The do’s and don’ts of virtual staging

by Krisztina Bell

More than 90 percent of homebuyers are viewing their next home online and in some cases 20 to 35 percent of these buyers are making an offer without even stepping foot into the home according to a recent Redfin report.  This has caused virtual staging to become a popular tool for sellers and agents to drive buyer traffic to an otherwise vacant property listing.

But there are some best practices that will not only make this process smoother from a technical perspective, but also from an ethical one. Be aware that doing more than simply adding furnishings could create issues. It’s important that the photos still accurately reflect the home as buyers will see it in person. Here are a few caveats to keep your listing in the clear.

Understand the best uses for virtual staging

Do use virtual staging for vacant homes that may have unique or unusual flex spaces that can perhaps be shown as an office, kid’s play area, yoga room, exercise space or game room, as these rooms require more specific furnishings which may be costly to rent. Outdoor spaces can also benefit from being virtually staged. Adding patio furniture, potted plants, rugs and decor to create exterior living and entertaining areas can make a significant difference as all these comfortable living areas are becoming more important to today’s buyers.

Don’t toss the vacant photos. You can use these “before” photos of the home alongside “after” photos that have been virtually staged to really wow your target market. This technique is also a great way to show a room as two different spaces, maybe as a bedroom in one photo and then as an office in another photo.

Do use virtual staging as a budget-friendly marketing tool. It’s a fraction of the cost of traditional staging, which is especially helpful to those on a tight budget. In my area, average costs for traditional staging start at around $2,500. By contrast, my company charges $225 to virtually stage three photos, which is much more economical on a small budget. That being said, virtual staging services are often paid by agents, in the same way they would for a virtual tour, photography or drone video. Rarely does an agent pay for traditional staging; they may split the cost or get reimbursed at closing. You might also try a hybrid approach; use traditional staging in the main living areas of a house and use virtual staging for additional bedrooms, unique spaces or even outdoor spaces. The two services can almost always be combined.

Taking the original photos

Do provide your stager with high-resolution photos for the staging. This will insure you can use the virtually staged photos in a multitude of formats to market the home, including both online and in print.

Don’t use photos that are of a low resolution or taken with a cell phone as that will not produce a quality virtually staged product or clear, crisp photo that shows well online. You’ll need a photographer who can set up the correct lighting, take images from the appropriate height and produce photos that portray a good balance of floor and ceiling for the best results.

Do instruct your professional photographer to take chest-level photos of the rooms to be staged, as well as a few different angles to make sure the stagers have a good base photo to work with. Each photo should capture a nice balance of floor and ceiling, providing the stagers ample room to incorporate appropriate furnishings. In the end, they should photograph the home as if it were already traditionally staged or decorated.

Don’t try to take the photos yourself. Like most things in life, you are better off hiring a professional to assist you with virtual staging. Poorly executed photos can make furnishings look cartoonish, display incorrect light or may not be to scale or placed at the correct angle. Virtual staging takes more than just a few clicks on a computer. It requires advanced knowledge of standard measurements, residential building codes and traditional height of rooms and furnishings, as well as other design factors along with advanced software programs to create the most realistic, attractive and beautifully staged photos.

Using the photos in marketing

Don’t list before you have the imagery ready. Make the commitment to virtually stage the home before you list it for sale. The first two weeks that the listing is online are the most important, so the property must put its best foot forward from the beginning. Make those first impressions count online with the attractive, virtually staged photos that will captures a buyer’s attention instantly.

Do think outside the box. Utilize the virtually staged photos for any marketing materials from flyers to brochures. You can even print and mount hard copies of them for display at the vacant listing to show buyers the potential of each room and how they can arrange their furnishings.

Disclosure and ethics

Do disclose to buyers and agents that the home has been virtually staged.  A great place to do this is in the MLS listing itself so that the information is relayed to any aggregators you’re working with. Also, some of the more reputable virtual stagers will brand the staged photos so there is no chance for confusion.

Don’t use companies that offer a virtual staging services that add paint colors, move walls, add appliances or change the color or type of flooring. This is not considered virtual staging but is known as computer-aided architectural rendering and should only be used to show homeowners ways to remodel or reconstruct and design a space. Virtual staging should only involve the digital placement of furnishings and decor into photos of a vacant room.  Remember: Home staging is not interior decorating or even residential design. Using photos in the MLS that don’t accurately reflect the structure of the home as it is currently listed could easily be considered misleading and unethical.

Don’t use virtual staging to hide flaws in the home! This is very tempting, and no doubt has been done, but it is not wise to cover up issues with a home — whether it be a stain on a ceiling or damaged flooring. This also applies to the exterior of a home and its surroundings. It would not be in your best interest to remove power lines or anything attached to that property as that may once again lead to claims of misrepresentation of the property.

Krisztina Bell is a professional home stager based in Atlanta and the owner of No Vacancy and Virtually Staging Properties.

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