When is home staging not really home staging?

Home Stager with Shift Property Styling

I recently submitted a post to another group outside Active Rain in relation to the development of the home staging sub-industry of virtual staging.

Virtual staging is the Clayton's Home Staging, the home staging when you don't stage a home. It allows a home owner to have very specific photos taken of their home and then they can select from a range of furnishings and accessories which are then stylishly and digitally applied to the shots to use in marketing.

Don't get me wrong, I love what technology can offer us to make projects faster, more efficient and create better results for my clients. I think this technology is amazing and offers a great alternative to the client who may think that staging their vacant home this way is quick, simple and affordable.

Unfortunately though, this service is actually a disservice to home buyers.

Why? Well I am glad you asked (even if you didn't!). 

Home buying is an emotional practice, we all know that. So you can imagine how a buyer FEELS when they look online and see the home of their dreams, gleaming with wondering fittings and furniture and ring the listing agent for an inspection. They turn up excited to see this warm glowing home that could be their next place of residence (that until now has been served up to them in hi-res photographic mastery) only to open the door to find a vacant, echoing and empty property.

What a kick in the ribs. There is nothing worse that creating an impression in a consumer's mind only to have it completely dashed in reality. That is a quick way to lose a sale and disappoint a prospective buyer.

The fact of the matter is a staged property provides the warmth that a buyer looks for. Even a badly laid out room is better than an empty one for the buyer to determine the scale and space in the home.

So while technology is a wonderful thing, it cannot replace some things that we humans need and want. Physically staging a property is the only true way to engage a buyer both in marketing and while inspecting the home.


Comments (20)

Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

I've sold homes for many years and experience has taught me that vacant homes are far easier to sell than occupied, staged, decorated, etc. ones.

Home owners are often persuaded by their agents that "staging help" by comparing staging to the decorated new home.  Fact is, new home builders use decor to sell upgrades.  Existing homes don't sell upgrades. 

What you see is what you get works best for me.  I can help my buyers visualize where their belongings will go. 

Sometimes I read the blog posts of staging companies and it would make one think that no home ever sold prior to the development of the staging industry. 

Now we have virtual staging.  Soon we'll be selling virtual homes.  Everyone will live in compounds or hotels and visit their virtual homes for the idea of what it would be like to own one. 

Dec 25, 2009 08:23 PM
Harry F. D'Elia III
RentVest - Phoenix, AZ
Investor , Mentor, GRI, Radio, CIPS, REOs, ABR

The proof is in the pudding. Staging a home does work in some areas of town.

Dec 25, 2009 09:19 PM
Loreena and Michael Yeo
3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Prosper TX Real Estate Co. - Prosper, TX
Real Estate Agents

I agree that it can be a huge disappointment for some. Yet, I still believe in staging. The photos and disclosure could be made that this house (on MLS description) is currently VACANT - which could set buyer's expectations that they would be walking into an empty house. But at the possibilities is the key.

Buyers are NOT the best imaginary people with spaces. Many need to see exactly what's in front of them before they could see the fullest potential of the space.

Dec 25, 2009 09:25 PM


Are you in Hawaii on vacation or moved there?

I agree 100% with your perspective.  The only way I see virtual staging being of benefit is when sellers are on the fence about the benefits of staging and questioning whether they should put $$$ into the house they are selling.   A stager could show them some of the improvements which would update their property.

Virtual staging would not work for me as a buyer - I want to be in the rooms and feel the energy - whether they are furnished or not.

Best wishes of the Season

Dec 26, 2009 08:32 AM
Donna Ross
Room Remedy Interiors, Sydney, Australia - Salton City, CA
Home Decorating, House Staging, Sydney


An interesting post. I'd have to say that I agree with Loreena's (#3) comments. As far as the wisdom of home staging is concerned, this kind of 'virtual staging' wouldn't be my first choice as a stager, seller or buyer. Still, I believe it's useful when used appropriately by the seller and the agent.

I'm sure that it would no doubt be a huge disappointment to a prospective buyer if they were not advised before hand that the home is actually vacant, and the 'staged' images are a guide only. 

Loreena makes the point that disclosure (on the online description and listing) is key here and I agree completely. I'm assuming that this is what any selling agent would do with a listing that's staged in this way. 

Although 'virtual staging' is less than ideal for the buyer, I can't help but think it's not entirely useless either.

Congratulations on the feature.


Dec 26, 2009 11:18 AM
Milan Kalkan
DMS (Decor & More Staging) - Saint Catharines, ON
DMS home staging

Most people these days will view a home online first but will never make a decision to buy based on what they have seen online.  The pictures might lure the buyers into the home, but you will still have to create a great first impression when the home is shown. 

I feel that virtual staging may help to show the home owners what their property could or should look like in order to sell.

On the other hand, online virtual staging pictures might create more traffic through the home, which will in turn increase the chances for a sale.  I guess that this is something that will have to be tried out before we dismiss it.

A beautifully staged home is always gonna be the best option if time and budget allows.


Dec 26, 2009 11:18 AM
Jackson West
Reveal Estate Home Staging - Vancouver - Vancouver, BC


I agree wholeheartedly.  It's the lifestyle that is for sale along with the "bricks and mortar".

Without question it is far more difficult to sell a vacant property in my demograhic. I suspect yours is the same.

Thanks for posting ;)

Dec 26, 2009 11:31 PM
Kathleen Garvey
HomeSmart Cherry Creek - Denver - Denver, CO
Denver's Neighborhood Expert - Listings & Sales

Hello Adam...Yes, buying a home IS an emotional matter and a good salesperson understands the psychology with this fact.  Since most people are unable to visualize easily, real-live staging helps the process.  Virtual staging may get a potential buyer in the door, however, once there, in a vacant space, all bets are off. Without the emotional presence which staging brings to a room (besides furnishings), it is a bit like a bait and switch IMHO. 

95% of the homes here in Florida are vacant...they all start looking the same to buyers and the staged ones usually sell first.

Dec 27, 2009 02:30 AM
Melissa Marro
Keller Williams First Coast Realty - The Marro Team - Orange Park, FL
Jacksonville Real Estate and Home Staging

Lenn - I am curious with your answer above - can you perhaps explain why 78% of expired listings are vacant (stat by NAR)???  Can you also explain why staged vacant properties sell in half the time as comperable non-staged properties??  I think you might be misinformed, or maybe it is your own personal opinions about staging and occupied properties that provide negative feedback on these units that rubs off on your clients..... or perhaps you just haven't seen GOOD staging....

Adam - I couldn't agree more!  Unfortunately not only is it a 'kick in the ribs' emotionally, sometimes virtual stagers waive scale and alter actual features in a home, sofa or chair sizes, etc to get a fantastic look online....it's really nothing at all like that in person. 

Dec 27, 2009 05:31 AM
Anne Vigneri
CASA VERO Staging & Redesign - Albuquerque, CA
Serving the Mariposa California

The first word that came into my head is "competition"..  Many, many properties are for sale right now. Many of them in my area are about the same age, have similar amenities, and as Kathleen noted,, they can indeed begin to look the same. ( Especially if they are vacant)

Getting a buyer to take notice of particular property IS where it starts IMO.. And in my epxerience SHOWING a buyer how the rooms can work when furnished is a great help to them. I have been told by sellers that they KNOW it was the staging that got the sale. Buyers have to connect to the "real" in real estate.

You may begin with the internet,, but then the real thing had better look as good or better...

Dec 27, 2009 08:59 AM
Adam Luttrell
Shift Property Styling - Honolulu, HI
Shift Property Styling - Hobart, Tasmania

LENN - Strongly disagree. Staging provides realtors a value add tool to set them apart. I deal with realtors who loathe selling vacant homes as they are hard to show the buyer what fits where, they are cold and uninviting, and show off the negatives of the property more than a staged one (faulty power sockets, chipped paint, scuffs, carpet stains to name a few). I generally avoid working with realtors who hold the opinion that "I have sold homes for years without staging, I don't need your service" to avoid their negativity and their apparent lack of interest in getting the best possible price for their vendor.


SHARON - Not in Hawaii, in Hobart, Tasmania. Hawaii was the closet State to me!

DONNA - Its been a while! Yep, agree. As long as it is disclosed that is all that matters to avoid disappointment when inspecting.

MILAN - Perhaps virtual staging could become a tool for traditional stagers to show what a room would look like furnished to assist the marketing of the property?

JACKSON - Long time! How are you? Aspiration is the key to creating the desire to own the property. It's what it is all about.

KATHLEEN/ANNE - For sure, staging creates a competitive advantage when selling.

MELISSA - Yes, they also include/exaggerate elements such as window dressings, light fittings and heating that don't actually exist in the property.

Dec 27, 2009 11:17 AM
Christine T.
C.A.T. Construction and Home Staging & Design - Crown Point, IN

ADAM I just posted a blog on this very subject last week and our views are the same. For the Realtors that say they have sold homes for years without a stager so why use them now I say this. People (maybe majority) have in some way or another have always staged. They clean and start to pack away items not in use (now we call it decluttering). It's just that now that we have this term "staging" and so many wonderful aspects to it we know how to appeal to the masses. We know when to steer the client into a nuertal color, we know how to draw the eye away from the negative and to the positve and so on. You have to admit Lenn in today's market more and more people either have to out do the Jone's or sit on the market. We as stagers have to show the client how simple perks and extras can increase not only the value of the home but also show the best over every other home in that price range on the market.


I have "staged" my own homes for the last 9 years (I'm on my 3rd home). But back to my first home I didn't know what I was doing was staging. BUT IT WORKED. I don't know how long I would have been on the market if I didn't do the many extras to out do my competetion. ONLY 10% of buyers can visualize a homes potential. That's pretty stagering. So Lenn 90% of the people out there can not or do not know how to visualize there "home to be" potential. Maybe, just maybe clients would be making offers faster if they knew right from the begining what the home offered. Not have to get out the ol' measuring tape (as my husband would do because he can not visualize)and then wonder...well, I wonder if this would fit here and oh yeah, I know my couch is that size it will work here, and so on. I'm just sayin'......

Dec 27, 2009 12:02 PM
Suzanne Metz
Design to Appeal - Medicine Hat, AB

Hi Adam! What a great post! I have to agree completely that virtual staging could be a big disappointment to potential homebuyers. If I was to view a nicely decorated home on the MLS and went to see it and it wasn't as the photo had showed, I would be terribly disappointed.

Lenn, maybe, you can visualize where their belongings should go, but it is still very difficult for many potential buyers to connect emotionally to a home that is vacant. Homestaging is a great marketing tool if it is done properly. I just don't understand how anyone could not be open to Homestaging when it is such an added benefit to everyone.

I agree with Milan, that a beautifully staged home is the "Best" option.

Dec 27, 2009 01:48 PM
Julia Maher
Nestings: Connecticut Home Staging and Model Homes - Fairfield, CT
Connecticut Home Stager

Hello, Adam!  It will be interesting to see if more online pictures start cropping up with virtually staged rooms.  It  means that Realtors and/or Sellers do believe in the value of Staging vs. trying to sell a vacant property, but still don't want to spend the money.  What is the cost differential, I wonder?

You bottom line, I think, is true:  don't show a beautifully furnished space without the physical back-up.  Nothing worse than disappointing a potential buyer!

Happy Staging, Julie

Dec 28, 2009 07:52 AM
Teri Short
Emerald Isle, NC

Adam, great post! I'd like to walk into a Staged room--the real thing. Staging creates an inviting atmosphere and the buyer imagines living there, including imagining a clutter-free existence!

Lenn, sure buyers want to visualize where their belongings can go, but who doesn't own a sofa? Or a dining room table? Or a bed? Sure, houses sold before Staging, but could they have gotten a better price with Staging? Yes. Could they have sold faster? Yes! Sure, with a vacant home you're seeing exactly what you are getting: floors, walls, ceilings, kitchens. But who lives in a vacant home? Correct furniture placement to draw attention to the focal points of the home is very important. As is creating a welcoming atmosphere. Vacant homes are cold and unappealing.

Happy Staging!

Dec 28, 2009 01:21 PM
Cathy Lee
CL Design Services Home Staging - Danville, CA

Staging inspires imaginations and emotions. The buyer arrives to a home that instills this.  Virtual staging should legally posted-so I do not see the point of it...they buyer knows they are going to see a vacant home.   It leaves them feeling cold and empty just like the home.

Great post!!

Dec 30, 2009 03:58 AM
Kim Dillon
Creative Eye Home Staging - West Chester, PA

Donna pretty much summed up my own thoughts on this issue.  It should be CLEARLY stated that this is a vacant property and this is the home's potential.  I think virtual staging will have a place in our future in the Real Estate Industry.

Dec 31, 2009 02:24 AM
Sally Weatherley
Vancouver Home Staging, Home Stager Vancouver, B.C

Adam, this is such an interesting subject.  Look, I'm all for modern technology.  I think in the world of design, it's very useful in presenting the client with a visual of what a space will look like, through programmes such as SketchUp, Photoshop, Vectorworks etc.  However, I believe you have to follow through, and actually place the real furniture in the space.  What a "lunch bag let down" to walk into an empty space, after being promised something beautiful. 

On another note, I love, love, love your website.  Your design style is mouth watering - I love the simplicity, the clean lines, the modern approach - stunning.  Also, don't you have some wonderful properties to work with in Tasmania - the properties overlooking the water are to die for.  Thanks!

Dec 31, 2009 02:46 AM
Beth Lester
Beth Lester Designs - Torrance, CA
Home Staging & Interior Decorating

I've been considering adding the option of virtual staging, however, I would use it to show the homeowner what I could do with their home (if they weren't already convinced).  I don't particularly think those pictures should go onto the internet as truly representing the home.  Perhaps they could be printed out and left in a vacant home if no staging could be done.  That might have some value. 

Dec 31, 2009 10:45 AM
Adam Luttrell
Shift Property Styling - Honolulu, HI
Shift Property Styling - Hobart, Tasmania

Thanks everyone for your responses to this post. It is very interesting reading fellow stager's opinions on this matter. I think it is fair to say that we all understand and appreciate how virtual staging could be used in the industry but that it needs to be stated as such in marketing listings to avoid confusing and disappointing the buyer.

Christine - Yes, I constantly find it difficult to deal with a select group of realtors who simply will not entertain the thought of embracing something new that will in the end actually benefit them in relation to sale time, sale price, commission and positive word of mouth with clients. 

Suzanne/Julia - Yes, the disappointment could be something that loses the realtor the sale.

Teri/Cathy - the reality of a staged property leaves a positive impression with the buyer, no doubt

Kim - agree, virtual staging is an amazing technology and I look forward to seeing how it develops in the future

Sally - The let down factor is the thing that will create the biggest frustration for home buyers inspecting the property. Thank you for the feedback on the website, it has served me well over the last few years. We style with a modern classic look and feel that suits almost any property. As we have our own inventory we have to buy stock that matches a majority of homes. And yes, being an island surrounded by water gives us the opportunity to work on some stunning properties, I truly love the industry I work in, so very fortunate.

Beth - Good point, this might ease the disappointment of walking into the property and not seeing what you expected.

Jan 03, 2010 09:02 AM