Staging in a Virtual Reality

Virtual Staging Brings Empty Homes to Life on the Computer Screen

October 1, 2009

Even vacant listings need to look their best. But what if neither you nor your client can foot the bill for staging? To professionally stage an occupied house can cost from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, says Barb Schwartz, a staging pioneer and founder of The price tag is even higher for vacant properties; add rental furniture and the costs can skyrocket.

That’s why some salespeople are turning to virtual staging—using computer technology to add furniture and other décor to photos of their listings. Since many buyers today narrow their choices based on online photos, virtual staging is an economical way to show the potential of a vacant property.

Practitioners have been hesitant in the past to use virtual staging solutions because the images looked computer-generated (similar to the virtual world of Second Life). But a new generation of these services allows you to create realistic images using photographs of actual furniture.

One option is Virtually Staging Properties, a program developed by professional stagers Krisztina and Jay Bell of Atlanta. The husband-and-wife team photographed more than 1,000 pieces of furniture, creating a virtual database that they use to lay out a room with images.

Cynthia Temple, a sales associate with First Weber Group Inc. in Middleton, Wis., used the service to create staged images of a vacant condo. Turnaround time: less than one week. Cost: less than $225. "The images are stunningly realistic," Temple says. "It’s hard to believe they’re computer-generated."

The company also provides its customers with high-resolution 8-by-10-inch images, which the Bells recommend leaving in each room of the house.

Before virtual staging, Temple’s condo listing had been on the market for more than two months without a showing. Within days of uploading the new photos, she says, traffic increased significantly and she quickly had six showings.

Virtually Staging isn’t the only show in town. offers its lifelike photos through a partnership with Ashley Furniture. Obeo offers Obeo StyleDesigner, which enables you to change wall colors, countertop textures, and type of flooring, and Obeo SpaceDesigner lets you create drawings of a room with furnishings. Other do-it-yourself options include Home Design Studio and Live Interior 3D.

"While there will always be strong demand for traditional home staging," says Krisztina Bell, "this virtual technology is an affordable solution for cash-strapped sellers."

Keep it Ethical

The idea of virtual staging is not to deceive prospects but rather to help them envision what the house could look like and how each space could be used.

"We caution agents that they should be transparent about the images and explain that they are computer generated," says virtual stager Krisztina Bell.

In other words, where virtually staged photos appear, include a comment or comments in a readily and reasonably apparent manner that the property has been virtually staged and is actually vacant (or furnished differently), advises REALTOR® magazine’s ethics columnist Bruce Aydt. Otherwise, you risk violating Article 12 of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, which requires that your marketing paint a "true picture."

 "As long as you set the expectations for prospective buyers," says Middleton, Wis., sales associate Cynthia Temple, "they won’t be surprised to walk into an unfurnished home."

Katherine Tarbox is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine. Previously, she was editorial director for Washington Life. She is the author of the international bestselling book A Girl’s Life (Dutton, 2000) and has made hundreds of media appearances including The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and CNN.