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4 questions you need to ask them before you buy a website

4 questions you need to ask them before you buy a website

Publication Date: Oct 26th, 2021

We noticed that there are a lot of people in this industry selling WordPress websites, but aren't familiar with web development (the actual coding for the website). Instead, they rely on themes or outsource the developmental side.

So, we thought we'd write-up a brief article that'll help you ask the right questions when you're making your next website purchase. The goal's to prevent some of the inevitable costs that creep in when you aren't aware of what you're buying.

Here's the scenario: you're looking to hire a web designer to create a brand new site or update your existing one to WordPress. Now, the person you're talking to is a web designer, but you haven't asked whether they're:

  • designing the site, but farming out the development elsewhere
  • purchasing a pre-designed theme, then reselling it to you and adding your content to that (which is very common in this industry)
  • have at least one team member who will be doing the coding part once the design is approved.

Note: these scenarios aren't bad, but in my opinion, the estimate you receive should represent what you're buying. This is because two of those scenarios raise concerns for your website's future.

Which two should you look out for? The first and the second.

The first: the design is done in-house, but the development is farmed out

In this case, the person designs how the site will look and receives approval from you. But because they aren't coding it themselves or in-house, they have to take part of what you paid them and buy the development side elsewhere.

Where is elsewhere?

Other companies, freelance developers, other countries entirely.

This is my concern: WordPress and its Plugins need to be updated often. Additionally, your content, such as your service/product pages and its design/layout, will eventually need to be updated.

Who is going to perform the necessary work?


If they farmed out the developmental side because they can't code, the only option I can imagine is that they're going to hire someone else again to do the work for them.

As long as it's transparent, that's ok -- nowhere says a designer NEEDS to know how to code. But, as far as I'm concerned, if someone else needs to hire someone else to get the job done for them, I want it reflected in the estimate/invoice.

The Second: they bought you a theme

WordPress Websites are built around themes, i.e., whether it's a custom coded/modified theme or built upon a pre-purchased theme, it's always called a theme. But there's a big difference between a person developing/customizing a theme, and a person selling you someone else's theme.

Consequences of pre-purchased themes

Themes often have a one to two-year lifespan. You see, WordPress updates happen a lot throughout the year, and most themes (pre-purchased or not) only last a year or two before they need updates to maintain compatibility with WordPress.

With pre-purchased themes, it's difficult to predict whether the theme they bought you will update/maintain compatibility with the WordPress updates that naturally happen over the years.

One consequence is that at some point, you'll probably be buying a new theme that's compatible with tomorrow's standards because your current theme is outdated/no longer maintained. This is sometimes sold as a "website redesign" or "website update". In this case, the redesign/update is because the theme they bought you is no longer being maintained by the person who developed it, meaning it's no longer able to keep up with the necessary security/software/code updates WordPress requires to function at its best.

Another consequence is customizability. Pre-purchased themes often have limited style/layout options. For example, some themes cannot change font sizes or colors. Other themes cannot adjust the layout very much at all.

That said, a person who knows how to code can usually get around some of these limitations. Example: if they're familiar with CSS, they can override some thematic elements, i.e., colors for fonts, headings sizes, link colors, etc. It's a case-by-case (theme-by-theme, hah!) basis because each developer codes their theme in a variety of different ways.

When a pre-purchased theme is a good idea

There are a few good reasons someone would want to purchase a pre-designed theme from a web designer. Here are two:

  • The person has a specific budget for the project in mind. Often, if the budget is capped at around $500-$1500, there's often not enough time to design and develop a theme due to budget restraints. If they can find a suitable pre-built theme that fits the client's needs/goals, the designer/developer can often work within the provided budget.

  • Clients sometimes need a stand-in website. What I mean is that they need a website up and running ASAP, there probably isn't a lot of content going into it, and the window for growth isn't important right now.

In these cases, the client understands the limitations of the theme and the high probability that something more customizable will be developed/bought in the future when the pre-purchased theme's upper-limit of customization is reached.

In both these cases, your needs and budget have been expressed, and the web designer has done their best to make sure you understand the limitations of your purchase.

Side Note: Theme Builders

Theme builders are a popular middle-ground option. I think they're wonderful. They're perfect for clients/their staff who need to be able to go in and modify something on their website on their own without needing to call up their designer every time a change needs to happen. Some examples include blog or portfolio updates, adding pictures to a gallery, and changing some basic text on a service/project page.

In an ideal circumstance, the developer uses a theme builder (with a developer's license that they've purchased) to build the site's layout based on the approved design. The developer then considers what parts of the website need to remain editable by the client, adding those parts in. Some examples include editable text boxes, headings for pages, galleries, blogs, portfolio's.

Safeguard's through login/user permissions are sometimes put in place to ensure that the client/their staff can't accidentally "break" the website by changing the layout. The safeguard's used depend on the client's familiarity with editing websites.

Theme builders have limitations. They don't solve every problem. The layout still has to implemented within the site. The elements also need to be responsive (adjust to desktop, tablet, mobile), and, as much as theme builders advertise themselves as "drag and drop," there's a catch. Many advanced website elements are often added in by the developer through code and plugins, and the overall style (fonts, headings, etc.) coded directly into the site.

Another price we pay for client-side customizability is bloated code. What that means is that in order to make sure it's relatively easy for the client to edit the site, the theme builder adds in a LOT of extra code. The consequence is that the extra code slows down how fast your website loads, which will drive the person in charge of your technical SEO crazy.


When it comes to farmed out web development, you should know what the costs of maintenance and updates will be so you can add those expenses into your yearly budget. For pre-purchased themes, what we're cautioning against is a lack of transparency. The transparency issue isn't about whether there will be additional costs, it's that you should have an idea of what those costs are the result of, and a best-guess at what conditions will trigger those costs.

What should I ask my web agency or freelance developer?

  • Is the work you're providing in-house?
  • Are you developing the website, or do you have a developer(s) in-house that you work together with?
  • Will you be using a pre-purchased theme?
  • Will I be receiving the license/receipt for my theme?
  • What are the upper limits of that theme's customizability? (layout, colors, alternate page layouts for services/products
  • Pre-purchased often have a time limit on the support they receive (usually 6mo - 1yr). How much will it cost to extend it? What happens after that time expires?
  • Is the pre-purchased theme being used compatible to today's WordPress standards?
  • Does the theme have positive reviews over-all?
  • When was the theme last updated?
  • Are you using a theme builder?
  • Do you have a developer's license or is this a one-off purchase?
  • What happens if/when the license expires? Costs?

The questions above should help you better understand what you're purchasing and what they're providing. If you have any questions regarding an estimate for a website you've received, contact us and we will help you better understand it.

Read about our website design services here.

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