Beware Virtual Staging (+ Why We Don’t Do It)

If you’re in the market for a new home — whether buying or renting — you’ve likely come across the relatively recent real estate marketing phenomenon known as virtual staging. It’s a digital design tool that many real estate brokers have turned to as a way of making the homes they show prospective buyers look polished, chic, and flawlessly decorated. 

You can kind of think of staging as like your iPhone’s beauty filter — disguising imperfections, making the most of what you’re working with, and just generally showing you in your most flattering light. The problem with that, though, is sooner or later, you’re gonna be seen with your filter off (or in the case of virtually staged homes, with your living room completely naked). 

There’s no doubt that virtual staging works in some situations (maybe you need to see if that heirloom dining table would fit into your potential place) but when we show properties, Realty Collective has When people show up and the space is empty and not full the beautiful furniture that the photos showed it is hard to envision the space a strict no digital staging policy. Let’s talk about why.

What digital staging is (and isn’t)

HGTV has made so many of us fluent in real estate speak, including the concept of staging homes for open houses. And we think staging — the kind where agents or hired firms lug furniture in and out of homes in order to best showcase the space — is great. In fact, Realty Collective provides property staging to sellers for free! Yep, being a boutique brokerage has its perks (especially for our clients). You can see some of our past work here

We do it because it not only helps our clients’ homes sell quicker, it often leads to a higher purchase price. It’s also kinder to our clients. When you walk into a physically staged home (whether as a renter or buyer), you can judge for yourself whether our couch is much bigger than yours and see where we placed it. You can look at the colors we’ve chosen for the fabrics and see what might look great in the space. It’s a tangible thing — one that’s not quite the same with virtual staging.

Here’s why digital staging isn’t 100% honest

We said before that virtual staging is a lot like a beauty filter and it’s true; one of the most fundamental commonalities the two share is that, just as you wouldn’t announce on Instagram that you’re using a filter on that selfie, most real estate brokerages don’t tell clients ahead of time whether a property they’re seeing photos of has been virtually staged. And that can lead to problems, starting with sowing distrust and moving on from there. 

As Realty Collective President Victoria Alexander explains, the let-down effect is real. “When people show up and the space is empty and it doesn’t look like a design magazine spread, and all that beautiful furniture is gone, it suddenly becomes that much harder for potential renters or buyers to envision the space.” 

We’re not saying virtual staging is covering anything up. If some agent out there decides to digitally insert a bouquet of flowers to cover up some water damage, that’s just plain unethical. Most of those agents aren’t up to anything nefarious, but they may be trying to sell you on a vision of a place that just isn’t real. 

Wondering how to spot it? It’s getting more difficult, but some giveaways are floors that look pristine (sometimes floors are rendered by the software and may not be the floors the place actually has); views that look too good (and color-saturated) to be real; TVs with no visible outlets nearby; or even wonky proportions. Hint: most doors are 36 inches wide. Eyeball what you’re seeing against that common reference point. 

If all else fails, don’t worry. You’ll eventually be seeing the place soon enough. If you know that it might look slightly different though, you’ll at least be prepared. 

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