Free WP Real Estate plugins for Facility Management Site Part 1

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The demonstration site, which uses examples of different free plugins to demonstrate different features, can be found at apriori.ml.

Looking at the WordPress themes (free ones of course) I saw there were quite a lot of real Estate Themes and Plugins and I wondered if you could adapt one of these to be a property management asset repository where you could find properties and their data.

There seem to be quite a few plugins for WordPress for Real Estate Sites, there are free and paid versions. Here is a LINK to an article comparing some, but I found this one useful as it has some demos to explore. There do not seem to be many free Property Management Plugins to manage property assets.

As WordPress has a MySQL database sitting behind it it seems a pre-formatted site that was fine tuned could be a viable alternative to building one from the ground up.

So I started looking for blogs on the subject and what plugins were available.

It is an exploration of ” What is out there ?” and ” What do I need to hold the data that I want to show? “. To do this I set up a website with WordPress, using a domain from Freenom and put it on my VPS.

As my VPS was a windows 10 Server, it doesn’t seem to like PHP and WordPress runs on that, so I had to look at how to get around that wee obstacle.  I found that I had to install “ Microsoft Web Platform Installer 5.0” that has a few apps/programmes that you can upload onto the Win 10 server, a lot of them are older versions though, so you need to update them when you have installed them.

I think I had to load a PHP programme too so that WordPress ran as it should (I did it a few weeks ago so that pain has been superseded by my latest challenge).

Anyway, once you have WordPress up and running you can load the plugins. I did have an issue of trying to load a theme that was over my upload file size so had to go and find my PHP.ini file and increase file size (Note, this was hidden away). A really good post shows you where your computer is looking in this blog . Simple and effective.

Next, I just tried to build something. So I loaded a plugin, activated it and tried it, if it looked as if it required a lot of fiddling, I’d move on. Deactivate and Delete that plug in and try another.

I am working through what the plugins can do. I think the bottom of the page may be of use as I’ll review how I got on.

As this is a work in progress you can view how I am getting on by looking at this web page.

At the moment the site is open but I think it will a front page with restricted login requirements so that only appropriate people can access the information. A little WP plugin to play with later I think. First get the site up and running.

Estatik

I first tried using the Estatik plugin. It looked quite promising as you could add your own fields, but when it came down to actually building the fields the setup page was about the Pro version rather than the free version and the relevant tabs could not be created. So the free version is a taster, of no realistic use for my needs. All the data would have to be on one page so it would end up being a long page of data.

The support file shows you being able to add extra tabs with data,

but the free version does not have this so you have one continuous list which is a bit unwieldy if you are trying to list property attributes.

So that one is not a goer.

IMPress Listings

This one can be downloaded HERE, it is open source so hopefully is more adaptable than the last one.

One thing straight away, units are in imperial rather than metric. A bit frustrating. I am not sure how to manage this, as I went into one of the setting files and with a text editor  altered the text to metric units but the web page did not change. This needs a bit more of an explore.

I started to look at the formatting of the site and realised that I needed to do quite a bit of work to format it the way that I wanted. Then I came across WP-Property. This seemed to be a little more appropriate so I stopped trying to tailor this add-in.

WP-Property

Can be downloaded HERE. This one seems more adaptable to what I wanted to do, which was to list the properties and put quantitative data about the unit/building/house such as room numbers , wall,. floor areas and finishes, door/window details etc.

This is really just a place to store a lot of the information you have about the assets and making the data accessible for staff and contractors. An easy interface that is easy to manage too.

With the WP-Property Plugin there is also a free Theme, the Avalon Theme.

There is also a how to video in the plug in home page that gives you a bit of an idea of the formatting and setup. I also looked on You Tube and there were a couple of videos there but they were not much more help. I wanted to know how you got the Property that you’d set up (on the Properties item on the left sidebar) onto the actual web page, was it a page or a post or what? None of the videos I saw seem to show this, a fundamental item in the setup process I would have thought.

I am still not too sure at the moment, and am using shortcodes and pages for the time being.

Some of the items seem hard coded Buildings/ Floorplans/Single Family Home, and I will live with these at the moment ( Have found that you can edit these on Properties/Settings/Developer Tab under Types) So these can be adjusted.

This is good as I have some housing types and some commercial types, so this enables me to allow for these variances.

As a start I looked at 2 areas:

  1. Images, Uploading images and floor plans ( and maybe drawing elevations etc)  These show the building layout and rooms. These Websites do this well. I want to see if I can include Panorama photos later, but stick with the basics. I explored the widgets to allow for a Photo gallery on sidebar to show the photos of the property and to allow these to enlarge when clicked on. This is shown in the video on the plugin website.
  2. Text Area. Initially I  dumped  lots of information here. I then found that under Properties/Settings/Developer Tab under Meta you can add Meta Types.  As you can see in the second image below this creates a space where you can put relevant data about a particular item of the property. I divided it up into room/door/window/exterior data areas that I could put specific data that has been extracted into these areas ( Note I used data extracted from 3D PDF models via CSV to my Excel Macro that filtters the data into these specific headings- See my blog posts on 3DPDF’s and specifically the Data Extraction from 3DPDF post.)
  3. There are FEATURES & COMMUNITY FEATURES that seem to add boxes where you can fill in more data, and maybe this is a method to manage and structure the data. From further exploration as far as I can understand these are just searchable tags that are added to the property, just short terms to add to the site with minimal explanation. Not sure if these are that much use apart form searching typology, such as ACCESSIBLE UNIT for housing to identify wheelchair access, or for fire protection elements such as Battery Smoke Detector or Sprinkler System

Uploading Images normal process for WordPress, good that floor plans can be shown, but image resolution important for clarity. You can use a Feature Image so can choose Floor Plan to convey layout at front.

Tables of Data

I used the Text area to dump Excel Room Data/ Door Data/Window Data that I extracted from 3DPDF  via my Excel Macro. This was pasted straight into the text area, unfortunately, if the fields were too long it starts to wrap around so does not look like a table any more. I may need to explore:

  1. Using Tables (HTML TAGS) in text area to control formatting  or,
  2. Putting the tabulated data onto images/files that can be downloaded.

For 1/ above I used the following website to take a .CSV file (opened in text editor so comma separated) and pasted it in to make an HTML table and it works fine. Only you have to save file as CSV then open in Text Editor.

An alternative is to only have the one table in a file and save the excel file as .XLSX. Then cut/paste the html code into the Text tab of the property page, you can then use the visual tab to look at how it displays.

Actually there’s an app for that. I came across the WP Plugin TablePost that allows you to import an xls file and then uses shortcode to drop it onto whichever post you want.

As I have been developing the site for property management, one of the things I realised is that the data is quite static. I am capturing the data at a point in time. What happens when things are updated? In maintenance things do not generally change too radically, and if a unit/house/building is refurbished then you’d rebuild the web pages for those upgraded properties.

Where there are minor updates, one has to go in and update a specific page with possibly a minor item update (a window/door replaced, a property repainted or floor coverings changed etc, or a new WC or WHB or taps etc). Keeping the web pages updated with this type of information could be tedious and ineffective from a cost/time/use , possibly the 80:20 rule may apply here. So  how much and what data do you put up on the site on each property?

There may be a use here for my SCRUD data tables that read the database directly, so any updates are live. This was an exercise I was looking at for a mobile app (in a pause state at present). Maybe an exercise for another day.

Plugins

The Avalon Theme is a good start template but it needs some refining. I looked at some plugins that would help me adjust the site.

Security

The data on the site is not for public consumption, it needs to have access control so that only staff/ contractors can access the data, also possible control on level of authoring of the data, some may need to alter data, others just to view data.

I first tried Restricted Site Access plugin and chose go to a specific page and this now has made all the tabs go to that specific page and sort of banjaxed the site navigation for the time being. So I uninstalled the plugin.

I then installed Ultimate Member but found that it was quite elaborate and created lots of pages (login/logout/ Members/Account/Register/Users) and all a bit daunting. All I want is a front login page with explanation and contact and an interface to create users and passwords.

So at present I am still exploring other Site Control Login interfaces

Page Creation/Builder

I installed the SiteOrigin Page builder and Widget bundle plugins to look to see if I could modify the property pages as there seems to be limited control over placements on the Avalon property Page setup (big images at header , then same again directly under header) and the structure of the pages. I have still yet to delve into this plugin in a big way, but hopefully it will allow me to tailor some of the pages.

Panoramas.

I like panoramas, One photo gives you a great overview of a room and shows you all the small features (such as lights/sockets/ switches etc (where not hidden by furniture )) so am keen to use them on the site. There are a couple of free plugins available and I have gone with the WP Photo Sphere rather than iPanorama as I have used it on other sites and its pretty good. Also the photo collapses to a bar and needs to be clicked on to be used. This helps page load times and you only need to view the one you choose. See this blog for exploration of panoramas, and this blog for general use of panoramas.

When you click on the panorama bar then the panorama loads

URL Links

I used URL  links to existing directories where I have stored 2D & 3D pdfs of the drawings for the model. These are handy for reference as they can also, as well as the floor plan, contain other relevant information on the property such as elevations , roof plans, internal elevations, schedules and even links to specification and Operation and Maintenance Manuals for equipment.

End Thoughts

Overall I think that with the right selection of the preliminary Real Estate/Property Plugin and other ancillary support plugins you can develop a pretty fair property management website.

How responsive it will be will depend on how big the project gets, but there are ways of managing that by storing extra data in directories (such as multiple sets  photo records at different dates of the same property)  and indexing them in a Document Management System such as Alfresco.

The site could also be split into different instances to allow for different building types, one for estate properties, one for stand alone housing, one for commercial office buildings and one for sports facilities etc. You’d only consider splitting it if it got too slow.

There is an article on how to add a WordPress database table and query it HERE. This may be a method to get updated data into the property page so that tables are created from database rather than from CSV files, so that the data is as current as when you update the dataset table in the database. This may be a more elegant way to manage your data, rather than lots of tables in the pages.

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