Is Virtual Staging Deceiving?

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

A recent article from The San Francisco Chronicle (“Virtual Staging Sparks Sales of Vacant Homes” by Judy Richter) took a look at the growing trend of real estate professionals using virtual staging to move listings.

Virtual staging is where you take an empty room and then digitally enhance it with furniture to make the space more inviting. For example, a stager may digitally add some artwork, chairs, tables, and other items to liven up a vacant space, allowing buyers to see the potential of the home. The enhanced photos may then be used on the sales practitioner’s flyers, Web site, MLS and in advertisements for the listing.

But some are beginning to question whether the altered photos may deceive buyers.

Virtual staging can work in driving more buyer traffic. Many practitioners report an increase in buyer traffic after virtual staging photos are posted than if they just posted photos on the Web of the vacant rooms in the house.

Some in the business are attracted to virtual staging, particularly now, because of the huge cost savings of staging on the Web rather than paying for actual physical staging. For example, some real estate practitioners say they have saved thousands of dollars in staging costs by opting for virtual over physical staging.

But are these altered photos accurate renderings of the space? Or are they misrepresenting the property by sprucing them up digitally?

Real estate practitioner Kirk Lebowe, owner-broker of PreVue Properties in Los Angeles County, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he views virtual staging as a great way give buyers decorating ideas. Plus, he said, it’s not like you’re selling the home with the furniture.

What do you think? Do you think virtual staging is deceiving?

<br /> <a href=”” mce_href=””>Do you think virtual staging has the potential to mislead buyers?</a><span style=”font-size:9px;” mce_style=”font-size:9px;”>(<a href=”” mce_href=””>surveys</a>)</span><br />

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. I just wrote a blog about this very thing!

  2. Chris

    I think it is great, I’ve used it 2 times for my vacant listings and it helped tremendously. The buyers were very grateful. I even had some people want me to help sell their home because they liked what I was doing and thought I was going above and beyond.

    I used – good guys, I needed them quickly and they got them done before I expected them! They even made some quick changes for me and were really flexible.

  3. Francisco

    Consider that staging as done in many industries for years: automotive industry with commercials on TV and magazines, retail stores, funeral homes, luxury items such as watches and furniture; when buying furniture the entire show room is a stage. For those-like me—that are fashionably challenged–I’ve purchased many of the staged showrooms that save me time and had my homes look nice. They key as with any question of honesty or not is intention. If you are providing full disclosure in a way that they know this is a virtual stage with the intent of helping the potential home owner envision how their new home might look like through a virtual video, this can be a valuable and helpful tool for all parties involved; however, if used improperly this could set for fall expectations that once discovered and not meet, the buyer will walk away; enough of these so will the seller–at least from the agent.


  4. I think virtual staging is a fantastic idea for showing buyers a home’s potential. In this regard, it’s not much different from a new home builder publishing artists’ renderings of upcoming models. However, it would be wise for agents to place a disclaimer in their advertising notifying buyers that the photos are staged.

  5. Bryanne

    What’s there to debate? I told my customer: “This is what the home could look like” and they understood the concept. They actually appreciated how they could see “Both sides of the spectrum”. -House sold quickly!
    I, too, used and was amazed at the customer service, turnaround and the quality! -They were also the most cost-effective after all my research.
    I will continue to use this type of marketing! IT WORKS!

  6. This just goes to prove the importance of good real estate marketing…

    1) staging–whether with actual or virtual furnishings–makes it easier for buyers to see the potential of a space

    2) pictures of a well decorated/staged interior prompt buyers to take a longer and more interested look

    Of course staging and quality pictures are just two of the six critical elements of getting a home sold in less than 30 days and for top dollar.

  7. Mary

    I’m not a realtor but I must say that this is an amazing idea. Any realtor that is using virtual staging is a step a head of the competition in my book.

  8. What is the buyer purchasing the virtual furniture or the house?

  9. My only concern is if the furniture actually could fit in the space. I just looked at one of the websites and I didn’t see that they required you to tell them the dimensions of the room. It would be deceiving if they showed furniture placement that wasn’t actually possible.

  10. Meg Roberts

    Having worked with buyers for almost 30 years, I am truly aware that a large percentage of buyers have no clue as to furniture placement and how their own furnishings will fit into empty Listings. Virtual Staging allows a buyer to compare size(s) of their own furnishings, i.e., sofas, beds, tables etc.

    However, I do think there should be a ‘tag line or disclaimer’ that merely says
    ‘photos contain virtual staging furnishings’.

    Empty space is so misleading to 99% of buyers. What a shame to simply discard this sales vehicle in this down market when a simple ‘disclaimer’ would suffice.

    I plan to use Virtual Staging and will also apply a disclaimer.

  11. This is a great idea for vacant properties and I have used Virtually Staging Properties for my properties in Florida and the pictures they have provided back to me are amazing! You have to get your sellers who cannot afford traditional staging to use this service to drive buyer traffic to the listing as it definately helped increase the hits on my listing onine. Thanks so much to VSP with there patent pending service at and speak with Jay. They do great work and the rates are very affordable for 3 pictures and turnaround time is fast! Kudos to this invention and love having another marketing tool to offer my clients.

  12. Virginia

    I have discussed this new Virtual Staging service to my agent friends here in Atlanta and with a broker who is on the Atlanta Board of Realtors and they all feel that this new wave of staging is amazing. Jaws were dropping and saying to me that the idea is so cool when I showed them some of the websites mentioned of the companies out there doing this for vacant listings nationally.

    Interestingly enough I have gotten blogs emailed to me from my realtor friends about it hence our talks about this marketing tool. It seems 9 out of 10 people think it is a great concept. I think it is a great marketing tool for desperate sellers here in Atlanta especially in these economic times.

    One of the blogs I got recently had some interesting reading and I found humorous and blowing things what I thought to be a bit out of proportion. It came from an ASP stager member that claimed the service is airbrushing and would be a disappointment to buyers when they viewed the home. First of all, the companies that I read about and did call some of them up and spoke with do no airbrushing or any changes to the photos at all. In fact, some of the owners of the companies are professional stagers and wouldn’t you know it one of them is a graphic designer of over 15 years. They are obviously using some software to pop in furnishings and decor to make the photos more attractive and eye-catching online. I see how this would help me as an agent get more buyer traffic to view my listing. Can you imagine buyers scrolling through boring vacant listing photos and trying to figure out what rooms are what? And now here in Atlanta we can put up even more pictures of you guessed it more vacant rooms in the home – that does not help!

    But what I don’t understand when I read further into the blog hashing is the part the VSP stager says about a buyer being disappointed when they go to view the home. If the agent has told them that the home is currently vacant and the pictures online are showing how the home could look furnished how is that any different than when you see furnished pictures online when the sellers used to live in the home because of course an agent wants those pictures up on their listing service online. That agent is going to have to tell buyers when they view the property that the home is now vacant because the sellers have relocated. So I do not see this VSP stagers point on that note.

    In the meantime, my agent friends and I really think the virtual staging option is just too awesome for words and any new marketing tool we can offer our clients the better!

  13. anita m. farr

    I have been an active real estate practioner for 34 years and can honestly tell you that :honesty is still the best policy”! A vacant home can lend its’ space for potential buyer to arrange their own furnishings. I realize that some lack imagination still, lifestyle will dictate how space would be utilized. Enhanced digital staging is misleading to the degree that most buyers would feel they cannot possibly afford to furnish the home equal to what is on the photo. Better to give them the space and let them fill it up with their very own idea of how it should be furnished, decorated, etc. to fit their lifestyle!

  14. Amy

    Does virtual staging have the potential to mislead buyers? No, but those that use it have the potential to mislead. I think it is a great idea and can be helpful to both sellers and buyers. If it isn’t carefully done, and what is virtually displayed can’t actually be done, or if it is used in a way that one would believe the staging really exists at the listing, but it doesn’t, then yes it would be deceiving. But it is, what it is and it is a great opportunity and a great tool, so everyone needs to be honest, straightforward and responsible in its use. No one likes to be deceived, plain and simple.

    There will always be someone who finds advertising deceptive because of what they’ve seen, read, or heard, because of their interpretation and expectations. So it is up to us to communicate and educate.

  15. I work for CVR MLS in Richmond, VA, and I have expected Virtual Staging to appear for a number of years and am surprised it has taken so long. As an MLS professional, I only have one strong concern.

    Adding furnishings and decorations is not an issue, since they don’t go with the house. The next step should be the ability of the buyer to bring digital photos of their own furniture and appointments, and the software should be able to place it for them in the view, within at least an approximation.

    The issue is when changes are made in the image that alter the perception of the condition or appeal of the house itself. Changing the color of the walls, or showing other carpets are two examples. I think that the time for virtual staging has come, but that agents should be required to disclose when it has been used, since the property will look different than the photos when they arrive for the showing. Especially if this is done to photos in their MLS. If the image in the photos is drastically different from the reality, it could almost be perceived as a ‘bait and switch’.

  16. It’s a great concept, but the potential for misrepresentation is there. But I think if it is CLEARLY stated that the picture is enhanced or is just an example of what it could look like..not actual decor/furnishing somewhere on the site, there wouldn’t be any difficulty

  17. Virtual Staging is a powerful tool when used correctly. It’s just that very few have seen it packaged honestly and correctly yet.

    Here’s an example of correct usage and presentation:

    ~Michelle Molinari

    Certified Staging Professional, Feature This… Real Estate Staging,

    CSP Elite Instructor, Certified Staging Professionals,

    Lead Virtual Designer,

    President of Acadiana Real Estate Staging Association,

  18. Virtually Staging is a great concept! I’ve sold two properties this way. As long as you tell the agent with the buyer it was virtually enhanced on the web then the buyer should be aware that it’s vacant upon showing.

    Our job is to bring clients into the home- this is a brilliant idea in a market with such long market times as well!

    I used: http://www.virtually
    ask for Jay

  19. Bryanne

    I found them to be more expensive. The people at make it much easier and are more affordable.. it’s all about my ROI.

  20. I haven’t used virtual staging but I think as long as it is clearly disclosed that it is virtual staging and only offering a potential buyer ideas on how to decorate, then I don’t see a problem with it.

  21. Taking advantage of the technology to make something more presentable is a good idea. Of course, the idea should not be to deceive someone!
    I agree with dona on this, as it can give an innovative idea to the potential buyer regarding decoration.

  22. I am really excited about virtual staging! I recently tried in my New York City area for one of my listings and have had MUCH more activity than before when it just had the unfurnished photos. PropertyEffects is different than the others, in that they do the work with some kind of 3D software, and it matches the angles of the room photo better than some of the examples I’ve seen from other virtual home stagers. I like their style better too, for the level of interior design sophistication we need here in NYC.

    As for integrity in advertising, If you show “before and after” photos together – what could be dishonest?

  23. Hey Melissa,

    You said it right that virtual staging can work in driving more buyer traffic. As it is reported that to have an increase in buyer traffic after virtual staging photos are posted than if they just posted photos on the Web of the vacant rooms in the house.

  24. My husband and I had a terrible time selling one of our empty properties. After doing some research we ended up using The virtual photos were incredible. We posted them on the internet with our add and sold the property…YIPPIE

  25. Check out – Way more realistic than the other virtual staging companies and great people to work with. Virtual Staging like this is hard to come by. Another cool feature with Virtual Staging Solutions is that you can choose your own furniture.

  26. John

    Check out this youtube video – of a simple do-it-yourself drag-and-drop staging software. Looks promising.