Showcasing the best features of a property and making attractive use of the space isn’t just essential for in-person showings. “If a room is decorated as a carpeted nursery, it’s hard to imagine what it would look like as a bedroom or with hardwood floors,” says Tiffany Jonas, advertising and marketing manager at Kiawah Partners in Charleston, S.C.
Enter virtual staging, the process of using pictures of real rooms and changing the design elements or creating 100 percent virtual renderings for new-construction homes that do not yet exist. It’s not exactly a new concept in real estate—and it isn’t without controversy—but the technology and practice has made significant strides in recent years.
Kiawah’s agents always get written permission from sellers before they employ virtual staging techniques. “From the get-go, the agents explain to the sellers that we want to market their home in the best light and capture a range of styles,” Jonas says.
Staging the photo of a single room costs $199. “What will work for virtually staging a starter home, for instance, isn’t what will work for staging a luxury home.” And the quality of images has improved from just a few years ago, looking less digital and more realistic.
For new construction, they’ll use a freelance artist to do virtual renderings of rooms based on the architect’s plans. A single 3-D illustration runs $995, and VR packages start at $2,495, which include a 360-degree branded tour that plays on any computer, phone, or tablet, as well as through viewing devices such as Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive for the immersive VR experience. To showcase existing homes, Kiawah uses Matterport technology, which they own in house, to film 3-D tours.
Services such as Virtual Staging Solutions offer packages from $225 for three photos up to $525 for seven photos, with bulk discounts available. Pick the furniture from their gallery of options, or you can get furniture removed from an image. They also offer hard-copy prints to display at the property.
Spotless Agency is another virtual staging company, which is based in New York but works with clients from around the world. It wasn’t long ago, says founder Andrew Zlobin, when virtual staging services were not considered a strong alternative to traditional physical staging, because the of a “lack of technologies [available] to make photo-quality images.”
That’s changed with advancements in computer graphics and 3-D software. Spotless’ pricing starts at $79 per image.
Then there are apps like Hutch, which is both a home shopping and virtual staging app available in the App Store and Google Play. Agents or clients can use it to upload a photo and try various interior design styles through a set of room filters. Slide between the before-and-after pictures by swiping an image transformation bar. Of course, the furnishings and products in the staged photos are for sale, which is how Hutch is monetized.
There were concerns at Kiawah over the use of virtual staging while still presenting a true picture of a property, but Jonas says the company purposefully addressed those before launching the marketing program. “The last thing we wanted was for a potential home buyer to see some staged photographs of one of our listings online, and then find while seeing the home with one of our sales executives that it’s not at all what they thought it would be.”
To avoid manipulating buyers, the company shows two versions of the photos: the room as it was originally photographed and the virtually staged room with the word “visualization” prominently watermarked in the corner. They also include a plainly written disclaimer about the virtual staging in the description of the property.
At the property itself, Kiawah displays the “after” photos on a larger scale, mounted on foam board and sitting on easels in the corresponding rooms. “The potential home buyer can plainly see the original, real room in front of their eyes and, in the mounted photo, how that room would look with different furnishings and finishes,” Jonas says.