Virtual Staging: Optimizing Vacant Listings in an Online Marketing Landscape - IMOTO Blog


Virtual Staging: Optimizing Vacant Listings in an Online Marketing Landscape

Posted by Hannah Walker on March 09, 2015

Professional home staging is an extremely effective marketing strategy for home-sellers. Staging enables buyers to envision themselves in a space and allows them to understand the intended use and size of a room. When a home is vacant, buyers are often uninspired by the space. When a home is staged, the perceived value of the listing goes up and buyers can mentally see themselves living in the home. 


But what can sellers do if professional home staging is not an option or not in the marketing budget? Virtual staging, like staging, is when furniture and decor is placed in a room to make the room seem appealing and livable. However, virtual staging differs from traditional staging in that the furniture is all virtual, or computer generated. Virtual staging is used on photos so that buyers who are searching online will be able to understand what the home would look like if it were furnished. 



Traditional staging is expensive, and not all agents have a marketing budget that will allow them to invest in staging a listing. According the the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) the average cost of staging a home is 1-3% of the asking price. On a $300,000 listing, this would cost between $1,000 and $3,000! While the potential return on investment must be considered for each case, this hefty cost is simply not feasible for many agents and home-sellers. So, a more economical option is to go with virtual staging. 


While the cost of virtual staging can vary, agents and home sellers can get high-quality virtual staging for as little as $75 per photo. This one-time fee can include everything from furniture and rugs, to artwork on the walls, to roaring fires in the fireplaces and more. Because staging every listing photo in a larger home can still run up the marketing bill, most agents prefer to virtually stage a few critical rooms. This is a great, economical option, as you can highlight the rooms you want to show off by including the virtually staged version of the photos, while not breaking the bank. 


There are many factors, aside from cost, that may also prevent sellers from staging a home, like time, logistics, and convenience. For example, it may be too difficult to stage a high-rise condo within the necessary time-frame (and likely too expensive), so virtual staging would be a viable option. Furthermore, some sellers just do not want to deal with the hassle of staging a home, as it can be an extensive and exhausting process. In this case, virtual staging acts as an extremely convenient solution to sprucing up a vacant home to appeal to online viewers, and it can be done with the simple click of a button. 


Some agents may argue that virtual staging may not be worth the investment, as only the photos are staged, not the tangible listing. However, with the changing landscape of real estate marketing, the online presence of a home is becoming more and more important. The NAR claims that 90% of buyers start their home search online, so it is critical to present a listing in the best light possible. For a vacant listing, this means virtually staging. Vacant listing photos will get significantly fewer views than staged listing photos, as home buyers are drawn to listings that look and feel like a place they would want to live. When presenting listing photos online, the goal is to hook viewers and convert them into potential-buyers. If their interest is peaked, they will be persuaded to visit the listing in person. By utilizing virtual staging on a vacant listing, agents can increase their odds of making this conversion, meaning they will get more people through the door. Ultimately, this leads a listing to less days on the market and a higher selling price. 


But what happens when buyers arrive at the house and find it to be vacant? Many critics of virtual staging feel that this will lead to disappointment and possibly even mistrust about being “tricked” by “fake” furnishings in the listing photos. The argument against this is that ultimately, the “real” staging is not coming with the house when it is sold, so virtual staging allows potential buyers to see the house in both ways, staged and unstaged. It can be argued that virtual staging is actually more ethical than traditional staging (when implemented properly), because when buyers arrive at the property they are seeing the home in the state that it will come in when it is sold. However, some people feel that even virtual staging can cross ethical boundaries because potential buyers are being presented with an image that is not portraying reality. There is a very simple solution to calm these critics, and that is to use both the virtually staged images and the vacant images in the online marketing for the listing. This way, buyers are not being misled and they can foresee that the listing is vacant, while they also get the pleasure of understanding the use and size of the room through the staged’s the best of both worlds!



So what is the virtual staging verdict? It is a cost-effective, powerful marketing tool that will help agents get potential-buyers in the door to view their listing. Virtual staging will help agents optimize their vacant listings and attain a competitive edge, when used ethically and effectively (see best practice guidelines below). In the competitive real estate market, agents cannot afford to miss out on this exciting, and impactful technology, especially as the marketing landscape continues to shift to an online, or virtual, world. 


Best practices for virtual staging


When to use: 

  • Use virtual staging on vacant listings when traditional staging is not an option or not in the marketing budget. 


Ethical practices:

  • Do not use virtual staging to cover up any flaws in the home.
  • Include both virtually staged photos and unstaged photos in online marketing material. 


Purchasing virtual staging:

  • Hire a professional real estate photographer to do your virtual staging.
  • Professional photographers will be able to get the best angles for virtual staging and deliver high quality photos. 
  • Review virtual staging samples on your photographers website prior to purchasing to make sure you are satisfied with the quality of their work. Shadows and reflections from the furniture and decor indicate high-quality, realistic staging. 
  • Be specific when telling your photographer what you want! This will help your photographer meet your expectations without any delays. 



Sources: National Association of REALTORS, IMOTO photo