Should you stage your home virtually or in real life?

Experts weigh in on the pros and cons of virtual versus IRL staging

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In today’s shifting housing market, seller strategies can help homeowners get the most from their home sale. When it comes time to list a home, a real estate agent may suggest staging it. Traditionally, staging involves bringing furniture and decor into your home to make it look its best as well as to help buyers envision a life in the space. Currently, sellers are taking advantage of new technology that allows them to do this virtually — with furniture and decor digitally imposed onto photos of empty rooms. 

Home shoppers increasingly expect a digital home-buying experience. Tools like interactive 3D tours make it possible for buyers to get a sense of the space without ever setting foot in the home. So, when it comes to staging, how does virtual stack up to the “in real life” (IRL) experience? 

We talked to IRL staging expert Kerrie Kelly, CEO of the Kerrie Kelly design studio and Zillow® national interior design spokesperson, and Mark Visco, a digital designer and head of Visco Listing Services, about the pros and cons of each. 

The benefits of virtual staging

The main benefit of staging virtually is simple: It saves time and money, says Mark Visco. Visco runs a company specializing in listing photography and virtual staging. He’s seen an increase in inquiries from agents looking to use virtual staging services. 

“It’s way more cost effective to virtually stage and much easier to accomplish,” Visco says. “Instead of having a stager come by for a consultation, then come back when their schedule allows them to stage for a day and give you a bill, virtual staging can be done in a few hours for a fraction of the cost.”  

If you are selling your empty home remotely and it’s harder to be on-site, virtual staging could be a good solution to streamline the staging process. 

When staging virtually, you also have fewer limitations on the style, size and shape of the furniture. You aren’t limited to which pieces have been purchased by the staging company. Visco works with the homeowners to define the look and feel of the space, before ever choosing and digitally placing “furniture.” 

“Usually, I send the seller the photographs and have them decide what rooms and photos and angles they want staged. I also let them give me style and color preferences, if they have any,” Visco says. 

Visco photographs the home first.
He then adds in virtual furniture.

The challenges of virtual staging

With new technology comes new issues to overcome. Virtual staging is still a relatively new phenomenon, as are 3D touring technologies, such as Zillow® 3D Home tours, and the two don’t always line up.

“If I shoot a 360 tour on a vacant home and virtually stage a few rooms for photos, there are inconsistencies in continuity going from the in-person tour to the photos,” Visco says. “All in all, though, I haven’t heard any bad feedback about a photo being virtually staged while a tour is not.” 

It’s possible to also run into issues with unrealistic-looking photos if you don’t work with the right staging software, Visco says. “Make sure everything looks normal and is scaled well, so it’s visually pleasing. It’s off-putting when the furniture is way too small or large for its surroundings.” 

An example of a poorly virtually staged home.

He also warns against using staging as a way to show potential buyers something the home is not. “The homeowner should make sure they aren’t virtually staging to hide anything within the home, like a damaged surface, a hole in the wall, water in the basement, etc., or to make a room look larger than it is.” 

While using virtual staging in an empty home can help get potential buyers to tour, once they’re in the home, they’re greeted by unfurnished rooms, leaving home shoppers without that curated IRL experience.

The benefits of physical staging

Virtual staging works well if the home is empty, but for sellers who are actually living in the home while it’s on the market, real furniture is a must. Designer Kerrie Kelly has been involved with home staging for years. She says that not every home needs a completely new set of staged decor. 

“Some well-cared-for, simply styled interiors may only require replacing a piece of specific artwork or adding fresh potted plants to the front porch, while others may require a complete top-to-bottom house edit,” Kelly says. 

Real-life staging also allows for more dynamic virtual touring, since you can capture furniture accurately from every angle.

The challenges of physical staging

Though Kelly often sees a physically staged home sell 80%–90% faster than comparable unstaged homes, there are upfront costs associated with the practice. 

According to Kelly, the cost is typically $500–$600 per room. “So, a 2,000-square-foot home could cost around $2,400/month to stage and have a three-month minimum agreement, even if the home sells right away. Most stagers also require an initial consultation, which can cost around $500 to get started,” she says. 

Whether you plan to virtually or physically stage your home, it’s a tool to consider, especially as the average time on the market increases. With that in mind, if you’re getting ready to sell your home, consider seeking out an experienced agent who can help you with your specific staging needs. 

Visit our sellers guide for more info.

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