Placester Makes IDX Shiny, Flexible and Beautiful with New Platform
What if you could make your IDX feed do EXACTLY what you wanted? Imagine the possibilities — you could show off listings near major attractions. Or allow people to search or sort based on what kind of refrigerator is in the house. You could put up as many pictures as you wanted. Or even allow your visitors to share and publish your listings to social channels.
Open Source = Flexibility, Speed and Power
Open is not necessarily a term that you associate with real estate. More often than not, real estate software is developed in a silo.
A single company develops a purpose-built solution to fit a particular market niche, and then builds a client base around it. The code behind the solution is closed, meaning that only the folks who wrote it can change it.
That’s fine, until you — as the client — want to make a change, leave that vendor or add functionality that meets the needs of your business.
All of a sudden, you’re stuck in the middle of a big fat “no” from your technology provider:
- “No, we can’t connect your (fill in the blank) to your (fill in the blank).”
- “No, we can’t export your data into a file someone else can use.”
- “No, we can’t build that feature for you. Not enough people want it.”
Even if your provider works with other open source technologies (like your IDX vendor having a plugin for your WordPress site), it may be inflexible because the IDX software is still proprietary and closed.
The founders of Boston-based Placester, Frederick Townes and Matthew Barba, think that this approach is keeping the real estate industry behind the proverbial eight ball.
It’s slow, tedious and hard to develop for real estate — just ask your favorite developer, who has probably spent more time than he would care to admit wrestling with an IDX feed.
That’s why Placester launched a new, open-source platform for real estate web development on July 15.
Placester is Much More than a WordPress Developer
Yet it’s Placester’s approach to IDX feeds that may redefine the way that real estate websites for agents, brokers, and even MLSs, are built.
It’s the first IDX feed that is open source and is ready for customization and collaboration. Every aspect of the IDX feed’s presentation can be manipulated so that agents and brokers can display exactly what they want on their websites.
Everything in the platform is built to support the customizable IDX feed. It consists of four tightly integrated modules (“the stack”):
- Platform: At its base, the Placester platform sucks in high quality listings data from more than 300 MLSs around the country, representing about 90 percent of all available listings in the United States. It then cleanses and normalizes the data, and makes it available to developers via a RESTful API.
- Builder is the next component in the stack. It enables developers to present the listing data, as well as other data you may want (like customer fields) on the web. It’s an open-source IDX feed that developers can manipulate to present the data you want. Placester says developers can do complicated searches for any attribute in the API, making it possible to create and retrieve any data including custom boundaries and distance to a particular point. There is also support for custom attributes and unlimited photos.
- Blueprint is a Placester-specific WordPress framework developers can use to speed the development of any custom WordPress theme built on the Placester platform. It leverages the code of Placester’s themes to give developers a headstart, and features hundreds of pre-built and customizable shortcodes.
- Themes are comprehensive WordPress templates from Placester that agents and brokers can use as is, or customize as need be.
“We want to become the defacto web development platform in real estate,” explains Seth Price, director of sales and marketing for Placester. “Sure, there’s plenty of innovation going on right now. But we think that we can fuel that innovation by providing open source tools that people can collaborate on to build better solutions.”
One of the most appealing pieces of the Placester platform is the completely customizable presentation of the IDX feed through its WordPress plugin, Builder IDX.
Because Placester built it as an open-source, well-documented feed, developers can use attractive, pre-built components to show property listings or manage map-based search. Or, they can use it to create unique presentations of data that match marketing objectives.
For example, a broker could choose to develop a map-based search of all properties that ranks them by distance to a popular attraction, like a ski resort. It’s also possible to filter search results by unique parameters, such as specific home appliances.
Or, you can customize the Builder IDX to show neighborhoods of focus or landing pages with maps, search forms, areas and neighborhoods and slideshows.
Developers can buy the Builder IDX feed from Placester even if they don’t want to use one of the company’s themes. For a developer that wants to use Builder IDX on 1-5 sites, it costs about $45 a month, per site. Placester offers tiered pricing for partners who want to build more sites.
Placester doesn’t charge developers to access the plugin to kick the tires. It only charges when the plugin is connected to live MLS data via an API key.
BuilderIDX works right out the box themes from StudioPress (Agency, Agent Press, Décor and Genesis themes), but you can incorporate it into any theme as long as you get an API from Placester.
Every WordPress developer will tell you that building a theme from scratch is a complex task that requires hours of coding to ensure that the site renders properly on the web — and on mobile devices.
Placester’s Blueprint framework is designed to eliminate many of the more tedious aspects of creating a custom theme by adding functionality via prebuilt shortcodes that are tied to the Builder IDX. Shortcodes are essentially snippets that tell WordPress how to present information on the web.
The framework and IDX work together to make it easy to quickly build highly functional web sites.
To work with the Blueprint framework, you start from scratch, or with any one of Placester’s 14 free and premium themes. Each Placester theme can be thoroughly customized, so much so that the end product may look nothing like the original theme.
When Placester launched 18 months ago, it may have seemed like yet another real estate web development company. But the power of the Placester platform and Builder IDX really does make its themes stand out, particularly since they are built to be customized.
All of its websites are built in WordPress, and feature clean lines and easy on the eyes design. They are clearly designed for conversion, with large opt-ins and lots of opportunities to engage, and seamless passing of leads to Followup Boss and Contactually.
Placester themes can be hosted on your own server. If you buy a premium theme (approximately $45 month), the company includes IDX, site hosting, cloud-based WordPress install and customer service.
Placester has themes for agents, brokers and teams, single properties, neighborhoods, property types, transaction types (e.g., short sales), or market-specific websites.
If you choose to host a Placester site on your own server, you’ll need to install the Builder IDX plugin and get an API key.
To speed adoption of its platform, Placester is actively seeking solution and technology partners.
Solution partners may be other real estate web development companies who want to use Placester’s platform to build their own web sites and apps. Solution partners are offered bulk discounts based on the number of sites they develop on the Placester platform that use the Builder IDX.
“In the end, many clients may not even realize that their site is built with Placester technology,” Price from Placester explains. “Our goal is to be the best technology provider out there, which is why we want partners who can amplify our reach.”
Price says that early solution partners include Curaytor and Union Street Media.
Technology partners can incorporate Placester’s platform into their products to exchange data and become a seamless part of a Placester-powered website. To date, Placester has two technology partners in place, Contactually and Followup Boss (both CRM providers) and has agreements with more in the pipeline.
The Contactually partnership, for example, will automatically place any lead collected from a Placester website into a “bucket” within the user’s Contactually account. Users can set follow-up reminder intervals with the contacts in the bucket, so that no incoming lead is lost.
Price says Placester is committed to building a vibrant and powerful community of developers and partners.
“We’ve invested in the support and documentation to make the Placester platform the best choice in open source software for the real estate industry,” Price concludes. “We’re about enabling success in this industry — and we see a bright future.”