Updated: May 22
When a real estate agent lists a home, staging is a big part of the prep work before the property is ready to be presented to the world. Some degree of staging has become commonplace, especially in the more competitive markets around the country. Typically, a Realtor will work with the furniture and decor already in the home, adding, removing or rearranging various pieces to showcase the space best.
But if the seller has already moved out or the seller’s taste proves challenging to the sale, the listing agent may advise the seller to rent or buy curated furniture and decor for staging purposes. Since this can be costly, virtual staging can be used instead, wherein three-dimensional furniture and home accessories are digitally added to the listing photos.
Why Would You Virtually Stage a Property?
In recent years, with the proliferation of design-themed TV and an explosion of new development in diverse markets across the country, many buyers have lost the ability to imagine their own furnishings in an empty space or to see past a homeowner’s bad taste. Our eyes have been trained for years by staged and neutrally decorated homes that look eerily similar to one another, no matter the city or price point.
In order to appeal to a wide audience and also compete with newly built homes, the resale market has followed suit, and many properties come to market as stripped-down versions of what they were, eliminating extreme colors, the seller’s personality, dated home decor, and indications of wear and tear whenever possible.
Although sellers and their agents may go to great lengths to do all this, sometimes there isn’t enough time or budget to furnish an empty space or redecorate an ugly one. In these cases, virtual staging is a viable option to grab the attention of internet surfers and motivate potential buyers to click instead of scrolling to the next listing.
“Virtual staging is a cost-effective method for staging a property and has become increasingly popular in markets where homes are selling quickly,” says Georgina Jacobson, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Newport Beach, California. She notes that one of the main benefits of using virtual staging versus actual staging is the quick turnaround, since actual furniture doesn’t need to be moved in or out.
Furthermore, virtual staging allows for the creative and imaginative implementation of furnishings that can make a property seem simultaneously luxurious, aspirational and inviting in a way that might not be doable in real life.
How Does Virtual Staging Help Sell an Empty Property?
In the case of a vacant property, after the photos of the empty rooms have been taken, some services can digitally place three-dimensional furniture and decor into the property pictures. The marketing photos with digital furnishings help potential buyers to envision what the space might look like with attractive and aspirational decor, staged like model homes have been for years, as opposed to being presented empty and thus potentially reading as lifeless. The added furniture also adds perspective to the photo, giving the viewer’s eye a place to land and better understand the scale of a room.
The vast majority of real estate searches start online, and when buyers are scrolling through listings, they may look at the lead photo for mere seconds before deciding if they want to click. An empty room doesn’t get clicks like furnished (or digitally furnished) homes do.
“It really does make a difference when people are scrolling,” says Felicia Captain, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Realty in Wellesley, Massachusetts. “They are more inclined to continue viewing the photos of virtually staged rooms rather than empty spaces, especially in new construction homes,” she notes.
Although many buyers are great at visualizing the potential of a space, many just aren’t, and they need some help to see potential instead of seeing an empty space. “I find it is super helpful for buyers to visualize the potential of a room and understand how they can use the room to suit their specific needs,” Captain says. “It provides an aesthetic for the space that perhaps they can relate to or see themselves living in.”
Jacobson adds, “Virtually staged listings help buyers to get a better feel for an otherwise empty space prior to seeing it in person. It is difficult for a buyer to have an understanding of the room if there is no furniture in it. Virtual staging also can serve as a source of inspiration for how they could furnish the property themselves.”
How Does Virtual Staging Help Sell an Ugly Property?
Virtual staging can also mask dated or ugly design choices that might otherwise make a potential buyer swipe left. “Listing a property with dated or unattractive furniture and decor can be a major turnoff for buyers, as it does not give them a good first impression of the property,” Jacobson says. In these cases, virtual staging can showcase what could be, instead of the less appealing reality of what is.
“Virtual staging is a useful tool when a current owner’s aesthetic might be a hindrance to attracting showing appointments, especially since photos are the first thing buyers assess before setting up a showing,” says Jodi D. Levy, a real estate agent and co-owner of Grand Lux Realty in Chappaqua, New York. As technology has improved, ugly colors on walls or cabinets, dated furniture and even clutter can be digitally erased and replaced with a more contemporary or upscale look.
A new home represents a new chapter in someone’s life, perhaps fulfilling a dream, and it can be difficult for buyers to visually remove someone else’s belongings and fantasize about their own. Virtually staging a dated property with neutral but elegant furnishings can help shape the aspirational fantasy in a buyer’s mind.
What Are the Pitfalls to Avoid in Virtual Staging?
Just as real estate agents should strive for marketing materials to be high quality, so too should virtual staging – low-quality marketing of any kind can imply a low-quality home. If three-dimensional furnishings in a marketing photo look too pixelated or obviously fake, this can be a turnoff to prospective buyers.
Conversely, if the virtual staging is too good, buyers might feel misled upon seeing the property in real life. “It’s important to be transparent and disclose when using virtual staging,” Levy says.
As helpful as virtual staging can be for prospective buyers to visualize the potential for an empty or badly decorated space, many agents will alternate the photos in the marketing, with the un-doctored photos right behind the clearly labeled “virtually staged” photos. “For some prospective buyers, seeing a space without furniture is extremely helpful, but others need the visual assistance,” Levy says.
Given that virtual staging has become somewhat commonplace, many buyers are accustomed to seeing it used. “As long as virtual staging is properly disclosed, I don't believe it is misleading to prospective buyers,” Jacobson says. “We never want buyers to be unpleasantly surprised when they see a property in person.”
And when there might be an infinite number of design options to pluck from a digital library, the choices should be carefully considered. “The style and design of the virtual staging should align with the property,” Captain says. “I try to use a style that fits the architectural design of the property while adding contemporary and transitional features for today's living preferences.”
While the doctored photos might be helpful to buyers when scrolling through online listings, they can also be useful in the actual home, especially in empty rooms. Propping up an easel in the property with a blown-up copy of the virtually staged photo is a great way to showcase what could be. Captain notes that “having large photo canvases of the virtually staged rooms is helpful, so the prospective buyer sees the virtual staging in a larger format while standing in the space.”
As our culture becomes increasingly visually oriented regarding how we process products marketed to us, first impressions can make or break a sale, especially in competitive real estate markets. Property photos are usually the first thing that prospective buyers come across, and these photos have to grab the attention of web surfers before they scroll to the next listing. When photos of empty or ugly rooms fail to engage the viewer, virtual staging is a valuable marketing asset.