Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
Virtual Design Tools in Real Estate
There are many websites and apps to help buyers visualize themselves in a new home and assist sellers who are preparing their homes for the market. Here’s a sampling.
September 2, 2017
The internet has disrupted many professions, and the design trade is no exception. The proliferation of online design tools available can not only feed the imaginations of buyers but also help sellers transform their homes faster and more affordably.
Here we offer this guide of six noteworthy new tools, though this isn’t an exhaustive list. One element to always keep in mind is the need to carefully pair the designer or merchandise with the listing’s marketing plan or the homeowner’s needs, style preferences, timetable, and budget, says designer Keitha Brathwaite, with Contrast Design Group in Chicago. Many sites solve that challenge by matchmaking based on a questionnaire or phone call and lots of visual options—not too dissimilar from online dating.
Real estate professionals who want to help a home shine often call on stagers or borrow from what they’ve seen and rearrange rooms themselves. But a serious staging job requires time and effort either way. And, of course, there are the costs, which can become confusing with a combination of hourly charges for time, plus fees for purchases (sometimes based on wholesale prices plus a markup or retail minus a discount).
So, it’s no wonder virtual staging has grown in popularity as the technology that facilitates such renderings has become more advanced. Some sites now offer virtual staging with 3-D images that help home shoppers visualize a room without buying or rearranging a thing, says broker Allison Bethell, a real estate investment analyst with New York–based FitSmallBusiness.com. “It allows clients to look at a property that they may not have been able to imagine living in before, but now can see how their furniture and artwork would look,” she says.
Designing in Real Life
Many of these new online design options have vetted, experienced experts ready to recommend everything from furniture and color palettes to accessories and cabinets. One benefit of the shift to online services is that the price for such expertise is more affordable and transparent from the start. If you’ve got a client who’s looking to remodel or redesign their home, consider these options. Some offer a visit to a home; some work only through online chats and videos.
Decor Aid is a New York–based firm that charges $150 per hour in packages of five or 10 hours of design help, though its design team starts with a free consultation. Though many of the firm’s clients are homeowners, real estate salespeople also find the design service useful in primping rooms for resale, according to cofounder Sean Juneja. The company has 250 designers on its platform—some are in-house and others are freelancers—in many of the country’s major metropolitan areas. The vast majority of designers will visit a client’s home to offer their services. In either case, they provide a floor plan and pass on the firm’s trade discounts when furniture and other items are purchased through the service.
The 500 designers working with New York–based HomePolish offer services across the nation—some as full-time staff and others freelancing. All charge an hourly rate starting at $130 with a minimum of 10 hours. Projects range from just one room to an extensive gut rehab of the entire house. The company matches a designer with projects based on a phone conversation and provides a free consultation to start. While many clients receive multiple in-person visits, those living in locales with no available designer are served through video consultations. The company creates a shopping list based on the design (along with its industry discount) and a floor plan. Since HomePolish started five years ago, the company has seen its clientele shift from younger home owners seeking help on a budget to those wanting advice for bigger, more luxurious projects, says designer Orlando Soria.