A Developer’s Guide to Understanding IDX Integration

If you’re a real estate agent, you’ve already got a head start to understanding IDX and how it relates to your website. For those of us coming from a web developer perspective, well, let’s just say we’re less familiar with the concept and before we can assist with technical integrations, we need to understand the 30,000 foot view of what IDX actually is.

So, what the heck is IDX?

An Internet Data Exchange (IDX) is a real estate property search site which allows the public to conduct searches of approved Multiple Listing Service properties in a certain area. – Wikipedia

In short, IDX is simply a vehicle for searching and spitting out results for a particular MLS. There are many nuances to working with an MLS, but as a developer, just know that it’s an index of properties for a specific geographic region (we’ll talk more about that in a second).

There are many companies providing IDX services, each with their own twist on available offerings. Some agents may already be working with an IDX provider, but if not, they may look to you for guidance in selecting the right IDX partner. I’ll cover a few tips to at least get you asking the right questions.

Some Tips for Selecting an IDX Provider

If your client needs your help selecting an IDX provider, here are some tips to get you looking for the right things.

#1 Make Sure They Carry The Channels You Want

Certain cable companies carry certain channels, right? Well, IDX Providers support certain MLSs. Before you go down the rabbit hole too far researching an IDX company, make sure they support the MLS your realtor needs. Most IDX provider websites will have something to the effect of “MLS Coverage” or “IDX Coverage” that lets you see right up front what areas are supported. When in doubt, contact support for that company and ask.

#2 Define the Level of Service You Need

Assuming your client is a real estate agent, part of your project discovery should include determining the type of IDX service they need. Most IDX providers have several offerings – solutions geared toward a single agent, a small team, or a full office. Knowing the scope of services your agent needs can help you help them select the right IDX. Of course, whether you’re building out a website for a single agent or a team of agents will steer the project differently, so this is good information to cover up front.

#3 Ask Around

Realtors love referrals. Web developers love referrals. We all love referrals! When shopping around for an IDX partner, look for the referral. Ask your network, ask your agent/client, and do a little homework (i.e. reading reviews or comparison articles). Here at Winning Agent, we researched the major IDX providers and opted to partner with IDX Broker*, as we felt their offerings were the most likely match for most of our clients.

* FYI – If you sign up for IDX Broker’s service through our link, you save the setup fee and get to work with us for IDX support. :)

What You Need to Know About IDX Integration

Once a decision is made on the IDX provider to use, next comes the step of actually integrating the IDX services with the website you’re developing. Let’s talk about the components:

IDX Setup

Once IDX services are purchased by the agent, they’ll have a login to some sort of dashboard for account management on the IDX site. While you can assist with IDX account setup (or at least make yourself available to help), I really recommend letting the agent handle this step. There will be all the usual stuff, like address or billing info, that’s simple enough, but then there’s the step of connecting the IDX service to the right MLS feed(s). These are murky waters for a web developer, but familiar sights for a realtor. Ask the realtor to set up the account, but be ready to jump in to help facilitate/translate any support requests between them and the IDX provider.

Oh, and get the login to the IDX provider. Once setup is complete, you’ll need it to do your integration work.

IDX Components

When we talk about integrating IDX, we’re primarily talking three components:

  1. Offering some sort of search form
  2. Serving up a search results page
  3. A single property listing page

Every IDX provider will have a different way of handling these, so be prepared to be flexible.

Search

If you’re working with WordPress, some IDX companies offer plugins you can install and use on your site to handle the search form component (and maybe a few other widgets). Now, I can’t categorically say all of these plugins are crappy, but my advice is not to use them. Instead, manually insert the code/scripts provided by the IDX into your site.

For instance, IDX Broker Platinum has the ability to customize a search widget within their dashboard (I can select the search parameters, etc.). Based on those settings, it generates a javascript that I can pop into a WordPress text widget and it replicates the same functionality I would have gotten with the plugin, but with a lot less code.

Search Results & Single Property Listing

The good news is, there’s not a lot of code necessary for this part (in my experience anyway). Some IDX providers insert search results via an iframe, others do it via some sort of wrapper script. This step will likely involve creating a “blank” page and either inserting an iframe or whatever code the IDX company provides. In WordPress, this is pretty straightforward.

It’s the job of the IDX to do the heavy lifting here – all of the search logic and results, etc, is done by the IDX. Your heavy lifting will come into play where styles are concerned.

IDX Styling

Aside from serving up real estate listings, the IDX provider’s job is to wrap those listings in some of the worst HTML markup and CSS styling in the world. IN THE WORLD. Your job as a web developer is to remove the hideous and replace it with pretty styles that match your realtor’s website. A lot of IDX providers boast that you can customize the styles, but just be warned that control is limited and “customization” is not so dreamy easy as they paint it.

To tackle the styles, you’ll need some solid CSS skills. And you’ll have to cozy up to the notion of over-qualifying your CSS selectors or using the !important declaration to crush the styles generated by the IDX.

When you talk about IDX integration with your client, the majority of your work will involve styling. Thinking back to that project discovery piece – do your best to define up-front what each of the components (search, results, single listing) will look like. Take a look at sample output from the IDX provider to get a feel for the default layout and use that information to help you budget your costs accordingly.

You’ve Got the Right Stuff

In the end, IDX integration is not as complicated as you might think. The trick is having a basic understanding of industry lingo and the IDX components involved so that when you work with a real estate agent on a website, you know the right sorts of questions to ask and can anticipate the bulk of where you’ll spend your development time. To recap, you’ll spend most of your time on:

  • IDX Provider selection (cheers if your agent already has this nailed down)
  • IDX styling

To be certain, there is work involved with “hooking up” the website to the IDX service, but most IDX providers should have decent documentation or support to help you with the process.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite (ahem) real-estate theme for WordPress: Winning Agent Pro. Out of the gate it’s styled to look sharp with IDX Broker search results and single listings. For the record, you could make ANY WordPress theme work with an IDX – it just boils down to styling things to look like you want.

Got questions? Did I miss any important points? Please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!

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Comments

  1. Jackie D'Elia says

    Couldn’t agree more on the CSS/HTML Markup of IDX providers. Another disappointment with IDX Broker Platnium is the lack of a popup lightbox gallery option when viewing photos on the desktop. The View Photo Gallery link navigates to yet another property detail page to view the slideshow of photos. It is completely unnecessary. By the time the users finishes looking at the photos, they then need to click “back to property” link which returns them to the details page, then another “back to search results” to return to the summary results. What a mess!

    • says

      Hey Jackie,
      Thanks for the comment. Have you tried any lightbox plugins to see if they’ll override that photo gallery business? Just a stab in the dark…

      Cheers,
      Carrie

      • Jackie D'Elia says

        I did try one, but it still requires going to a second page which defeats the purpose. I think that IDX Broker just needs to add another template similar to the gallery template that incorporates that. I’d be happy to share with them what users want to see if they are listening…

        • says

          Well I finally was able to modify a lightbox plugin and write some jQuery to make IDX Broker serve images in a lightbox. You can see it here at http://southcharlottemarket.com – when you click on View Photo Gallery – it loads a lightbox immediately after the detail page loads, then automatically goes back to the Property page when you exit the lightbox. It is not ideal, but until IDX Broker comes out with a lightbox option, it works.

  2. marc says

    This is especially hard if the client is Canadian…. IDX for GTA is not easy. There is a method on github to pull them manually by using a python/XMLrpc. But seemingly no decent plugins…

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