Defining the Differences between ASP Home Staging and Virtual Staging

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

In recent weeks I’ve come across a couple of online articles discussing what’s being referred to as Virtual Staging. Because I invented the concept of Home Staging, I was asked about my thoughts on Virtual Staging.  I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my response.

Virtual Staging is most often described as a service where consultants receive photos from sellers which they then manipulate to show various improvements. A picture of an empty living room may be enhanced by the addition of images of a sofa, coffee table, and other furniture and accessories. An empty bedroom may look as if there’s a bed in the room once a Virtual Staging rendition is completed.  It is Important to note and know that there’s never an actual client meeting or physical consultation involved with Virtual Staging. Instead, knowledge about a property is only gained through images and it is really important to know that no physical Staging to the home was actually done.  This is really important to understand for if the pictures are changed and yet the house is not actually Staged to reflect the changes made to the pictures then the buyers coming through will not see in person in the house what was changed in the virtual Staging when they come to see the actual house.  That means that pictures used to market the property have been changed or even altered but the house was not changed to match the pictures and the house itself was NOT Staged.   I believe that is risky business and this is a real challenge in possible misrepresentation at best.

True Staging sets the scene IN the house in real time, throughout the house, to create immediate buyer interest in the property so that when buyers come to see the house it looks like what marketing materials were used to market the house in the first place as a Staged home.  This means that pictures and marketing materials used to market the house are actually the pictures of what the house truly looks like Staged.  Our statistics show that this will then lead to a home selling for the highest possible price in any market in the quickest amount of time and this is true in every price range.  True Staging sets a scene in the actual house.  This is how I invented Staging to be and how Staging works and why it works.  One of my Staging phrases I developed along the way is, “Buyers ONLY know what they See, not the way it’s going to be!”  And that means in the house for real, not just in pictures that are not actually what they will end up seeing if the house only had virtual Staging and not real Staging!  I invented Home Staging in the first place because buyers cannot imagine in most cases what a property would look like unless the real scene is set when they actually see the house in person.  You see you can give them all the pictures all you want of what it could look like, but when they stand in a vacant or a cluttered property they cannot imagine what it ‘could’ look like.  That is too tough for most buyers to visualize in person when they are standing in a house that looks different than pictures used to get them there by Virtual Staging.  That is just one of the big risks of Virtual Staging instead of the house really being Staged ahead of time for the potential buyer to see when they come to the house.  True Staging works because it sets the scene for the buyer to actually see for themselves for real in the actual house.

It is absolutely essential to understand the impact that Virtual Staging could have on everyone involved, including REALTORS® and consumers.

One of my concerns with what is being called Virtual Staging is the fact that if the manipulated images are shown to home buyers they’ll be sorely disappointed if and when they visit the home. While the enhanced images might entice them to visit, they’ll find a home they will not recognize from the images they saw, and probably they will just walk away. Such a scenario certainly doesn’t benefit the seller nor does it help the REALTOR® working to sell the home.  Talk about a let down.  This is a concern for sure but I have an even bigger concern in what I share with you below.

I have been a real estate broker now for over thirty years, providing accurate representation of a home has always been absolutely essential to me. This should be true for us all as REATLORS® and It is a part of the pledge we make as we work to adhere to the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics.  As a Broker and as The Creator of Home Staging® I am concerned with Virtual Staging because of the potential misrepresentation such services may lead to. If a consumer sees an image of a home in a way it’s not, that may be considered misrepresentation of property.  Where does Virtual Staging start and stop so what is to keep a Virtual Staging from changing the color of the real walls or the color of the bricks on the fireplace in the pictures used to market the property.  Nothing at all, yet when the buyer sees the house and it is NOT what was portrayed in the Virtual Staging all kinds of questions can arise about representation.   You see it is one thing to show a seller how their home could look if they Staged it in a Home Staging Consultation through pictures, and I did say seller, ahead of time if they Staged it, but quite another to market it that way if it has NOT been actually Staged for the buyer to see in person.  Again, my concern is misrepresentation and where it starts and stops as well.  Too many things could be manipulated through Virtual Staging by some people and that could lead to big challenges for all, including the person who did that as well as the REALTOR® who listed the house and the REALTOR® who sold the house too.

To represent a property one way in marketing materials and then in another way in the house for real is a huge challenge and it could be called misrepresentation in my opinion.  REALTORS® might even be in violation of our Code of Ethics if they in fact use altered images, without the physical changes being made in homes they represent, in their marketing materials.  It concerns me a great deal about the pit falls that could occur from what is being called Virtual Staging the way it is currently being described.  This does not meet my criteria for Home Staging and the many benefits that actual Home Staging brings to sellers, buyers, and REALTORS® alike.  If I felt it was good to do I would tell you so.  Therefore, I certainly want to caution REALTORS® from using what is being called Virtual Staging.  I would highly recommend that any REALTOR® not put themselves in that situation nor represent a property in that way.

Real Staging is the way to go when selling a home. And it is not actually Staging until the house itself is actually Staged!  Real Staging in the actual house comes first then the pictures should be taken and only then. Then it becomes real Staging and not just virtual Staging.  And in that way the house is then marketed the way it really is Staged for the buyer to see in person.  This is a huge real crucial difference and this is why true Home Staging works!  Staged marketing materials must match the actual Staged home and the Staged home must match the Staged marketing materials.  I’ve always taught and worked hard to represent sellers in the best way possible and that means representation of what is actually is in the house including Staging.  True Staging does not cover things up nor does it just set the scene in a picture but in fact True Staging actually sets the scene for real in the actual house itself.  Do not do Virtual Staging, the risks are too high.  Stage® for real with a Accredited Staging Professional® and get the house sold by doing so.

I just came across an article that confirms that my concern about Virtual Staging is shared. Click here to read Virtual Staging: Brilliant but Maybe Dangerous?, published at the website of Realtor® Magazine.

Barb Schwarz

The Creator of Home Staging®
The Creator of the ASP Designation and Course
Founder and Chairwoman The International Association of Home Staging Professionals®, IAHSP