By Brian Balduf, Chairman and Co-founder of VHT Studios
Technology and its convenience to buyers and
sellers has changed real estate forever. The days of starting a home search
inside the office or car of a real estate professional and touring five or six
properties are long gone. Now, interested buyers expect to “shop” for their new
home whenever they want on whichever device they desire, and they often spend
hours clicking through listings online before ever scheduling a visit. As a
result, savvy Manhattan homeowners are using many new tools to help their
listings gain an advantage and sell faster.
One of the most popular marketing tools deployed by real estate professionals in New York and beyond is virtual staging – a tool that showcases not just the current features of a home, but its potential features as well. Virtual staging is especially helpful when used to market vacant condominium or cooperative apartment units.
Let’s face it: an empty unit, whether it’s a studio or penthouse, can lack the “curb appeal” that motivates buyers to take the time to make a visit. Empty rooms appear as boxy walls of white (or even worse, depending on the previous owners’/tenants’ tastes and color palette).
Through virtual staging, a professional photographer captures photographs of vacant or lived-in homes and virtually changes an apartment’s décor and furniture to make a great first impression on buyers or renters searching for their next home. If many units are for sale in the same building, those big boxes with beige carpet and white walls appear disappointingly similar. Virtual staging helps a listing stand out and presents a home’s true possibilities. Buyers or renters can envision their life in the apartment because virtual staging has the potential to connect them emotionally to the listing.
Although many real estate professionals are using this powerful tool to help make apartments on the market more appealing, it’s often not used to its fullest potential, and it’s not completely perfect. Further, sometimes prospective buyers can feel misled when visiting a virtually staged unit that is actually empty, or drastically differently than what was online. More confusion can arise when virtually staged photographs are not clearly denoted by a watermark indicating that it was virtually staged.
What’s a Manhattan homeowner to do? It’s time to reevaluate how virtual staging is used in the New York City market and determine new opportunities to utilize this tool more strategically for an increasingly tech-savvy homebuyer.
Untapped Opportunities for Virtual Staging
Virtual staging is a dynamic and impressive tool, and opportunities are endless to present a listing’s true potential.
For instance, you probably don’t want to show a house as it’s decorated by the current owner/tenant – buyers aren’t interested in seeing another person’s stuff. Virtual redecorating is the answer – replacing existing furniture and artwork with more neutral and generally aesthetically-pleasing design choices to make a marked difference, and helping a prospective homeowner envision their own future lifestyle in that co-op or condo.
Next, take a fresh look at those empty rooms where the next owner will spend most of his/her time. Ask how you can appeal to that future owner/tenant by presenting the different possibilities of styling and furnishing various rooms. Virtual staging tools such as virtual redecorate, virtual furnish, virtual paint, and virtual declutter provide endless ways to showcase homes.
Virtual Staging: Before and After
Images courtesy of VHT Studios.
These virtual tools also give owners the flexibility to virtually change a room’s function and appeal to a wider spectrum of prospective buyers. For example, you can transform a spare bedroom by virtually redecorating it to an office, arts and crafts room or nursery.
Want to appeal to a fitness fanatic? Why not virtually redecorate a second bedroom as a workout space? Virtual redecorating strips all furnishings from a photograph and drops in new furniture, wall color and décor.
No two buyers have the same taste, so the ability to appeal to the broadest audience possible by offering many different styles of the same living room, such as rustic, modern, shabby chic, traditional and beyond can be a game changer for New York City homeowners.
Virtual redecorating: Before and After
Images courtesy of VHT Studios.
Virtual Staging Can Fix Common Home Selling Issues
Virtual tools can solve some sellers’ biggest headaches. For example:
• Did you need to move out quickly, removing all the furniture and leaving behind a home that appears cold and unwelcoming? Virtual stage and furnish can fill a vacant room with furnishings without the expense or inconvenience of having to fill out the space with physical tables, chairs, sofas or beds. The savings in time and budget are significant when compared to traditional staging costs.
• Not enough time to clear out your clutter before the photographer arrives? Virtual declutter can magically eliminate all personal effects and knick-knacks from surfaces. By removing clutter from a photograph, you’re presenting a more spacious and visually appealing home.
• Does a painted dark red wall or busy wallpaper make the living room appear smaller? It can be virtually painted a calming gray or white, making the room look pleasant and inviting. Virtual paint can help sellers get their listings on the market faster, because there’s no need to wait a week or two to hire a painter to remove unsightly wallpaper. This cuts out the cost of redecorating, and you eliminate the time and hassle of hiring contractors.
Virtual declutter: Before and After
Images courtesy of VHT Studios.
Another tool that is rising in popularity is interactive floor plans. Some people just can’t view a floor plan and visualize how they’d move through the apartment. Interactive floor plans are accompanied by photographs of hallways and rooms to help a buyer visualize how she’d live in her new home.
Virtual staging tools are also being increasingly used as a “bundle” - for instance, you can appeal to a variety of different audiences through just one listing. To appeal to older buyers, you can virtually stage traditional living room furniture and décor. For younger buyers, you can change the appearance of that same room by virtually staging it with modern or rustic chic furniture and accessories.
Virtual Staging Is a Powerful Tool – If Used Correctly
Like most new technology, virtual staging is only as good as the professionals who use it, and it is not always implemented correctly or ethically. Some lower quality offerings present virtually staged rooms that appear to have fake furniture or an unrealistic, off-putting appearance. Virtual staging photographs is not something that a DIY graphic artist will master quickly. It is not simply cutting and pasting; it requires an understanding of real-world perspectives, which can change in every room you photograph and virtually stage. Additionally, virtual staging professionals must have experience with the use of lighting and shadows, otherwise the images will not appear realistic.
Virtual staging, when done by someone with the eye of an artist and the technique of a scientist, is a powerful tool to help buyers envision their next home. This is no simple Photoshop exercise, although a lot of do-it-yourselfers treat it as such.
Further, when buyers visit a property, some may feel misled when they see vacant rooms that were depicted with virtually staged photographs in ads, online and on web sites. Maintaining trust with prospective buyers is of the utmost importance. When listing images, real estate professionals must be explicitly clear as to which are virtually staged.
Real estate agents should clearly label or watermark all virtually staged images used for their listings and other marketing purposes. Inserting the words “Virtually Staged” on the corner of these images will do the trick.
During showings, real estate professionals can remind buyers of the virtually staged photographs they first saw online by placing the virtually staged photographs on an easel in the vacant room, or by offering them as a handout so buyers can see the potential of a room firsthand, rather than try to recollect it.
With Manhattan real estate, in addition to location, location, location, it’s also about marketing, marketing and marketing, and virtual staging can be a valuable tool in your arsenal - if used to its fullest potential, and with a thorough understanding of the pros and cons of this powerful technology.
Brian Balduf, CEO, chairman and co-founder of VHT Studios, has built the Rosemont, Ill.-based firm into the nation’s largest real estate photography and visual marketing services company.
Celebrating its 20th Anniversary, VHT Studios has photographed more than 10 million rooms, and helped more than 200,000 real estate professionals sell more than $200 billion in properties through its nation-wide network of photographers and image specialists.
Delivering to real estate professionals their most powerful selling tools – high quality photography and video – Balduf has worked to ensure their properties get seen more, sell faster and at the highest price.