Many home sellers have heard of home staging—a service where professionals arrange furniture and artwork in rooms to make them look their best (and entice buyers to make an offer). But now, thanks to technology, there’s another option that doesn’t involve shifting heavy furniture around your home: virtual staging. So just what is virtual staging and how does it work? It’s where home stagers take digital photos of empty (or badly furnished) rooms, then use photo-editing software to add pretty couches, tables, and other furnishings.
Combined with careful use of shadowing and shading, a virtual stager can make an empty room look like it’s been artfully staged. In short, these doctored photos help sell homes without the heavy lifting!
Check out the before and after photos below to get a sense of what a difference virtual staging can make.
Before: An unfurnished room can turn off potential home buyers. VHT Studios
After: The room has been virtually staged. Can you tell that the furniture isn’t real? VHT Studios
Benefits of virtual staging
Virtual staging first became popular during the Great Recession, since it helped banks and other homeowners make barren, run-down houses look presentable quickly, and on the cheap.
“It helped people visualize what could be there,” says Brian Balduf, chief executive of VHT Studios, a virtual staging company in Rosemont, IL.
Virtual staging costs around $100 per room—far less than traditional staging, which will run homeowners around $2,000 to $2,400. Another benefit to virtual staging is its versatility. While a traditional stager can do only one look for a room at a time, a virtual stager can pull off plenty of different home decor styles to appeal to various buyers.
“You don’t always know what the buyer wants,” says Balduf. “Maybe if it’s a Victorian on the exterior, they want a Victorian interior instead of contemporary.”
Virtual staging also allows a room to be converted for different uses—such as a child’s bedroom with toys and bright colors for a family, or a study with office furniture for an older couple. It can also help eliminate items that might turn off certain buyers, like fur coats in a walk-in closet. Exterior virtual staging is also a growing field, showing how a house looks by day or night, or surrounded by lush greenery in the summer versus under a soft layer of snow in the winter.
This room was virtually staged with furniture for adults. VHT Studios
The same room was virtually staged with furnishings that appeal to kids. VHT Studios
Balduf also notes that virtual staging can help reluctant buyers put their home on the market, if they’re holding back because they haven’t painted the house yet or cleaned out a garage filled with junk.
“It’s a nudge to the seller that makes it easier,” he says.
Last but not least, virtual staging can benefit sellers by eliminating privacy concerns. If you have family photographs on the walls or other items that might reveal personal information (like college pennants), you can keep them up, then just have them erased in your photos. All in all, that’s far easier than having strangers tramping through your house, hoisting in new furniture, and taking out what you’ve got.
Virtual staging can also remove clutter from this room. VHT Studios
Voila! Decluttering done—with a few clicks of the mouse. VHT Studios
But isn’t it wrong to doctor photos?
However, virtual staging does raise concerns about false advertising, so it’s helpful to be aware of certain ethical boundaries. While virtual stagers can swap out furniture or remove garbage cans from an exterior shot, most say they won’t ever remove something permanent from a photo, such as a water tower or a high-tension electrical pylon.
“Removing a water tower crosses a line,” says Balduf, who says he often has to caution agents and sellers on this issue. Still, he says adding a fire in a working fireplace or greening up grass is acceptable in virtual staging.
When in doubt, just note in your listing that the photos have been virtually enhanced and ask your real estate agent to give buyers a heads-up that it won’t look the same in reality. That way, sellers will know that’s how the home could look—and they’ll have a blueprint for how to make it so.