Customizing REW Software? Read This First!

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One of the big reasons I joined Real Estate Webmasters four years, ago after consulting with them for 2 years prior, was due to their ability to take on any custom project, no matter how big.  Over my earlier career working with a number of very good software companies, not being able to customize software to a client’s needs was one of the major challenges I experienced,.   We were always trying to convince any potential customer that our software, our technology, was the right fit and that they should adapt their business practices to our vision of their world.  The problem was, it wasn’t always a perfect fit. In fact it rarely is!

Enterprise Companies Need Control

Large,  Enterprise companies, didn’t achieve the level of success they have today, by doing things exactly like their competition.  They were able to actualize their unique vision to the industry, in ways that made them stand apart from their competition.  When looking for technology solutions, it is the same story.  They may like 90% of what your technology is and does but I have never been in a situation where they weren’t also asking whether we could change something.  With REW, I am so happy to say, the answer is always yes!   We like to say the level of customization you can have is limited only by your imagination and budget.  But customization comes with a price, and while I think it is absolutely necessary in some situations,  it should be done with a clear understanding of what you are buying into as it will have long term consequences.  If you understand them, and plan for them, it can be a great solution, but if entered into it without understanding,  you may not be prepared for what you have taken on. 

The Custom Software Story

When you customize software that is on its own standard development track, you are taking a turn off of that standard track.  Now you are running on a road that will never intersect with that original, standard road again, unless you build roads and bridges back to it.  Putting that in software terms, that means, if you begin to customize software on a standard platform that is at release 1, for example, you veer off from that standard development track.  Your customized software would start with release 1 and then you would do your customization.  In the meantime, that standard development track you left at release 1, may now be at release 3.  Unfortunately, because you have veered off and are operating on a custom track, you can’t just drive over and pick up release 3, and whatever cool features might be in it, at least without building roads and bridges. 

What that means is, when you do a customization to a standard product, it is very possible that the customization will not allow your vendor to simply plug in the latest upgrade to your customized version of the software.  Things may have been moved, or added or taken away that were part of the standard system and so roads and bridges (software speaking) need to be built to allow the upgrade to work with the customized version of the software.  Can this be done?  Definitely!  But there is cost.  The cost is based on the time and effort it takes to marry the customized software with the desired upgrades.

Maintaining Custom Software

When you create custom software, you are creating something that you are responsible for, that falls outside of all standard support agreements.  With our standard support agreement, for example, we warrant that our standard software will operate as promised and if it doesn’t we are responsible for fixing it, at our costs.

With custom software, however, the vendor will create the software for you for a fee and over time, even after working perfectly fine for many months, you may discover issues with it.  When this happens, it is the responsibility of the client to pay to fix this software.  The vendor simply looks at this as  an “incomplete” project, as there is no way to know, other than testing and deployment, whether any software will work correctly.

This can even mean there might be charges if part of a vendor’s standard system doesn’t work correctly as a result of being tied together with custom software.  It is not the vendor’s responsibility to know in advance that things will work perfectly.  It is the vendor’s responsibility to fix the issue when it arises, but again, there may be fees the client has to pay as they are using a custom solution that they must support.

Standard vendor support may also not be able to help you when problems arise, if the nature of an issue is a result of highly customized software.  This might mean fixing the issue would require a programmer to be assigned to the project, which means it may take more time and it will certainly be chargeable.

So, does that mean you shouldn’t consider custom solutions if needed?  No, not at all, but as the largest custom real estate software company in the world, we want you to enter into customization with your eyes open, aware of the pros and cons.

Do I Need to Customize?

There is a big difference between customizing the “look and feel” of the consumer facing website and customizing functionality on a system.    Having a customized look that portrays your brand and image effectively is a critical aspect of any real estate, web technology.  All of our website frameworks allow for customization of the look and feel.

This is drastically different from changing core functionality on the website or backend system.  Changing the design is like putting on a new dress, while changing core functionality is more akin to have a bypass operation, where core features have changed forevermore.

In our experience, most customizations that clients want to do are not going to significantly improve what we see as the purpose of websites, which is to capture more leads and increase your ROI.  Often, during system builds, we find requests being made to change core features of a system, that while they can be done, they will also impact the ability to do upgrades in the future, may create added support costs and won’t truly impact the user experience.   Will we do these changes?  Of course we will, if the client really wants them, but we will also make sure to point out the pros and cons of the changes.  We want to work with you to give you what you want but also to make sure you know what the impact is, long term.

 

What’s the Best Way to Go?  Customize or Not?

Personally, I would never choose a vendor that did not allow me total freedom in terms of customization if I wanted it.  That’s one the key reasons I mentioned I love REW and came aboard four years ago.  Having said that, we know that no matter what software you put in front of your agents only a small portion will use the majority of features.  Our new REW CRM system is powerful and incredibly intuitive, but it still takes time to learn, like anything, to get the most out of it.  You may want to consider a Phased Approach to get the most out of your new system before doing major customizations!

So here is my recommendation if you are moving to a new REW system.

Use the Phased Approach!

1.     Start with Style - Work with your REW consultant to detail the stylization of your website and agent subdomains to elegantly reflect your brand!  Our core functionality now lets you take advantage of Virtual Realty images, video, Panoramic images, Single Property websites and more.  Make sure you are using all of the core features to the max before you worry about spending money on adding custom features.  Take money you might have spent on custom features and put them toward online marketing….that’s something that will pay for itself!

2.     Use Our Free Consulting  - Have your REW consultant review and understand any “non-standard” features you may currently have that you wish to keep on your REW system  Your REW consultant can help you understand if similar features are available, perhaps in a slightly different approach, or what your custom options are.  Perhaps there’s an alternative approach we can discuss.  We are here to advise.

3.     Used a Phased Approach – What we mean by this is to work on the consumer facing portion of your system first while taking time to learn and use all of the core features of our REW CRM system.    At REW, you can do customization any time you want, it doesn’t have to be at the start of the agreement, so we recommend using the system for a while before investing heavily in customizations that will have long term impacts.  The truth is, until you have used a system for a while, you really aren’t in the best position to know what you need.  Take some time, kick the tires, and then make more informed decisions about the level of customization you may or may not need!

4.     Enjoy Your Upgrades – If you installed any of our core framework sites with our REW CRM 12 months ago, and waited 12 months before doing any core customizations you would have enjoyed a number of free upgrades!  We tend to do major releases every 3 – 6 months, so as you learned the system and thought about making changes we would have offered you several great upgrades, at no cost!  Often, things you want can turn into suggestions that may be added to our core product, that you don’t have to pay for.  Always ask yourself, before paying for a custom feature, “Is this feature really going to make me money?”  If, it isn’t, what’s the point?

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