The Hidden Costs of Buying Your Apartment Website

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So far we have talked about the hidden cost of using internet listing services and the hidden cost of generating too many bad leads.

Given those problems, one obvious response is to set up your own community site to start generating leads for yourself—and hopefully higher quality leads at that.

This is the right idea, but there is one major caveat: Do not buy your website. You should rent, not buy, your website. Buying your website comes with a whole new set of hidden costs.

Why is buying your website so risky?

We should clarify what we mean first: When you rent a website, you’re hiring a marketing vendor to host, design, and maintain your website for the duration of your agreement with them. If you have a good vendor, they will be making regular updates to that site so that it is fully optimized for search engines and is using the latest web technology.

When you buy a website, you are making a one-time payment to a web developer or web development firm to build your website for you. When they are done with the work, they hand it off and move on to their next project.

Did you catch that? Paying a one-time fee in order to buy your website gets you a fixed, static product. And that's the key issue here.

At first, buying seems like the way to go—why strap yourself into a retainer agreement with a vendor? Just pay the one-time fee and get it over with. ... Right?

That static problem point is a real problem though. When you pay a one-time fee you get a one-time service. And when it comes to web stuff, a one-time service is risky.

Technology changes quickly. Search engines change. Web browsers change. User behaviors change.

We’ve seen a significant spike in mobile usage in multifamily from 2015 to 2017, for example. Because of how fluid the tech field can be, paying a large fee for a one-time service is a significant risk.

In some cases it works out, of course: You pay a big fee, get a website that performs well for three years, and then are ready for a new one.

But in other cases, problems might unexpectedly bubble up: You didn’t put enough thought into your mobile site and are struggling. Your website failed to utilize structured data and Google suddenly made it a larger ranking signal, thereby hurting your search rankings.

These sorts of things happen--and when they do, you could be left holding the bag. That’s why it’s dangerous to pay that one-time fee for a website.

Let's run the numbers on buying an apartment website.

But let’s get a bit more concrete: Let’s say you spend $10,000 on a new website. But then three months in, you realize there are some issues. It requires 20 hours of programming work to resolve, billed at $100 per hour. You’ve now sunk another $2,000 into this website.

Now you’re $12,000 into this site and you’re only three months into its life. If you get two years out of it, which is the normal recommended time between website redesigns, then you’re probably going to end up with a bit more work to maintain it and may well end up paying more like $15,000 for the site over the life of the site.

Then when it’s time to redesign, you start from scratch all over again. And, of course, if the programming work is more technical, the costs could be higher still.

In addition to these hard costs, there are also all sorts of soft costs you're staff is paying: They are having to keep an eye on things to make sure nothing else has broken. They need to be in regular contact with the developer to make sure the requested work is getting done. Your financial people are also having to keep track of special invoices for one-off services and making sure those get paid. So there's lots of implicit costs here in time and energy for your team. Over time, those add up.


When you buy a website, you’re taking an enormous risk that the one-time fee you pay up front will be the only fee you pay. In most cases, that isn’t what will happen. Instead, you have this weird on-again-off-again relationship with a web developer. And at that point, you are moving toward a de facto retainer fee anyway. So why not just rent the website, pay a lower monthly fee, and go from there?


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