. Some knowledge of CSS, especially the @media rule.

Now, this is not to say one must be an expert in all of these fields, I’m certainly not.  If you get stuck, you can always find help for a reasonable fee on freelance sites like oDesk and Freelancer. With a little help from pros here and there, I was able to learn a lot in the process, and I hope to have our new, modern, mobile-responsive website launched to the public by the new year. When it’s finally done, I’ll let you know if it was all worth the hassle, or if I would hire a pro next time. Stay tuned to GeekEstate for more!

About Mike McGee

My wife Tina and I own and operate Intown Elite Real Estate in Atlanta GA. Like most small business owners, I wear many hats. I'm the broker, IT support guy and amateur webmaster, among other things. I run a few websites, including my primary site at, a niche site at covering lake homes near Atlanta, and others.

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