Eventually, we selected a designer in India (one of their top 3) who had high satisfaction scores, a successful business, and coincidentally had the most attractive designs initially. I should point out many of the comps we initially got were the best Mary had ever seen from a first round of drafts. Even with domestic resources and ad agencies we've wondered if we all spoke the same version of English given how badly many of these projects have historically started.
Time-zone and language problems
If you've ever worked on a project where someone is in another time zone you know what this is like. Rather than just getting them on the phone and talking through an issue, you do 24-hour cycles where you make requests, go to bed, they make fixes and you wake up seeing the result wondering if they actually speak the same language you do.
What likely would have taken just a few hours on the phone took a week to get done and still there were some issues that we never seemed to be able to communicate properly. The worst was the icons for the social networks, we wanted them to trigger scripts that logged the user into their social network account and made it easy for them to share the house with their friends. The designer heard this as a way they could provide feedback on our social network timelines and we never overcame that miscommunication, even though we provided examples of what we wanted and links to the actual scripts.
Waiting to see if the end-result will help sell the house
If you look at the result of the effort it is actually very contemporary, which matches the theme of the house, and the colors and layout are clean and informative. We were able to build in the Matterport 3D rendering of the home (a really cool technology which allows you to do a virtual 3D walkthrough), but I wonder how many people will page down far enough to see and use it. I expect most will stop at the virtual tour instead.
I don't expect us to do a lot of sites like this, but we learned a great deal about how to approach it. Start by having a really clear idea of what you want (find a site that works for you to use as an example), make part of the selection criteria finding out if the designers have done another site like this, make sure they can speak English and you can get them on the phone if you need to, and anticipate distance-based aggravation.
In the end, I think we got good value for the money and would use this service again, but I wonder if it will have that much impact on selling the house. We'll see.
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