What’s the Fuss About Virtual Staging?

Virtual Home Staging

There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding a home staging technique called “virtual staging.” Some people love it; some hate it, and some people just don’t understand it. So let’s talk about it—what it is, what it isn’t, and the good, bad and ugly of virtual staging.

What is virtual staging?

First, let me define traditional home staging, which is the process of making a house more marketable for resale. Traditional home staging in an occupied residence can include rearranging existing furniture, artwork and accessories to improve flow and make a house appealing to buyers.

If a house is vacant, meaning no one lives there and there’s no furniture inside, traditional home staging means the house gets furnished with rental items that remain in place while the home is on the market.

In addition to staging a house with furnishings, stagers also advise homeowners on repairs, upgrades and maintenance they should tackle to make the house as move-in-ready as possible.

Like traditional staging, virtual staging is a way to enhance a home’s appearance to impress potential buyers. The primary goal of virtual staging is to grab online house hunters’ attention with amazing photos that motivate them to ask for an appointment to see the house in person and consider buying it.

What isn’t virtual staging?

Some of the confusion surrounding virtual staging has to do with its name because it can mean completely different things, depending on who you ask. Let me explain….There are two types of virtual staging: there’s virtual staging done digitally, and then there’s virtual staging that isn’t.

Let’s deal with the digital method first. In digital virtual staging, you take photos of your home and give them to a professional who uses photo editing software to create pictures of how your house could look.

The editing process can include adding images of furniture to show a potential buyer how they could decorate a room. And some editors will add other enhancements, like light fixtures, appliances, new flooring and new paint colors on the walls.

Next, the edited images get uploaded to real estate listing websites where house hunters can browse listings, pick out homes of interest and schedule in-person tours.

Now, not all photo editing is considered digital virtual staging. Some editing is standard, like altering a photo of your kitchen to remove something unsightly like a garbage can in an awkward location, an electrical appliance cord that should have gotten tucked away or your purse on the countertop.

Removing distracting, non-permanent things like this is not virtual staging because there’s no alteration to the house’s features.

What are the pros and cons of digital virtual staging?

An advantage of digital virtual staging—and a major reason people use it—is that it costs less than traditional staging. How much less, you ask?

Going the digital route can cost a few hundred dollars; on the contrary, traditional staging can cost several thousand dollars, especially if your home is empty and needs top-to-bottom furnishing.

But there are a lot of downsides to digital virtual staging, and some of the pitfalls can tank your sale. Many home buyers and real estate agents believe digital virtual staging has gone too far because overly creative editing is causing more problems than it solves.

One of the biggest problems is this: Digitally altered photos are just that—altered.

And altered photos can be misleading because they can make a house appear to be in better condition than it actually is. Buyers and agents alike complain that they’re disappointed when they see a house in person that‘s shockingly different than the online photos.

Altered photos are especially disappointing when the photos depict a fully furnished home, but upon arrival, all buyers see is a vacant space which makes it difficult to visualize the home as their own.

Although the online photos helped get them through the door, standing in a barren space puts a damper on buyers’ excitement and can make them uncertain about whether the house is right for them.

There have been cases (several of which made real estate news headlines) where photo enhancements did more than change the inside of a house.

Some went so far as to remove permanent exterior structures nearby the property like electrical towers and water towers.

And again, this level of editing can make buyers feel misled when they arrive at a house and see a major eyesore they weren’t expecting.

While it’s pretty obvious that changing permanent structures is problematic, the lines get a little blurry when it comes to the more subtle edits, like changing the paint color on the walls, upgrading the kitchen appliances, or adding fancy light fixtures in a room that has no real lighting at all. These are all common practices in digital virtual staging, and not everyone is happy about it.

In talking with other home stagers and real estate agents about the impact of digital virtual staging, the feedback I’ve heard is that using enhanced digital photos can make the home selling process longer than it takes when using traditional staging.

Why? Because at the end of the day, homes that undergo digital virtual staging typically don’t show well in person. And it’s the live showing that has the most influence over the buying decision.

Many people who try the digital method find that the house sits on the market so long that they end up reducing the price to attract offers, or they go back to square one to fix up the house, add traditional staging with real furnishings and re-take the listing photos.

Real estate agents also have to consider the potential for ethical violations and lawsuits that can arise from misleading advertising. To avoid these issues, agents need to look to their ethical codes and trade associations for guidance.

At a minimum, agents should disclose when photos are digitally altered. And to be on the safe side, agents also should display the unedited photos alongside the edited images so online viewers can see both sets of photos together and make an informed decision about the home.

Since it’s so controversial, why do people use digital virtual staging?

Here’s the truth: Over 90% of home buyers decide whether they’re interested in a house after viewing listing photos online.

That means sellers and agents have to impress buyers online to get them to take the next step to see the house in person.

Without great photos, a listing may not get much tr