No more Ms. Nice Gal...the kid gloves are coming off!

Home Stager

You know you didn't stage those rooms.  So why are those photos in your portfolio?  Whew...there, I said it!!!  My grievance is with stagers who pass off someone else's work as their own in their portfolios.  My very first blog on AR, almost a year ago, was about this very subject.  However, I was a lot nicer in that one and was indeed wearing my kid gloves.  Not anymore.  Taking them off and flinging them into the ring!  

So what's the big deal?  Why am I getting myself so worked up?  Since joining AR, I have seen many photos on staging websites that I know were not done by that particular stager.  Most of the time, I knew they were stock photos provided by their staging training company.  However, I cannot recall ever seeing a staging website, in which stock photos were used, that had a disclaimer explaining that the photos were not actually work performed by the stager.  But rather stock photos intended to show the benefits of staging.  A website with such a disclaimer would not be deceitful but neither would it bring in much business.  

As the numbers of stagers on AR increased, I began seeing even more stock photos.  I figured no harm done.   They are only hurting themselves.  I was wrong!   Let's say a Realtor or homeowner hires a stager based on the quality of work presented in her portfolio.  If the result of that staging project turns out to be far inferior to what was represented in the portfolio, it doesn't bode well for the industry as a whole.  They could get the impression that all stagers practice deceptive measures.  It is my opinion that some of the "bad stagers", who use tricks to cover up flaws rather than having them repaired, may be some of the same ones who think it is okay to pass off photos of someone else's work as their own.

Even though your training company says it is okay to use stock photos to show what staging can do, your common sense should tell you that it really is NOT okay.  Someone interested in hiring you to stage their listing or home doesn't want to see examples of what staging can do...they want to see what YOU can do!   

Do you think that no one will notice that you used stock photos?  Well, the chances of keeping that little secret decreased sharply when you joined Active Rain.  Stagers on here are very savvy.  We check out each other's websites.  We are familiar with many of the staging training websites and online furniture rental stores.  Some of us use Clip Art in our blogs so your chances of getting something by us are quite slim.  And we stick together.  We want to help each other succeed.  However, Active Rain is a community and we are forming relationships with Realtors.  We are asking them to trust us with their clients.  How can we gain their trust when we stand by and allow them to be deceived?   

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed reading a blog from a realtor on AR explaining how he had been searching for a stager and had finally found one that he thought would work well with his team.  He praised her professionalism and knowledge of staging.  He made her sound so special that I wanted to learn more about her.  I clicked on the link to her webpage and immediately went to her portfolio section.  What a letdown!!!  I was so disappointed!!  I had never been to her website before yet I immediately recognized the set of before and after photos on the first page.  They were the same ones used on the cover of a staging book written by the owner of one of the larger staging companies.  When I clicked on the portfolio....the disappointment deepened.  Out of about 6 sets of before and afters, there was only 1 set that I couldn't say absolutely for sure that they were indeed stock photos.  The other five...I was 100% sure because I had seen them so many times.   She may truly be a very talented stager but, unless she told him the truth about her portfolio, she entered into that business relationship with deceit.  My first instinct was to contact the stager and ask her if she told him about the stock photos.  For a fleeting moment, I wanted to e-mail the Realtor and ask him if he knew about the stock photos.  In the end, I decided it was really none of my business so I opted to do nothing.

What pushed me over the edge and made me mad enough to finally speak out was when I clicked on a blog posted in the Stage It Forward group just a few days ago.  I wanted to know more about the poster so I went to her website and clicked on "gallery".  I think steam is still coming out of my ears from what I saw there.  I recognized each and every one of those sets of before and after photos....but they were not stock photos.  They were photos that she cut and pasted from another stager's who is a personal friend of mine.  We are talking about plagiarism as well as deception.  That is why I am so mad!  If that stager thinks nothing of deceiving people on her website, what does she do when she is hired to stage a house?

This has to stop!!!  Fellow AR stagers, we can't keep overlooking this issue.  We all know it is being done.  We keep quiet in allegiance with our fellow stagers.  Well, what about the Realtors who are being deceived?  They need our support!  We can't just keep sweeping this under the rug.  We have to take a stand and say, "This is unacceptable and we are not going to look the other way any more."  I am not talking about whistle blowing or public need to go to those extremes!   A good place to start would be to send a copy of this blog to any stager that you know for sure is using photos of someone else's work.  If you do contact someone you know for sure is using stock or shared photos, be sure to do it in the spirit of Stage It Forward.  Do not accuse, condemn or chastise.  The goal is to make them aware of the disadvantages of using photos of someone else's work since it is possible that they may only be familiar with the advantages. 

Since joining AR, I personally have sent brief e-mail to 2 stagers that I knew were using photos of someone else's was using photos from her training school and the other was a photo directly from the pages of Cort Furniture's online catalog.  Both of them thanked me for the information and immediately removed the photos in question. 

If you find photos that you know have been taken from another stager's website, it is best to inform the stager and let her decide the best course of action.  I have already informed my stager friend about my discovery and she confirmed that those photos were definitely used without her permission.  

AR Realtors have been so forthcoming in their willingness to learn more about staging and form relationships with stagers.  I feel the least we can do is give them tools to determine whether the stager they are interviewing is qualified to do the job.  So I am working on a blog just for Realtors entitled "How to Tell Whether Your Stager Can Do What He/She Says He/She Can Do!"  It will include tips to help decipher whether or not the photos are of work done by that particular stager.  Also included will be questions to ask when interviewing a stager to further prove that the portfolio contains all original photos.  Be looking for it.  

I am also working on a "how-to" blog for stagers who really want to use photos of their own work but don't know where to start.  It is intended for those who truly didn't realize that using stock photos in their portfolio was a no-no.  Be looking for it.

Stagers and Realtors, your comments and thoughts on this issue will be greatly appreciated to reassure me that I didn't go too far out on a limb in tackling this extremely sensitive subject! 

If you didn't stage it, don't show it! 


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Julianna Hind
eXp Realty - Tacoma, WA
REALTOR, 206-679-4768, Tacoma Federal Way, Auburn, Kent, WA

Ok, how about this to set apart your site:

true portfolio logo  OR...

Aug 31, 2007 06:12 PM #35
Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging
Room Solutions Staging, Portland OR - Portland, OR
"Staging Consultations that Sell Portland Homes"

Judy ~  BRAVO!  Thank you for writing this post.  This topic is LONG overdue here on A/R.  Like you, I've noticed some stagers' photos looked VERY professional and sophisticated, and sure enough, soon after, I saw them on someone else's site.  This is deceptive and might even be considered theft of intellectual property.  It doesn't matter where a stager has their training; everyone can stage rooms in their own homes, their friend's or relative's home, and use those Before or Afters in their portfolios. This is still THEIR work....but stealing another stager's work or using your training company's stock photos is unethical, unless you clearly state that this is an "example" of staging but not your personal work.

You're getting a *5* rating and a bookmark!  

Aug 31, 2007 06:52 PM #36
Susan Peters
Dove Realty Inc. - Seattle, WA
The Better it Looks the Better it Sells


I love this idea. Mind if i borrow it?

Aug 31, 2007 07:03 PM #37
Judy Kincaid
Tampa, FL

Thanks to everyone for such overwhelming support of a sensitive subject. 

Julianna -- Thank you for your wonderful suggestion and the is a brilliant idea.  Just today, I was thinking that, rather than hoping that those who use stock photos will start putting disclaimers on their sites proclaiming that fact, we should be pro-active and do just the opposite.  It would be great if everyone began putting a sentence or two on their portfolio page testifying that the photos are not stock but were personally staged by this stager.  Right again, Julianna, education is indeed the key! 

I recently made some changes to the webpage that I have on the Center Stage Home website because it has come to my attention that this could be perceived as using stock photos.  In the portion of that page that showcases my original work, I added a statement proclaiming that I personally staged the before and after photos listed in that section.

Aug 31, 2007 07:18 PM #38
Julianna Hind
eXp Realty - Tacoma, WA
REALTOR, 206-679-4768, Tacoma Federal Way, Auburn, Kent, WA

Hi Susan, Do you mean you would like to use that "true-portfolio" logo I created? I think it would be great. I am totally serious about this, like maybe I will sponsor a site for free -- for people to "undersign" a statement with their name and their website link, like a directory, and the statement will say that the portfolio presented on their website is their own work. They are then free to use the "True Portfolio" logo on their site. However, I cannot take the credit for all of this, others have blogged about this, Judy Kincaid is definitely the inspiration here, and the one with the guts to speak up -- so if she wants, she can be president of "True Portfolio"  :-D 

It is 12 AM and maybe I am thinking loopy thoughts, but right now, it sounds real good. If you want to use the logo, feel free, and anyone else, just email me and let me know.

Aug 31, 2007 07:19 PM #39
Anita Ericksen
Realty Showcasing Inc. - Edmonton, AB

Thanks for the post.  I can see two sides to this argument.

Many times I have come across websites that do the same thing.  A moving company that shows their best moving vehicle only to come to your house with a 1970 converted motorhome for example.  The straight and simple of it is that it is all marketing.  I honestly don't believe all stagers would be round up in the same category as those using stock photos and then not living up to their clients' expectations.  It only hurts the stager.  I don't believe it hurts all stagers.

 I, myself, only use photos of work I have created.  Many stagers are chosen based on the pictures they provide.  You are actually selling your style and your creativity.  If a reader of the site likes your pictures then they have a pretty good idea of the final outcome of their property.

Sep 01, 2007 05:12 AM #40
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

Lots of interesting thoughts - and I had not looked back on this blog until this a.m. - Judy wrote to me privately to share a couple of examples of where Stagers were using photos that were not their own. 

Since you addressed me personally, I don't think, Dane, that it needs to get to the point where you have to tell people they are "WRONG" - unless you really want to get off track.  I am not going there - I instead look at it as having a different viewpoint.  This is not about those that get training and have resources - and if they use the resources they are all lacking of integrity - versus those that don't.  This is not about whether training is good or bad - that has been debated on this site enough for my lifetime.  We don't have to agree, but it does not make me WRONG.  Geez - I am not telling everyone who is not of my mindset - you are all wrong.  I like seeing a different viewpoint and respect that.

This is the definition of a "STOCK PHOTO" - Stock photos (stock photography) are professional photographs of common places, landmarks, nature, events or people that are bought and sold on a royalty-free basis and can be used and reused for commercial design purposes. The photographer (or stock photography distributor) has ownership to the images, and the commercial designer has some limited usage of the photo (which is set out in the Terms of Service by the company you purchase the stock photos from).

That is what I call a "Stock" photo too - and the photos in question are not professionally done by a professional photographer - they were taken by a Stager/Realtor from her own work.  They are a personal gallery from an individual that is giving permission for others to use freely - they are not paying money to use photos per photo and there is no limitation on usage so long as they are current in their designation.  So based on that definition - which is what I thought when I saw the word "stock" - it is not the same.  But I get the point - totally.

My viewpoint is this - I would rather see a Stager that wants to get some business get jobs sooner than later.  Otherwise belief begins to wane, and frustration sets in.  If you have to wait until your whole portfolio just shows your own work, it'll take a while.  As a Trainer, we actually teach our students to Stage their own house, like you did, Judy.  It's an idea that many use, and it's a great way to build a portfolio.  It is what I did too - I had moved and used the before/after photos of my vacant to furnished home in my portfolio.

Being able to show that Staging works - and then knowing that you have the talent and ability to get the job done - go hand in hand.  And again, these Stagers were given permission to use the photos as examples of how Staging works - they are not doing anything "wrong" or lack integrity - and as Coco wrote above, once new(er) Stagers do have their own photos, they usually do replace the ones they get through their training.  You know - we don't know what sitation a person is in when they do start a business. For some they can take a lot of time to get going, but for others they may be in a dire situation where they need income FAST - and being able to get jobs is necessary for survival.  Thank goodness they do have resources - many companies offer them - not just one - and if it helps someone to get going then that's not a bad thing.  Just my opinion.

I don't think that the average Realtor or Seller out there that wants to use a Stager is going to select JUST on photos - at least I hope not!  I think the consumer is smarter than that - photos are important as we are a visual business, but there are other factors too - such as experience, background, education, testimonials, etc.  Judy did email me privately and I looked at 2 sites where these "stock" photos are being used - one where they do not claim they are their own work, and the second where it is questionable, and should be changed.  However, I don't want to be policing the internet and writing letters, and I know it's not just one "group" that does this so let's not single out one set of Stagers either.  I have better things to do with my time, and I believe others do too - although I told Judi I would address one person she shared with me since I have the ability to do that.

The logo that Julianna came up with is great - that to me is a better approach than to try to police all the so-called "wrong" Stagers.  If it is an issue for a potential client to know that the photos they are looking at are actually of THE person they are considering for a job, then that type of logo or graphic would be important to have.  Julianna - are you "giving or selling" the right to use your stock logo or ?  We don't want others to use it without permission - make sure to share if it was just an example for YOUR site or if AR people can use it because I can see it popping up on sites all over if it is not clarified.

What I do agree with 100% is that people need to REPRESENT where the photos came from - and state on their sites if it is their work or if it is just an EXAMPLE (as I wrote the first time). To me, Proper representation is the crux of this issue - not whether people use photos that they have access to in order to build their business.  If it makes it better to put on websites - This is MY OWN WORK - then do it.   I am all for that - and totally support what Judi is sharing about properly representing the work on the site.  One way is to show that Staging works in general - and the other way is to show that MY/YOUR Staging works.  Two different things - and both can be used effectively to communicate with a potential client.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend!  Go out and have some fun with your families and friends!

- Jennie

Sep 01, 2007 05:33 AM #41
Julianna Hind
eXp Realty - Tacoma, WA
REALTOR, 206-679-4768, Tacoma Federal Way, Auburn, Kent, WA
Jennie, yes, I would like to promote the logo and the concept. And I am open to help and suggestion. A website is now secured. I would like the use of the logo to be free, and on an "honor" system, to any online artist, designer, stager, etc. with a portfolio. I would like to run a rotating banner ad on the page, with sponsorship available, the advertising fees will then go straight to a charity. I will clean the logo up a bit, make it easier to read. The pay off and reward for using a "true portfolio" will be a link to your site, and you obviously support a charity as your pledge will draw advertisers. I need to take this out to its own post and see what kind of interest is out there.
Sep 01, 2007 05:47 AM #42
Patricia Ebrahimi
SHOW SMART! HOME STAGING & Color Consultant - Rockville, MD
Home Staging the Washington DC Area from Rockville MD

Judy:  You write an amazing post!  I loved it.  I'll try to be brief, but I had so many reactions to the discussion I had to take notes as I read along.  First, I'm not a babe in the woods nor an old fool, but REALLY?!  people do that? 

Second, WHY?!  What can possibly be gained from doing it, especially by anyone relying on staging as a job for economic survival?  I mean, what would you say at the end of the day...OOPS?!  And, those recommending, promoting and/or supplying such should IMHO be shunned (boy did I work on cleaning that part up!)  What in the world, and I'm great at rationalizations, could they be thinking?

Third, we are stagers.  So, that means the first thing we have to stage is ourselves.  If we can't do that, what business do we have taking people's money for staging their property?  If makes little sense to me. If you are lousy at photography, practice, take lessons, hire someone.  Do whatever it takes to capture your work (of your home, a friend's, a motel, halfway house, shelter, gas station, whereever) to be able to show it off, Mr or Ms Stager.  That's your JOB in those pictures!

Last, I have felt so pure and clean here in the rain, and I'm so disappointed to find there is pollution even here.  Thank you Judy for bringing it up and attempting to clean it out.  Watermarking seems appropriate.  I will look for Cindy's instruction.

RELATED QUESTION:  If I stage a property, a professional photographer shoots it and the realtor puts it on the web, who has rights to the pictures?

Sep 01, 2007 03:19 PM #43
B Lucas-Thrower
Staging - Interior Redesign & Home Staging - Franklin, TN
Interior Redesign and Home Staging
Thank you for this article. I ONLY use my photos of homes that I have staged or redesigned. You GO GIRL!!!!
Sep 02, 2007 02:13 AM #44
Julea Joseph
Reinventing Space - Chicago, IL
Julea Joseph House Stager - Reinventing Space

I'm right there w/Patricia - There we are again back in that Lilly Pond...

To answer -

RELATED QUESTION:  If I stage a property, a professional photographer shoots it and the Realtor puts it on the web, who has rights to the pictures?

When you have a pro shoot pics, you have a contract with them about WHO owns the rights - Ideally YOU do.  If a Realtor puts them on their site or a general site - they should have permission by YOU to do so. 

Sep 02, 2007 02:28 AM #45
Cindy Lin
Staged4more School of Home Staging - South San Francisco, CA
Host, The Home Staging Show podcast

Patricia Generally a photograph owns the rights of the photos like when an interior design magazine shoots someone's homes, the photos do not belong to the owners, even though the home and the accessories are the owners, but photographers retain the rights to the photos. The magazine pays for the photographer basically for the rights to use them. But it is something negotiable. You can ask for acknowledgment for your work, etc. It depends on the photographers.

Judy and everyone: I wrote a post on how to watermark. Here is the post:



Sep 02, 2007 09:42 AM #46
Kathleen Lordbock
Keller Williams Realty Professionals - Baxter, MN
Keller Williams Realty Professionals

 Julea, Rights to photos can be a negotiated means - the photographer wants business and a lot of the photos mean nothing to them after they are taken - ask for them as part of the contract - it is who is paying that is the important part here.

 Judy, Thanks for the great blog - I must admit I was surely tempted when I started out to go with a training company that would provide me with all those pretty pictures - but no, mine on my website are of our staging work and photographed by my company and thats the truth and I'm sticking to it.

Sep 03, 2007 07:56 AM #47
Kathleen Lordbock
Keller Williams Realty Professionals - Baxter, MN
Keller Williams Realty Professionals
I put Julianna's logo on my website photos and I must admit it does look good  and it feels good.
Oct 03, 2007 05:20 AM #48
Julianna Hind
eXp Realty - Tacoma, WA
REALTOR, 206-679-4768, Tacoma Federal Way, Auburn, Kent, WA
Wow it looks cool on your site Kathleen! It does feel good --- be proud that you are selling your services with real examples of your own work. Anyone could go to those websites that sell great shots and slap it on their site... real stagers use their own work.
Oct 03, 2007 01:32 PM #49
Ann Krewson
A.L.I. Designs, Inc. - Houston, TX
A.L.I. Designs; Staging Houston Homes; Allied Member of A.S.I.D.
That is really low. I do not use stock photos so I cannot tell a difference when someone does use them. It make me think how many people out there are really doing that!
Oct 04, 2007 02:57 AM #50
Phyllis Pafumi
ReStyled to Sell Home Staging New Jersey - Old Bridge, NJ
ReStyled to Sell Staging Homes NJ

WOW JUDI YOU TELL IT LIKE IT IS SISTER! I say this ALL the time. If my talents are being compared to someone else's website then I am a sitting duck. I have seen other sites and galleries and the pics are incredible, like something out of a magazine..oh wait a minute, it is something out of a magazine.

BUT do sellers realize this? I don't think so. This is unprofessional and deceitful and unfortunately the client is going to lose because they will expect one look for their home and wind up with something far less superior

I Applaud you Judi for tackling this issue and it is growing to be a huge problem. You're the best Ms. Kincaid...we have to answer to a Higher Authority, thanks

Phyllis Pafumi

Oct 11, 2007 02:36 PM #51
Minnesota Home Staging Firm, Minnesota
Minnesota Home Staging Network~ MN's Top Home Staging Firm - Inver Grove Heights, MN

Way to GO JUDY!!!!

Well said and I'm glad you aren't shy about it! :)  And you know me with my inquisitive and investigative background. Now I'm dying ot know which stager violated copywright law by stealing another Stagers pics! I've had many steal our content and even testimonials (if you can believe that!) but would I know if anyone stole our pictures as well???  

Love Julinana's logo and Cindi's watermark idea. On our new site (which we are creating because you've probably heard too many people have stolen info and gotten us banned from google -ARGH!!!) perhaps we'll have to implement those ideas.

Keep it going are SO right.  

Nov 01, 2007 03:04 PM #52
Home Staging
Reston, VA
I am late to the table about this but I think you/we should call out those stagers by NAME.  If it were any other credential, they would be stripped of their license!! Stealing the work of others and representing it as your own is unethical and misrepresentation. My work may not be the best out there, but at least it is mine. My website is not all jazzy and music and flash, but its mine.  
Jan 05, 2008 10:51 PM #53
Robby Zettler
Metropolitan Home Design & Real Estate Staging - Lakewood, OH

Hi Judy!

I am new to AR and just getting started in the Home staging industry. But I am by no means inexperienced. I've had my own small busiess for 25 years (Restaurant/Winery) I am (hopefully) launching my website by the first of next week and so in Q&A I posted a question inquiring about where I could get stock photos. Then I googled "home staging stock photos" and your blog came up. I can't tell you how glad I am I read it before proceeding to purchase stock photos! I do have b&a photos, but I didn't put much thought into them when I took them because I didn't consider that they would be on my website. The lighting and angles are not very good and they are not as professional as the ones I am seeing on most websites. I am not talking about people who use stock photos, but people who use pro photographers and plan out their b&a photos. Nonetheless, I'm going to use what I have and state on my site that they are not stock photos or staged photos and my next ques in Q&A will be, Does anyone know where I can rent a high end wide angle digital camera. You saved me some money too! Maybe my web designer can doctor them a little. Just lighting! Would that be OK? Thanks for the insightful input.

However, all this said, don't forget your roots. Starting out is hard and costly. I'm sure people using these stock photos mean no ill intent, they are just doing what they were taught and trying to get their foot in the door. That was my plan.

Mar 05, 2008 03:46 AM #54
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