Virtual staging gaining popularity to help sell homes

Column by Jaymes Song
As seen in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on November 23, 2019

Have you ever viewed a house or condo for sale and it didn’t quite look the same as it did in the pictures?

It’s widely known and accepted that most real estate photos have been touched up — from the stunning images of that oceanfront estate to the grinning head shot of the agent selling the home. And some photos are enhanced more than others.

While still not commonplace, a relatively new and cost-cutting marketing tool called “virtual staging” is gaining popularity in Hawaii and nationwide, and drastically changing how consumers see real estate photos, which are critical for homebuyers and the sale of a property.

“Save thousands of dollars and valuable listing time while increasing lead generation by breaking down the visualization barrier that often accompanies the house and apartment hunting process,” virtual staging company rooomy.com says on its website.

Virtual staging can be as simple as digitally adding a few designer furniture pieces to a photo of an empty room to make it more visually appealing. But entire homes can undergo a digital renovation to show potential buyers what the home could look like. The upgrades can include new flooring, cabinets, paint, plumbing fixtures, appliances, etc. Even that weed-filled, brown yard can be transformed into a lush, green oasis, and the cloudy, dark sky can be turned blue or into a colorful sunset.

With a few clicks of a mouse, photo editors or virtual stagers can quickly transform that tired, run-down home with old wallpaper and ’70s shag carpet into a modern custom dream home.

Boxbrownie.com offers different styles of virtual staging including modern, Scandinavian, contemporary, Hamptons, contemporary or urban.

Traditional home staging can cost thousands of dollars per home, which can make it cost-prohibitive for condos or some less expensive properties. It’s also labor-intensive as interior designers and professional stagers haul in beds, pillows, window coverings, plants, pots and pans, paintings, sofas, vases and bath towels to make listings look like a model home.

Quality staging can help sell homes faster and at a better price. Staging can make homes look larger, more functional, brighter and more livable. Staging also gives buyers a favorable first impression in person or in photos, driving more traffic through the doors. Listing photos are key as the vast majority of homebuyers view a property online or by email before deciding to view a home.

Virtual stagers are trying to improve the appearance without stepping foot into a home.

Some virtual staging companies actually can remove items from photos. For example, a dirty, messy home can be de-cluttered, de-personalized and cleaned.

Virtual staging technology and photo skills have improved greatly in the past few years, and the cost has become so cheap (currently at less than $40 per photo), that virtual staging could continue growing in popularity and may become commonplace one day.

However, some virtually staged photos can look odd or amateurish with strange lighting, shadows, size and angle of furniture pieces added in the photos. But some virtually staged or remodeled listing photos are so good, it’s hard to tell that the photo has been changed at all.

One potential downside of virtual staging is that homebuyers may be disappointed or feel misled when seeing the home in person. Some argue it causes consumer confusion, presents a false picture of a listing and can be used to hide defects or flaws.

Agents who use virtual staging disclose and label the listing photos as “digitally edited” or “virtually staged.” They also include the original photos for comparison and transparency.
Article 12 of the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics states, “Realtors shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.”
So agents and home sellers who want to use virtual staging to help sell the property must to do so carefully, ethically and continue to clearly disclose the photos have been altered.

For homebuyers — whether the photos are virtually staged or not — it’s always good to view and experience the property, street and neighborhood in-person to see whether it’s the picture-perfect home for you.