An empty house is typically more difficult to sell than one that’s furnished, but not every seller has an extra $5,000 to burn on rental furniture. Virtual staging has gained more prominence in recent years for that very reason. But the cheaper alternative is no longer a nerdy pastime, a “RollerCoaster Tycoon” for residential Real Estate.
Business has steadily been increasing for Virtual Staging Solutions, in Austin, Tex. The company got its start in 2008, after founder Bryan Bittner realized how many empty, foreclosed homes went unsold.
“People moved out and took all their furniture,” said Bittner. “The houses were left empty. They weren’t selling and they were really ugly. Not everybody could afford to physically stage a home and move in furniture.”
So Bittner and his team created a version of the virtual staging service, where designers interlaced existing photos of rooms with images of furniture, which began to lead to immediate results.
“Most people begin their home search online,” he said. The first thing they see is the photos. It’s very important you give them a good first impression. People could make the emotional connection with the photos. They weren’t just looking at four empty walls.”
It took a while for virtual staging to catch on with Real Estate agents, but many who use it swear by the service. Diane Silverman, with Keller Williams NY Realty, north of New York City, had never heard of the concept until three years ago. Now she uses Virtual Staging Solutions regularly.
“It really helps sell the property,” she said. “I had a house on the market that was an estate sale. It was completely vacant. And people have a hard time visualizing what an empty room will look like with furniture.”
Besides putting the photos online, she enlarges them and displays them during open houses.
For Marie Young, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Basking Ridge, N.J., virtual staging means more visitors to the home itself, and more leads. Recently she was able to close a deal within a day of the virtual staging photos being places online.
“It’s a major help,” Young said. “People do not have vision (without seeing the virtually staged photos).”
Since then, the company has been mentioned in “The New York Times” and the “San Francisco Chronicle,” on “Today” on NBC, and more. Sixty percent of the company’s clients are repeat customers (mostly Real Estate agents) from throughout the United States and Europe.
“We’ve been incredibly busy and we’re trying to hire more designers,” Bittner said.
Here’s how virtual staging works: Either the seller, the agent or a professional photographer snap photos of the key rooms of a home: Kitchen, living room, bedrooms, bathroom and dining room. They send those to Virtual Staging Solutions, where designers integrate furniture and décor.
Clients can select a style, such as traditional or contemporary, or pick and choose from a catalog, as if they were buying from an Ikea warehouse; one that is inside a computer. The designers use photo and 3D editing tools to place each item into a photo, but it’s not a computer-automated process.
“Designers work on each photo and put each piece of furniture in there by hand,” Bittner said.
A typical package of five photos runs about $330. The more photos purchased, the cheaper each one becomes.
Bittner recommends that if an agent cannot spring for a professional photographer, he or she follow a couple of simple rules for taking photos. Foremost, do not use a wide-angle lens, which creates a fisheye effect and stretches a room to unrealistic proportions. Second, the photos should be shot at eye-level from either the corner of the room or the doorway. The Virtual Staging Solutions website also lists other photography tips.
Unlike some other companies, Virtual Staging Solutions is careful to not alter the fundamental elements of a house, such as adding hardwood floors or changing the color of walls, unless it is a unique situation. The company is careful not to deceive, and will only alter a room when the Real estate agent wants to helps buyers envision what it may become rather than what it is.
“If the house is really outdated, and needs new kitchen cabinets, we can do that,” Bittner said.