Starting Our Own Renaissance
The new Real Estate Webmasters (REW) Renaissance platform has quickly gained dominance in the marketplace, especially at the enterprise level. But what many don’t know is that it almost didn’t happen. Here’s the story of REW’s journey from critical crossroads to game-changing innovation.
For Renaissance, it all began with a castaway.
It was early March 2020 and Tom Hanks came down with COVID-19. Real Estate Webmasters was attending the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® conference at the Wynn in Las Vegas, and they were told they must pack up and leave early—there may have been exposure to the virus at the event.
Until then, people had been watching the news and were starting to recognize that the coronavirus was going to have a major impact in some way, but it wasn’t until this moment that the REW team realized just how impactful COVID would be on their business.
“Everyone was freaking out,” says REW CEO Morgan Carey. “Flights were being canceled and my staff was really panicked about getting home. I remember sitting in the lobby with my good friend, J.B. Goodwin, and he said he’d booked a Suburban ‘just in case’ he had to drive home (from Vegas to Austin) with his team. It really was a crazy time.”
Fortunately, the whole REW team made it home to Vancouver Island and began their mandatory 14-day quarantine. It was during this period that Carey began to assess the damage from a business perspective.
“It seemed like every hour I would get more emails, and not a single one was good news. Our customers were worried—not just about the global health impact the coronavirus would have, but also about what the pandemic would mean to their business,” Carey shares.
Customers cancel in droves
As COVID spread and uncertainty increased, brokerages began to panic and look for any way to cut costs and weather the storm. The first thing they looked at was discretionary spending, so things like custom projects (aka, bets on the future) were no longer a short-term priority.
A great strength becomes a great threat
“Real Estate Webmasters had become a powerhouse in the proptech space based on the unique strength of our custom agency,” explains Carey. “We are the only large custom design, branding, engineering and SEO firm at scale in the real estate space. When COVID hit, we were delivering around 4,000 hours of agency work, nearly all of which was completely discretionary to our customers.”
For 16 years straight, Real Estate Webmasters had been sold out and had never had to worry about contracting its agency services long term.
“Honestly, we had always thought that if we could constantly bring amazing returns to our customers, we would always be fine. How could we not be fine? We were fine until we weren’t,” Carey adds.
“We absolutely love our Renaissance sites. I can’t imagine a better user experience for our agents or for real estate consumers — seamless, strategic and, of course, a super sexy design!”
- Stacie Staub
CEO, West + Main Homes
Agency revenue is devastated
Almost overnight, what had been a $5M annual revenue stream for the company dried up. Nonetheless, all of REW’s costs — from infrastructure and buildings to staff, management, software, benefits and more — remained.
“We didn’t blame customers for canceling their agency services — we were looking for ways to cut costs, too,” says Carey. “But unfortunately, because we offered that secret sauce that no one else had, when times became tough, we got hit the worst. I believe the impact on REW was far more significant than on our competitors who don’t offer custom agency services.”
Decisions have to be made—fast
Most other companies (and brokerages) cut costs, including laying off a huge percentage of their valued workforce. But REW did something else. What REW knew down to its core was that its people were the real secret to the company’s success — they were irreplaceable. REW had to come together to find a solution to save everybody’s jobs…and the company. That solution was Renaissance.
Fortunately, Real Estate Webmasters had an incredibly loyal customer base. Even with the decimation of its professional services, the main portion of the business — websites, CRM and lead generation — stayed strong with very little churn or cancellations.
“Even though times were tough, our customers stuck with us, and we all adopted the mentality that we are stronger together,” recalls Carey
Directing talent toward Renaissance
Instead of terminating the firm’s amazing employees (something many other firms chose to do), REW doubled down on research and development.
“We decided that if we were going to be slow, and have this much talent around, we needed to put them to work doing what they do best,” says Carey. “So, we reorganized and began reinventing the best real estate platform on the planet.”
Smith & Associates Real Estate was looking to upgrade our existing web tools to the fastest, most attractive and easiest-to-use platform available to date. With this in mind, and after vetting dozens of potential website partners, Renaissance was the obvious choice. Since launching last month, organic traffic and organic leads have grown significantly — and CRM adoption from our agents has grown exponentially.”
- Tyler Marrin
Director of Marketing
Smith & Associates Real Estate
Critical choices lead to exceptional results
For Renaissance to be the Hail Mary that REW felt was essential, Carey and his team needed to make exceptional choices about where to focus the new platform.
“Choose right, and if you manage to survive through this economic disaster, you have the opportunity to recover and potentially become the dominant player in the market,” says Carey.
“Choose wrong, and even if you manage to survive the recession, you may never recover.”
So where did Real Estate Webmasters decide to focus? Carey and his team honed in on three key areas:
- Search engine optimization. “SEO — it’s always been our bread and butter,” says Carey. “We were already known as the best SEO firm in real estate, although much of what we did in our custom SEO agency had not been productized. This gave us the opportunity to incorporate many of the search engine optimization features that previously were only available through customization. Plus, we integrated many new dynamic SEO elements into the framework and built new tools that gave our customers far more power to do highly advanced SEO augmentation to their website and IDX.”
- Page speed. “During COVID, nearly 100% of all search and communication in real estate had moved online,” says Carey “This meant that having a high-performance platform was more important than ever…especially on mobile. Through a process called web performance optimization (WPO), which is another specialty of Real Estate Webmasters, we were able to fine-tune Renaissance to where it achieves the highest scores out of all real estate platforms on Google PageSpeed Insights, the de facto standard on page speed performance.
“Having a lightning-fast website means our brokerage customers can capture users’ attention faster, have increased conversion rates, see better search engine rankings and lose fewer customers to slow loading, non-responsive web platforms.”
- ADA compliance. As if brokerages did not have enough on their plates to dread in 2020, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance had become a huge issue in the brokerage space after some unscrupulous lawyers figured out that if you combined an ADA class-action lawsuit with the threat of fair housing violations, you could extort brokerages into paying you to settle lawsuits for hundreds of thousands of dollars
In response, REW committed to becoming the most ADA-compliant real estate platform.
“We started by hiring Kris Rivenburgh, an attorney, founder of accessible.org and the foremost expert on ADA compliance,” says Carey. “Kris did a full audit of our framework and provided us with the feedback and education we needed to achieve our objectives.”
Following this engagement, Real Estate Webmasters continued to develop its ADA skill set, including cross-training its staff, many of whom became ADA certified. At present, REW has more ADA-certified team members than any other web development company in real estate.
“We’ve been with Real Estate Webmasters for well over a decade now, and every platform we’ve had has helped us grow our business and attract great agents. With Renaissance, I loved the design and features, but was worried about my rankings (I’ve always ranked very well with REW). Now that I’ve switched, my new Renaissance site is dominating for most of the competitive keywords in SEO. In fact, I have two renaissance websites now ranking on the first page. Everyone seems to think that you can’t compete in SEO against Zillow or realtor.com® , and that’s simply not true. You just need to be committed to the process and, of course, hire Real Estate Webmasters.”
- Sara MacLennan
Co-Founder & Director of Marketing
Liv Real Estate
Says Carey, “After many months of audits, education and application, we were able to achieve our goal — a perfect score on our homepage from our accessibility tools for the out-of-the-box Renaissance install. We continued to incorporate ADA optimization into the remaining areas of our framework and now have a fully ADA-compliant front end for our customers — the only such platform on the market.”
REW has also developed this skill set in its agency with ADA-certified developers and now offer ADA audits and compliance services to customers who have older products or need ADA work done on custom projects.
Award-winning design a constant throughout
Of course, no Real Estate Webmasters website would be complete if it was not also the most beautifully designed website available, explains Carey.
“Our creative agency and engineering teams have spent thousands of hours perfecting every facet of our new design,” says Carey. “It is elegant and has a luxury feel, plus it’s flexible enough to be deployed in any market. Its pre-built design modules — and the flexibility and configuration of the REW content management system — make it as effective to use by top teams, brokerages and enterprise customers.
An explosion of enterprise customers
The first migrations happened at the enterprise level. Companies like Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, a 1,000+ agent brokerage in New York, and Smith & Associates Real Estate, a 400+ agent brokerage in Tampa, were two of the first to step up and engage with the Renaissance platform — after seeing the huge strategic value Renaissance brought to their online marketing efforts.
“Throughout 2021, and continuing into 2022, there has been a constant stream of large, innovative brokerages looking to capitalize on Renaissance performance and combine it with our unique ability to tailor the platform to their brand. In addition to the huge enterprise brokerages who have joined us, many of the high-performance, marketing-focused indies have moved to Renaissance, and top teams from major franchises have chosen Renaissance as well. The No. 1 team in the world/U.S., and the No. 1 team in Canada for RE/MAX, have both migrated their platforms to Renaissance,” shares Carey.
At the time of this article, over 50% of Real Estate Webmasters customers had already migrated to Renaissance, reporting significant improvement in website performance and considerable business growth.
Bringing home the gold
In 2022, Real Estate Webmasters swept the MUSE Design Awards in the “Real Estate” category with five custom websites built on the Renaissance platform, including four Gold and one Platinum ranking. The MUSE Design Awards are a prestigious global competition run by the International Awards Association. Other brands represented in winning categories include Billie Eilish, Disney and Mercedes-Benz.
Continued innovation: Renaissance + CRM
Since launching in January 2021, REW has continually released major quarterly updates to both the Renaissance platform and REW CRM.
“Innovation is a core value at REW,” says Carey. “We know that we can’t rest just because we have the best real estate website and CRM tools on the market. We must continue to push the envelope, so that our brokerage and enterprise customers are so far ahead of the competition that they can easily recruit and retain new agents and gain market share through increased efficiency and marketing superiority.”
Here are some of Carey’s favorite CRM innovations to date:
- Adoption engine: Visual gamification that allows agents to easily understand and action the most important tasks in order to book appointments and close deals.
- Smart lists: Dynamically updating workflows that can be customized by each agent to their specific preferences.
- Intelligent auto-generated saved searches: Make sure all engaged leads are on saved searches that match their target areas.
- Dynamic action plans: Combine agent accountability with CRM-assisted automated features such as texting and email.
- Campaigns: Combine incremental, date-based and custom field-based email campaigns for maximum reach.
“With these and many more features in the CRM, we feel we now have the perfect program for every stage of the customer journey, from the first time they go to Google to find their REALTOR® all the way through to closing on their dream home,” says Carey.
Adds Carey: “We are truly thrilled that so many top teams, brokerages and enterprise companies are selecting Renaissance and REW CRM. And we are even more excited when we review their results and receive wonderful comments about how much they love their experience with this new platform from Real Estate Webmasters.”