Home staging is the art of helping buyers visualize a space as livable. But do you need to physically haul in furniture and spend thousands of dollars to tap into their imagination?
With virtual staging, you can take that same mid-century modern couch, vintage throw rug and flower vase you’d normally find in your stager’s U-Haul and insert them into your listing photos digitally instead. Goodbye heavy lifting, hello drag and drop!
By specially arranging computer-generated furnishings and props in key rooms, you can stage your bare-bones, vacant house to make buyers see, “Oh, I could put my desk right there!” or show visually how to configure an awkward layout. It costs a fraction of what you’ll pay for traditional staging, and still helps buyers create an emotional connection to the property. That translates to a speedier home sale.
Before you start downloading staging apps and playing armchair interior designer, know that virtual staging is far from a perfect solution. Top real estate agents who’ve looked at this technology from every angle sing its praises, but warn that a bad virtual staging job looks like something you’d find on the Sims…plus, there’s the risk of misleading buyers with visual trickery.
Get familiar with the pros, cons and best practices of giving your listing photos a digital makeover, and then you’ll be able to make an educated decision about your staging options.
Virtual Staging 101: How to Transform a Room Digitally
Virtual staging is a 100% digital process. To virtually stage a room, you start by uploading a photo of the space to a virtual staging platform (it’s best if the room is empty in the photo, but you can work around existing furniture, too).
Then, place selected furnishings from a catalog of computer-generated items—couches, chairs, mirrors, coffee tables, rugs, decor, plants, you name it—in the photo to give the space a cohesive decorative feel and set the desired ambience.
Want to switch the loveseat and the armchair? Not a fan of the fern by the window? That’s the beauty of virtual staging. You have a vast roster of home furnishings you can swap out and rearrange as many times as you’d like (without breaking your back!)
This demo video from Virtual Staging Lab shows how realistic and intricate virtual staging can get, with details as specific as a Converse All Star bag in the closet and fancy place settings on the dining room table.
Can You Virtually Stage Your Home on Your Own?
Some virtual staging platforms make it easy for interior design lovers, homeowners who are buying new furniture, or just the curious average Joe to play around with a space digitally to get a feel for a room’s potential or test out furniture options with their home’s dimensions and configuration.
Big retailers like IKEA and Amazon offer virtual staging tools to help customers visualize how products would look in their house before committing to a purchase. Another popular virtual home staging app is Rooomy, which allows users to browse furniture in 3-D.
But virtual staging for the purpose of selling your home is its own beast that requires not only good software but also the expertise of a professional photo editor. Even top real estate agents say “don’t try this at home,” as virtual staging is a specialized skill separate from responsibilities and training of an agent.
Brian Pearl, a top 1% real estate agent in Palm Beach County, Florida, thought his Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator skills might suffice, but had no such luck.
“Virtual Stager is one software that allows you to do this [DIY virtual staging]—and the truth is, it’s really time consuming,” says Pearl. “You have to measure the rooms with their online tool, and if you don’t have the angle just right, the furniture looks a little skewed as you place it. Honestly, my attempt didn’t turn out great, and I only saved about $100 for all that work, so I now leave this one to people who know what they’re doing!”
How Do You Find a Good Virtual Staging Company?
So how do you know you’ve found a good company for virtual staging? There are a lot firms out there doing some version of it that will gladly take your business, but you can narrow down your options by looking at their work and offerings.
There’s a good chance your real estate agent is already regularly working with a company they like and whom they know will produce quality results (a couple agents we spoke to were even very protective of the companies they used and didn’t want to share their names, lest the sites get too busy and therefore unable to handle their requests)!
But if you’re curious to get a feel for what’s out there, do your homework by asking about:
- What digital furniture selections does the company offer?
Some firms will give you an option to choose from major housewares retailers like Scan Design (specializing in contemporary styles), Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn, for example. “It’s pretty cool the way they have it set up, where if the house is more modern, you can go with Scan Design, and if it’s more traditional you can go with Pottery Barn,” says Pearl. “You just tell them what you want and they’ll put it together.”
- What’s the photo turnaround time?
In general, most solid companies will get you photos within 48 hours and they won’t charge extra for minor revisions.
- How realistic do the virtually staged images look?
To get a feel for what a bad virtual staging job looks like, take a peek at these photos from a brownstone in Upper West Side New York City that underwent price reductions and sat on the market for months. As put by Curbed, the “renderings look torn straight from The Sims.” Granted that was 2012, and virtual staging technology has made enormous progress since.
- Does the company have an interior designer on staff to provide consulting services?
Though Pearl uses his own preferred interior designer to help with virtual furniture placements on his listings, he recommends checking to see if the company offers that level of additional expertise to give your photos the look you’re going for.
- How much does the company charge per edited photo? What are the pricing tiers?
Some companies charge per photo (a cost that can be as low as $32-$50 per photo) or offer pricing tiers for different service packages. Pearl says it would be customary to spend $500 to virtually stage an entire home.
A few virtual staging companies came up repeatedly in our research as reliable, affordable and quality:
- Box Brownie offers a variety of photo editing services including furniture addition, photo retouching, and item removal. The company is well-known for its day-to-dusk edited shots that replace a daytime sky with pretty sunset colors or an inviting twilight backdrop for just $4 a photo.
- VHT Studios is a major real estate photography and marketing services firm that launched a virtual staging suite in 2016. The company will virtually stage, paint, redecorate or declutter your photos at different price tiers.
- Spotless Agency takes your high-resolution property photos and virtually stages them according to your preferred style. To get a feel for your desired design, they ask you to send in two or three interior home shots via Google or Pinterest that you like for inspiration. Then they’ll turn around your staged photos in as soon as one to four days, depending on which pricing tier you select.
- PadStyler charges $59 per photo, guarantees a 2-day turnaround, and doesn’t charge extra for revisions. The company goes so far as to offer “virtual curb appeal” by adding digital trees and shrubbery to your exterior photos or making the lawn a bright shade of green.
- Virtually Staging Properties charges $85 for one photo and promises best-in-class realistic photos with a focus on virtually staging vacant homes to help them sell faster.
Any of these companies would be a good place to start your exploration of virtual staging.
Should You Use Virtual Staging to Sell Your Home?
While most real estate agents still prefer to show a tangibly staged home—and staged homes get offers that are 1-5% higher, according to NAR statistics—there are certain instances where virtual staging is actually the better solution:
1. The home for sale is in an area where traditional stagers are not as accessible.
“In our market [South Jersey Shore] staging isn’t common so there are few stagers, vendors, or furniture stores offering the service,” says Adam D’Annunzio, who’s sold homes in as few as 12 days. “We found virtual staging to be the best solution to both of these problems. It has benefitted the seller by giving them the best marketing possible, and is very helpful to buyers who are unsure how to furnish or lay out a room. We’ve also used virtual staging to change colors just to give a buyer an idea of what a room might look like if they painted.”
2. The property is vacant.
“It gives a buyer the opportunity to physically see how ‘large’ a space is since it’s empty; often a room with large furniture can feel small to buyers even though it is not,” says D’Annunzio. “Then, the buyer can use the virtual imaging we provide to see how it would look once they move in and furnish.”
3. Money is tight and and you’d like to cut back on costs.
According to top real estate agents we spoke with, virtual staging costs roughly 10 times less than traditional staging. It’s also a one-time fee, whereas professional stagers will charge you for an installation fee and then on a monthly basis until the house sells.
“Honestly, it’s all about the price. Sellers are a lot more willing to spend $500 for a one time virtual staging then they are a $500-$2000 consultation and installation fee—which is what our stager charges just to deliver the furniture and such—and then you pay anywhere from $1,000/month up to $15,000 for three months,” says Pearl. “A $500 one-time fee to virtually stage an entire home is definitely more appealing to the realtor if we are covering the cost, but also the seller if they’re covering it.”
That is another point to consider—many real estate agents will cover the cost of virtual staging as an incentive for you to list with them. “As for staging and who pays for it (agent or seller), it’s all about the negotiation,” says Pearl.
The bottom line with virtual staging, however, is that it can be very effective, inexpensive and viable marketing tool. “Virtual staging offers a huge financial benefit that can literally save you thousands of dollars,” Pearl says.
4. The property has been sitting stagnant on the market for months.
“We have a great vacant listing with a functional floor plan—albeit with odd paint choices—and a discounted price that isn’t selling. Heck, it’s barely been showing!” says Andrew Smith, a real estate agent with the LoneStar Home Group. “Since the seller is not in a position to invest any more time or money in the home and has reduced to their lowest possible price, we decided to give it a shot and we’ve definitely had more showings since we posted the virtual photos.”
In the same vein, real estate agent Morgan Brinegar used virtual staging to sell properties that had been sitting on the market for more than 9 months and had gone through several price reductions, as reported by real estate industry news leader Inman.
“I believe the power of virtual staging played a large role in the quick sale of the properties,” Brinegar told Inman. “Virtual staging really allows buyers to envision the possibilities the property has to offer. It helps them picture a space at its fullest potential. It shows more of a finished product.”
How Virtual Staging Can Mislead Buyers If You’re Not Careful
Virtual staging can raise ethical dilemmas if it’s used to mislead buyers into thinking a house is in better shape that it really is.
Take the the story of Greg Nino, a Texas real estate agent whose client fell in love with the pictures of a home online (as reported by The Real Deal) only to discover the house, in reality “looked like hell” and had been digitally enhanced.
There’s a fine line between helping buyers imagine a home’s potential and complete misrepresentation of a property.
That’s why disclosure is key when posting virtually staged photos on the MLS or using it in any marketing materials. Like an online dating profile, the worst thing that can happen is when someone shows up thinking one thing, only to realize that they were lured in by edited photos.
Every virtually staged photo should be marked clearly with a “virtually staged” label on the photo itself or in the caption if it could be mistaken as a real photo.
You can also try juxtaposing vacant and staged photos in your listings to show buyers both versions.
“We usually put the virtual photo and following that we’ll put the photo of the vacant/empty room,” says Pearl. “That’s because the virtual staging company we use is so good you might mistake it for the actual furniture.”
Also, you can blow up the virtually staged photos for real-time display during showings and open houses. “Put them on art boards and put them in the actual room in the house so people can kind of see ‘Oh, this is the room I saw the picture of and this is how it’s going to look,’” says Pearl. “So that way they don’t have to pull their phone up and look at the picture and see where they are…it kind of reminds them.” Having an iPad handy with the staged photos readily available also works in this instance.
Virtual Staging: Is it Necessary to Sell Your Home?
77% of buyer’s agents believe that staging a home makes it easier for buyers to visualize themselves living there, and while traditional staging isn’t going anywhere, virtual staging is no doubt picking up steam as tool to get buyers past their own mental roadblocks to see the potential in your home.
If your listing photos are naturally warm and inviting, with furniture placements and room arrangements that tell the story of your home, you might not need virtual staging to attract buyers to your house. But it’s always an option.
Talk to your real estate agent who knows what buyers in the area are looking for and which types of properties and photos call for digital retouching.
Article Image Source: (CapturePB/ Shutterstock)