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Virtual home staging: a picture of real estate listings that sell

What is virtual home staging? How does it help sell homes for which traditional home staging is not an option?

Virtual home staging transforms a living room.Real estate agents insist that a staged home sells faster than an empty home.  Sometimes, home staging isn’t an option. That’s why Krisztina Bell and her husband, Jay Bell, started a patent-pending virtual staging process that transforms photos of your empty rooms into pictures of perfectly staged rooms.

After seeing dozens of these photos on Google+, as well as the comments and questions from other real estate agents, I decided to interview Krisztina about the work that her company, Virtually Staging Properties, does:

How long have you been doing virtual home staging?

We started our traditional home staging company in 2005 and offered our virtual staging service a few years later. From 2005 to 2008, when the market was great, everything was selling and there was lots of inventory. Then the economy changed. There was no inventory and homes were going into foreclosure. I started to get more phone calls from agents saying, “my seller can’t afford the traditional type of home staging you do, what else can you do?”

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How does virtual home staging work?

We are the only virtual staging company that is a real home staging company. Our staff is not only graphics people – they must learn how to stage a home. It’s got to be a good mix of both, because you have to see things visually.

We get orders in every day, via fax or email. We get the highest resolution, best quality photos they have. Agents either take the photos themselves, or they hire a photographer. They may send more than one photo, or more than one angle of a room. If the photos are low resolution, we contact the agent and ask for a higher quality photo.

Once we get those photos, then we create that realism that you see. Some people actually think we bring furniture into the home and then remove it afterward.

Buyers can visualize their table in the dining room with staging.So what they get are photos that appear to be shots of a staged home?

Yes. Usually we do the living, dining room and master bedroom – or a room that is a little bit difficult for a buyer to figure out.

They can use the photos for any marketing materials related to the property listed for sale. The agent can bring their (sic) laptop (to a open house or showing) so that they (sic) can show the buyer or print out 8” x 10” glossies and hang them in the rooms. It’s not like CAD computer generated images.

Photos of vacant rooms are very boring; sometimes you can’t even tell what the room is. The buyer just skips over those. This way, the buyer thinks, “I can see my big couch sitting in there; or my dining room table fitting in there.”

How do you determine how to stage the home?

We listen to the agent and ask, “What’s the price point? Who’s going to buy it? Is it going to be a first-time homebuyer?” Those things help us. Plus, we are professional home stagers – we know what we’re doing. We do a lot of homes in all the major cities.

That’s why we make the phone calls and get to know the agent. The agents love actually talking to us; they get to design a little bit. They draw out a floor plan. There’s only so many different ways you can layout a room, but again, we’re working with a photo.

We’re not afraid to use color. And I think that’s why we get so much attraction here in Atlanta. We own dozens of sets of furniture. I always think I’ve seen every floor plan, but that’s what’s so amazing about the virtual staging – we see everything.

Do you alter the color of the walls or carpet?

We don’t hide anything. If there’s a big stain on the floor, we cannot even put a rug on it. We just don’t hide flaws. We just do not believe in any type of possible misrepresentation. We follow a real estate agent's code of ethics. 

It’s interesting what we get. We’ve done every color carpet – blue, green, pink, even black. Believe it or not, once we virtually stage it, you don’t even notice the carpet. We don’t cover it up, we just kind of downplay it. And we don’t change paint colors. It’s going to be there. We just make it look more pleasing.

Is there a home that virtual staging won’t help?

It really could be for any home. Believe it or not, we’ve done a mobile home. We have received photos of homes that could use some renovation. We can only make it look as good as we can possible do. We have had people move all the furniture out of the room and then move it back because the furniture was so bad.

We’ve also worked around furniture. Maybe one piece of furniture stays because they can’t move it out. It looks even more realistic that way, but it is kind of challenging.

We’ve never had somebody say, “this furniture is not even close – we’re sending it back.” Now, we’ve had somebody say, “can you take the one piece out,” or “can you take the plant out.”

Transformed from blah to inviting.Is there a type of house that’s best for virtual home staging?

The home that’s bigger, 5,000-10,000 square foot; there’s where you can’t spend $25,000 or $50,000 to stage the home. With virtual staging, you can just get a 5-photo package for $350 and add $60 a photo. When you add that up, it might be a couple thousand dollars. It’s a fraction of the cost.

Even a basic (traditional home staging) package here in Atlanta would be a couple of thousand dollars. In California it would be $5,000. Now an agent or seller can do the virtual staging route – with a basic package at $225.

What kind of response do you get from agents and sellers when they see the photos?

The majority of agents say they see an instant increase in buyer traffic (even if the property has been listed for a year). Agents say, “The phone started ringing after I posted the photos.” I have numerous testimonials, stacked on my desk, of how it is a really great marketing tool to sell a vacant home faster! Our repeat business is overwhelming. We have agents who know it works and have made it a part of their marketing plan before listing a vacant property. 

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I’ve seen some agents ask you on Google+, “What happens when the buyer goes to the house and it’s empty?”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say the buyer was disappointed when they got there. The whole point is that we got the buyer there. We attracted them online. Once the client got there, they were remembering the photos … and they could see how they could lay out the furniture from the photos.

A vacant home is not going to sell faster than a virtual home. It’s the agent who, when you get the buyer there, is going to have to sell the home.

How many homes do you stage a week?

I couldn’t even say because we have so many that come in. We work with 25-80 agents. We’ve done homes in all the states in the US plus all over globally: Canada, the Bahamas, the Czech Republic …

What do you like most about virtual staging versus traditional home staging?

Well, I have a graphics background, so I’m always trying to make it look more real. It’s fun for me because of the technology and the different programs we utilize to make it look more real. We see some beautiful homes, like a condo in New York or in Chicago near the waterfront.  You get to see these amazing views – that’s what I try to show on Google+.

It’s been interesting and it’s exciting watching it grow. This year has really blown us away with how much real estate business there’s been. The virtual staging is a learning process. It’s a new technology. I enjoy it from the design and home staging perspective.

The Bell’s company, Virtually Staging Properties, Inc. in Atlanta, GA has been featured on the NBC Today Show, ABC News, The Dallas Morning News and FoxNews.com as well as in The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

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