Virtual Staging – Selling a House is not the Time to Air Brush for Perfection
by Jennie Norris, ASP Master®, IAHSP-Premier, Chairwoman, International Association of Home Staging Professionals® (IAHSP®)
In the world of fashion, models, Hollywood, and the media – much of what we see is not real. Lighting, clever stylists, and make-up can drastically alter the appearance of the model or subject. Then add in the common practice used in print media of air-brushing out flaws, and the person that is featured in the photo spread often does not resemble that at all in real life. In recent years, we have all read or seen actresses criticizing magazines for doing everything from altering their size, elongating their legs, deleting scars or cellulite, and adding things like abs and muscles.
All this is done with the magic of the computer, software and clever person with the mouse.
We know when we look at a person in a magazine that 99% of the time they don’t really look like that in person. We love to see the tabloids actually catch these models or actors in real life with their messy hair, real bodies and flaws. It reminds us that there are many clever things that can be done with a computer and software specifically designed to alter photographic images. With the advent of virtual reality goggles, people can now experience whole new worlds, outer space, and have experiences without having to leave their homes.
Although we accept this action in the world of fashion, Hollywood and techno gadgets, we should not accept this as an acceptable trend for Real Estate and Home Staging.
The International Association of Home Staging Professionals® is formally against this service as it misrepresents the industry goals and diminishes the buyer experience, ultimately hurting the seller that will not have the same success as using a professional Home Stager to properly Stage their property.
Virtual Staging. This is where vacant rooms are “Staged” using images of furnishings and décor that are not real. The rooms are not truly Staged – as they are done by a person at a computer, not by a trained expert in the house. For some they may feel this is an alternative to having to invest in real Home Staging. However, the savings they get may actually end up costing them far more in legal fees or reputation than if they Staged it properly in the first place. The REALITY is, buyers still go IN PERSON to view properties they are going to purchase. It is an unchanging fact about buying real estate that people go in person to visit the properties they are going to invest a lot of dollars into purchasing. This is where the use of virtual technology to “sell a house” is missing the point. If properties were just sold using photos, then they would have a case. But that is not the reality of buying a home. Buyers DO go IN PERSON and what they see when they walk in the door should match what they see online. Otherwise they feel misled, duped, and cheated.
Photos do help sell a house, but how do we know that the images and dimensions in a “virtually Staged room” are accurate? How can we be sure that certain flaws have not been removed? Since Buyers are not imaginative, can we trust that they can translate what is in a little photo to a large empty room? Most importantly, editing out flaws or altering the appearance of rooms in houses for the sole purpose of selling the house is bordering on deception. In the opinion of professional Stagers everywhere, the photos of the house should be of the real house – not a virtual representation of the house.
No Emotional Connection. Another challenge is that Buyers will eventually go and see the house in person, and imagine their disappointment when the photo they saw online is not the representation of what they see in person. Even if it is disclosed that the images online are “virtual” they are not taking into account the buyer experience when they walk through the door and realize they were a victim of false advertising. Their energy will drop, and they will not be able to translate the excitement of nice furnishings found in a virtual photo to a droll, empty room that echoes. Buyers need to experience a real Staged house with real furnishings and décor to not only know if their own furnishings will fit, but they need it in order to have a real emotional connection. That connection is what sells the house and makes it a home.
Proper Staging and Demographics. A professional Home Stager knows that Staging is not just about putting “any” furniture into a property. The furnishings and décor need to be targeted to the buyer and appropriate for the list price of the property. Virtual Staging companies have a limited array of furniture scanned into their database, so the same sofa is going to appear in every house, no matter if it requires a contemporary, transitional, modern or mix of styles. They are not dealing with the reality of the property or market to understand WHO the buyer is and what they need to do to target that person and lifestyle. Most virtual staging is done with very plain pieces and the layers of color and depths of textures evident in real Staging, is completely missing.
A photo is worth 1000 words.
Let’s take a look at a few “virtually staged” properties. In the first photo, the barstools are floating on the cabinet like a pair of ghost chairs. This is because the person working the mouse did not know how to place the images of the fake furniture “behind” the real counters. The entire room looks flat and “off” because of the odd placement of the fake appliances and other digital elements. It looks and feels “strange” because it is.
This second picture is one of the best examples of why a seller does NOT want to engage this type of service. This photo brings up so many questions: Who would hang a giant chandelier in the middle of a living room? The chandelier looks like it is larger than the sofa Why is there a nail salon cart by the sliding glass window? Why is there an office desk next to the TV stand? From the artwork to the placement of this “fake furniture” there is nothing good about this attempt at staging. In REALITY this room could actually properly fit a sofa, loveseat grouping and perhaps a couple of accent chairs – not 4 sofas, a loveseat and chair, table and ottoman, TV credenza, desk, tree, and nail salon cart.
Lastly, agents that promote this mouse-trap staging are ultimately harming their own reputations. Virtual staging is akin to For Sale By Owner (FSBO) sellers who don’t believe they need to hire a professional, and the results are statistically FSBO sellers get 18% less than sellers that hire a professional REALTOR®. When professional Stagers around the world can show statistic after statistic about how their Staged properties sold for thousands of dollars more or were listed at a better price than the un-staged competition and SOLD, the success of REAL Staging is quantifiable. How much is a virtual staging client leaving on the table? Virtual staging tells a buyer that the Seller is not really interested in putting their best foot forward, and ultimately the strategy reflects poorly on agents and their reputation. As the old saying goes, “Cheap is never a good marketing strategy.” The National Association of Realtors® (NAR®) Magazine has printed articles admonishing agents and Sellers to not give credence to the idea of virtual Staging. It is a risky proposition that could find itself being worked out in a court of law with disgruntled Buyers who felt deceived by a clever computer tech with some slick software.
The link below contains the full article and there is an excerpt below.http://www.realtor.org/RMODaily.nsf/pages/News2009073002?OpenDocument
“However, there are some potential pitfalls to virtual staging, including liability issues. There is the chance, for example, that a buyer will challenge whether the digitally altered photos provided an accurate rendering of the space. After moving in, the new owner could make a case for misrepresentation of the property against the real estate practitioner.
Another problem is the lack of control that sellers and practitioners experience in terms of color schemes and accessories. Virtually staged properties tend toward neutral tones and commonplace art and window treatments that could turn off some prospective buyers.” (Virtual Staging: Brilliant but Maybe Dangerous? Daily Real Estate News) http://realtormag.realtor.org/law-and-ethics/ethics/article/2010/06/virtual-staging-stay-true-disclosing
“Q: I’ve heard about using “virtual staging” to market unfurnished homes or rooms. There are a number of software tools that allow you upload a photograph of an empty room and then add computerized images of furnishings, fixtures, and even paint colors. But is this kind of marketing allowed under the Code of Ethics?
A: It all comes down to truth in advertising. Article 12 of the Code requires that REALTORS® “be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and . . . present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.”
In my mind, either way you’d be presenting a false picture of the home. I think about virtual staging in much the same way. It could be done in a way that’s misleading, so you have to be careful.”
(Virtual Staging: Stay True by Disclosing – REALTOR® Magazine) The moral of the story is virtually clear. With Home Staging, ensure an honest and accurate representation by entrusting your house or listing to a trained professional Home Stager, and not the clever skills of a computer jockey equipped with a mouse. That mousetrap could prove fatal to the purchase, the Seller, and even a Realtor’s career.