I am not an agent, but really work as a Gen. Contractor. I do the artwork for my wife who is the real agent and she needs help with designing a website. I have been searching the web and found tons of webmasters and software for websites. I have contacted IDX companies which are in the price range of $695 for semi custom and $2000 for custom, I have not gotten an answer as to what I really get for the money.
I would like to make my own website so I can understand how it works, make changes and also try to save some money. I understand the difficulty in making websites as I am confused already, but want to at least look at all options. I have seen software on Amazon,but would like to know from others what they have used and what they suggest. Also any web design companies that they used that were good for them. If I do make my own website, do I need to use an IDX company or can I have my wife call our MLS and deal directly with them. I know this is a lot, but any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Unless somebody else here knows for certain, you might need to look into some legal issues regarding putting the MLS/IDX on your site. As I understand it, only brokerages are allowed to provide that information, so if you have a personal site you would have to discuss it with your broker. If you are on your own and acting as your own broker, then you probably can use it. ( Every Local Board has different restrictions; however most boards allows agents to have their own IDX on their websites.)
To give an example, I consult for some agents at RE/MAX, and we are not allowed to show MLS information on their personal website, but their generic website that all the RE/MAX franchises provide their agents with does have it.
As for the site itself, you have several options:
If you're going to buy one of the packages you mentioned, I would ask them for samples of websites they've made and take a look at what all is included. Also, take note of whether they all look like the exact same website, and if they do, then you'll also want to see if other agents in your area use that service because you don't want your website to be just like their websites.
I'm not sure what kind of software you're looking at, but it's probably what's called a WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get). Lots of people use those. I'm a programmer though and we tend to avoid anything with much of a user-interface. I think the problem with WYSIWYG can be summed up in three points: 1. You'll probably never understand the code it produces for as long as you keep using it, 2. These tend to produce inefficient (and often unreliable) code, and 3. If anything goes wrong you won't know how to fix it (and because the code they produce is so messy, other people won't want to fix it either unless the price is right).
Anyway, all that being said, I don't think you'd have the time to learn all that needs to be learned to do it completely without the help of some visual editor. So I'm going to suggest a compromise: Look into what's called a content management system (CMS). This is a program that will run on the webserver with your site and is designed to serve up the basic needs of a website (adding pages, displaying content, and such; some have more advanced features than others).
Check out joomla.org & drupal.org. (BTW the White House website was built on Drupal.)
The reason I call it a compromise is because you will still be able to edit content from a visual editor, but your site will have a framework that makes it easier to work with and these are so common that if you want to move to a custom system later on, you should be able to find a programmer who migrates people from these things on a regular basis. There is a CMS I stumbled across one day called Open Realty, which you may want to try out, but keep in mind that it's not as common as Joomla or Drupal, so getting help with it may not be so simple (on the other hand, it could work out just fine for you).
Try out the demos on their sites and see if that works for you.
When you've found one you like, you can install it on a shared hosting plan (that means you're renting part of a server that hosts other websites too, so the cost goes from a few hundred dollars a month down to $3-10/mo.). Even if you were going to use software off Amazon, you'd still have to get hosting so you can't cut this step out. I would recommend at least 5 GB disk space, but many hosts offer "unlimited" space so that shouldn't be an issue. You'll want a Linux server with Apache, PHP, and MySQL to ensure that those CMS systems I mentioned work on it--that's the most common setup on shared hosting anyway so it shouldn't be a problem.
If you need help finding a host, you'd have a much easier time getting people to tell you who not to host with than who to host with. Inevitably, no hosting company has a perfect record.
I bad mouthed Dream Host in another thread on this forum, but actually they have a "one-click" install for Joomla which would make that a lot easier, plus my complaint about them is that it's a little bit luck-of-the-draw whether you get on a good server or not, but they just bought part of a new data center and I suspect now would be a decent time to sign up.
Don't hold me responsible for your hosting choice because everybody has different experiences.
I would also recommend looking for a template (try template monster or something) and usually template sites have a category just for Joomla or other CMS systems, which I would presume are pretty easy to install. I've never bought a template before, so I don't actually know what that process would be like. If you want something more customized, you should easily be able to find designers to do layouts for your specific CMS.
So that's the simplest and most cost-effective way I can think of for going about this. I don't know if you're the type who would pick up on how to use the CMS systems pretty quickly or not, but it will save you having to buy software on Amazon, and it is likely to produce a much more functional site in the end.
*Whew* longest post ever.