The Skinny on Virtual Staging: Is it Deceptive?

By Barb Schwarz,

In recent weeks I’ve come across an increasing number of online articles discussing what’s often referred to as a new kind of Staging: Virtual staging. Being that I created the concept of Home Staging, a few days ago I was asked about my views on the similarities and differences between virtual staging and Home Staging by ASP®, Accredited Home Staging Professionals.

Virtual Staging is most often described as a service where consultants receive photos from sellers in which they then manipulate to show various improvements. A picture of an empty living room may be enhanced by the addition of images of a sofa, coffee table, and other furniture and accessories. An empty bedroom may look as if there’s a bed in the room once a virtual staging rendition is completed.

Important to note: There is never an actual client meeting or physical consultation involved with virtual staging. Instead, knowledge about a property is only gained through images; no physical changes to a home are actually made.

So, are there similarities between virtual staging and Home Staging performed by Accredited Home Staging Professionals®? Absolutely.

Staging sets the scene throughout the house to create immediate buyer interest in your property. This will then lead to a home selling for the highest possible price in any market and for any type of home. Consider the phrase I coined a long time ago, “the way you live in your home, and the way you market and sell your house are two different things.” Staging sets a scene in the current environment, enabling prospective home buyers to envision what it would be like to live in the home.


Those who provide virtual staging services recognize the same thing. However, there are some significant differences between virtual staging and Home Staging provided by ASP® Home Staging Professionals, and it’s absolutely essential to understand the impact those differences may have on everyone involved, including real estate professionals, ASP® Home Staging Professionals, and certainly consumers.

My main concern with virtual staging is the fact that if the manipulated images are shown to home buyers they’ll be sorely disappointed if and when they visit the home. While the enhanced images may entice them to visit, they’ll find a home they will not recognize from the images they saw, and they may just walk away. Such a scenario certainly doesn’t benefit the seller nor does it help the real estate agent working to sell the home.

Having been a real estate broker for over 30 years, providing accurate representation of a home has always been absolutely essential to me. It’s even part of the pledge I made to adhere to NAR’s Code of Ethics. I’ve always made a point to represent sellers in the best way and that very concept remains the beacon for the training all ASPs® receive in order to become Accredited Home Staging Professionals®. I’m concerned with virtual staging because of the potential misrepresentation such services may lead to.

Real estate professionals are not allowed to make a home up to be something it’s not. If a consumer views an image of a home in a way that it’s not, that may be considered misrepresentation of property. It was shared with me earlier this week that real estate agents may even be in violation of their Code of Ethics if they in fact use altered images, without the physical changes made in homes they represent, in their marketing materials. I certainly want to caution real estate professionals so that they do not find themselves in such a situation. (See Virtual Staging: Stay True by Disclosing)

A Safer Virtual Approach to Staging

So, what’s a real estate professional to do when a home is located in an area not immediately serviced by an Accredited Home Staging Professional®? While an in-person consultation including a visit to a home certainly is the preferred way of assisting real estate professionals and consumers, ASPs® have been trained to conduct long-distance consultations for many years. When ASPs® are asked to conduct long-distance Home Staging consultations there is a process in place. First, a seller sends pictures of each room from several angles so that the ASP® can get an accurate sense of what the home looks like. Based on those photos, the ASP® then provides a detailed report of suggested changes that the seller and their real estate agent then can implement. Once the changes to the home have been made the seller is required to send updated images for the ASP® to critique. Once the ASP® serving the client has signed off on all changes having been physically made, the home can be referred to as ASP® Staged. Real estate agents then use the updated images in their marketing materials and prospective home buyers will view the home in the way it was marketed.

Staging is the way to go when selling a home. While virtual staging may provide ideas for the consumer on how they can arrange their home to prepare for a sale, it’s not actually staging until they’ve made the changes and the home is being sold in that way. For a list of available ASPs® in your area, visit

Barb Schwarz

Barb Schwarz

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barb Schwarz, ASP, ASPM, AB, IAHSP, is the creator of Home Staging® and the CEO of She is the IAHSP founder and chairwoman of The Board of The International Association of Home Staging Professionals® and Foundation.

  1. Great blog post Barb, with virtual staging, you run the risk of disappointing potential buyers. Then the all important emotional appeal is ruined. A professional home stager is the only way to go!

  2. Thank you, Barb, for this informative article!

  3. Bette Vos


    I meet my now husband on One of the things I kept hearing from people I meet via the dating websites, is how many people misrepresented themselves. Some said they were much younger than they actually were, some physically didn’t match up to what they had said on the site, some even used a picture when they were much younger and some even used someone else pictures as there own and the list goes on and on. My question was always, didn’t those misrepresenting themselves ever think the person on the other end just might want to meet them? Then what? You always wanted to get what was told as “truth” by the other person.

    So here’s my point….. a house that’s been virtually staged is very different from what the buyer will see when they get into the house. Virtual staging might get the buyer interested initially in seeing the house but once they are there, they could feel very differently about the house and even the agent. Nothing will take the place of a “for real” staged house.

  4. I personally think conceptual staging (or “virtual staging” as you call it here) can be a very effective marketing tool. In fact, I wish I had it as a tool when I sold new homes many years ago. I used to use good old fashioned furniture templates and blueprints — not nearly the wow factor of a conceptual staging, but it helped. Most buyers I worked with truly couldn’t visualize the potential of a home (which is why the model home plans always sold out first and why new home sales people dread selling out of a trailer in a start up community.)

    Realtors, Real Estate Stagers & Property Stylists must be careful when using virtual staging as a marketing tool so as not to look like you’re trying to deceive potential buyers. Here are some things that we always suggest if you use conceptual staging…

    1) Use before AND afters in your marketing efforts.
    2) Use text on the conceptually staged photo indicating it is conceptually staged (eg “Imagine the possibilties…” or “Designer’s rendering” or “Conceptually Staged”.)
    3) Don’t make structural changes or landscaping changes (or anything that would otherwise convey with the property if it were really there.)
    4) Display the conceptual staging photos on foam core poster board on an easel in the actual listing so that prospects can imagine the possibilities.

    When we have used conceptual staging, it has worked VERY well. It has allowed our sellers to affordably package their properties when their budget doesn’t allow for other alternatives. It helps the prospects to visualize the potential of the space, get a grasp of the scale of the space and get creative ideas from a professional on how a space can be laid out.

    Using conceptual renderings is a very effective marketing strategy, and an affordable alternative when the budget doesn’t allow for full blown home staging services.

    If you’d like to learn more about the differences between Conceptual & Virtual Staging, we’ve got more information on our website:

  5. Thank you for your comment. As The Creator of Home Staging® and after Staging over 5,000 homes myself I have found that it is crucial as buyers visit and see the property in person that the property be Staged for real, in person too. My analogy rings true of someone dating through an on line dating site, such as E Harmony, can find themselves very disappointed and leave or make the lunch really short, when the picture they saw on line is not how the person that shows up for lunch looks like at all. The same thing is true in Real Estate. As a RE Broker I know that when buyers walk into the house the first impression is crucial and that they make up their minds of whether to give a house consideration in 6 secs or less. And if the house was Staged on line, but not for real in the actual house, then the buyers literally are disappointed and usually turn around, walk out, or leave and don’t give the house much of a chance at all. Why? Because it was not Staged for real in the house as it was Staged on line.

    I have seen this as a RE Broker over and over again. The reason I invented Home Staging as a Broker was because of what I saw and therefore I came up with one of my many Staging Savings: “Buyers only know what they see, not the way it is going to be.” Nothing in the end can compare to actually having the house Staged for real in the house itself. Sketches are nice, floor plan drawings are nice of how furniture can fit, virtually Staging may look nice on the internet but when the buyer goes to the house and sees it not Staged for real, vacant, lived in messy, etc….it is never the same for the buyer and those things lead to disappointment and lack of sales.

    The house has to match the marketing and the marketing has to match the house. Both should be Staged and they should always match so that what the buyer sees on line is what they buyer sees in the actual house when they go to see it too. Real Staging works for a reason and the stats totally back it up as well

  6. Rick James

    Keep in mind this is all just speculation. I’ve used virtual staging on 6 different properties already and have received nothing but incredibly positive feedback. I think a lot of traditional home stagers that have been doing it for years feel intimidated by virtual staging and are looking for anything wrong with it that they can find.

    Old-timers can speculate all they want but I’ve personally experienced great results, so have others in my office. Virtual staging may not be for everyone and I think there will also be a place for physical home staging but I truly believe virtual staging is a great idea and we need to start embracing innovation and not be afraid of things that disrupt the status-quo and old ways of thinking.

  7. Nice article! I think that virtual staging is a great idea, however, I’ve see this too often where the home looks great in the photos, but once the buyers see it in person, it’s all over. The buyers can become very disappointed and deceived.

    Possibly with some sort of disclosure, virtual staging may not create the illusion that the home is as nice as the photos make it out to be. I agree that it paints the picture of what the home’s potential is, but should be disclosed.