Realtors already use the Web to showcase their listings online, where buyers peruse them before hitting the home tours. Now comes virtual staging.
Here’s how it works: A real estate agent e-mails photos of a vacant home to a stager, who digitally adds tables, chairs, lamps, art work and other items to make the space look more inviting. The agent uses the enhanced photos for his Web site, the Multiple Listing Service, flyers and other advertising.
Virtual staging is gaining ground in today’s distressed economy and real estate market. Many for-sale homes are vacant because they’re in foreclosure or because the owners have had to move before being able to sell them.
Meanwhile, falling prices mean less or no profit for sellers, who might not be inclined to spend money on traditional staging. Realtors earn less, too, because their income is derived from the sales price.
With so many vacant houses on the market, it also can catch a buyer’s attention, said Jay Bell, manager of Virtually Staging Properties in Atlanta.
Bell and his wife, Krisztina, are traditional stagers who expanded into the virtual realm last year.
His company charges $225 to enhance three photos – say of the kitchen, living room and dining room. Four photos cost $280; five, $325. Each additional photo is $60.
If the Bells were to traditionally stage a vacant home’s kitchen, living room and dining room, they would charge $2,200 to $2,400, including their service and a minimum three months’ rental of the furnishings. After that, the rental would be $550 to $600 a month.
Mike King, a Realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty Inc. in Brentwood (Los Angeles County), paid the Bells about $300 to virtually stage a vacant 2,400-square-foot home last year. Actual staging in his area would have cost $3,000 to $4,500 for three months, he said.
After King added the staged photos to his Web site, the number of hits increased about 40 percent, he said.
Kirk Lebowe, owner-broker of PreVue Properties in El Segundo (Los Angeles County), used the Bells to virtually stage a vacant two-bedroom, two-bath condo in Santa Monica. Cost was a major factor in his decision, but when a home is vacant, he said, “people have a hard time visualizing things.”
Another virtual stager, Dennis Miller, co-owner of Virtual Staging Solutions in Cranford, N.J., agreed. “Four bare walls don’t give a true picture of the potential of a home,” he said.
He charges $197 to virtually stage three photos, usually of the living room, dining room and master bedroom. Additional photos are $47 each.
His business differs slightly from others’ because you also can buy the furniture in the photos through a partnership with Ashley Furniture.
It takes about three to five days to add images to digital photos. “This is a service that takes time,” Miller said. “It’s not plop, plop, plop. We’re designers.”
Sellers also can use virtual staging for furnished homes. In this scenario, a real estate agent e-mails several views of the rooms to a stager for advice on how to make them more inviting.
Cindy Lin, owner of Staged4More Staging & Redesigns in South San Francisco, provided such suggestions for a house in San Jose. The wife felt she could stage it herself, but Lin was consulted for her professional opinion on “how to tweak it to make the space look bigger,” she said.
She charged $250. If she had done a full staging on the three-bedroom house, her fee would have been $1,500 to $2,500 for the consultation and two months’ rental of furnishings.
The home’s listing agent, Pat Kapowich, co-owner of Kapowich Real Estate in Sunnyvale, said virtual staging advice has helped take his listings from an average of about 19 days on the market to five to seven, he said. “It has been a real boost to my business.”
Kellie Frooninckx, owner of Virtual Enriching Homes in Phoenix, also analyzes photographs and offers advice for making a home more attractive by adding, subtracting or rearranging items. Sometimes it’s as basic as telling the homeowner to put the toilet seat down or add throw pillows or lamps.
When virtually staging a vacant home, agents might wonder whether to tell clients that what they see on the Web is not what they’ll see in the house. Some stagers put a small watermark on their photos. For $49 each, Virtually Staging Properties will provide an 8 x 10-inch mounted photo to place in the vacant room to help buyers remember what they saw on the Web.
Realtor Lebowe said he doesn’t disclose that the home was virtually staged. He sees it as a way to give the buyers decorating ideas. After all, he said, “You’re not selling (the home) with the furniture.”