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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Surprising Obstacle to Virtual Staging

Not So Virtual "Virtual Staging"

So, what's holding up virtual staging? (see also, "Virtual Staging: Ready for Prime Time?")

Not Realtors, who by and large are game (even if they have to dig a little deeper into their pockets to do it).

Not clients, who stand to save a small fortune on actual staging costs.

And not local Boards of Realtors, who as best I can tell are behind the curve addressing the issue -- but have hardly forbidden the practice.

Give up?

The virtual staging companies themselves.

(Legal) Boulders in Road

I'm in the process of doing virtual staging for the first time, and was eagerly awaiting a phone call from the (Atlanta-based) vendor, who contacted me Monday.

"Can you give me an idea what would you like the rooms to look like?," he asked.

By way of introduction, I explained that the home has a traditional look and formal floor plan, so therefore the furniture choices and arrangement should reflect that.

However, my highest priority -- and the reason I was popping for virtual staging -- was to be able to show prospective Buyers how the house would look without the dated, loud wallpaper -- and with the oak hardwood floors uncovered (now obscured by equally loud, decades-old carpeting).

"Check on the furniture, but can't change the flooring or wallpaper," the virtual stager told me flatly.

Litigation Risk -- And How to Avoid It

"Huh?!?," I said incredulously.

Due to litigation risk, he explained, the company's policy is not to alter a room's physical attributes, only to show how it would look with furniture and accessories added.

For a virtual staging company, isn't that like tying 1 3/4 arms behind your back?

Or, as Henry Ford might say, "you can have any color Model T, as long as it's black."

"One Size Fits All" Policy, For Now

I proceeded to explain that I am a former lawyer, and had no intention of using the staged photos in a misleading or deceptive fashion; or getting myself, my broker -- or them -- sued.

Specifically, I said that I would:

a) stipulate that I would not use the photos online or in MLS marketing materials, but only as "blow-ups" that I would display, physically, in each of the rooms, to contrast the "Before" and potential "After" appearance;

b) understood that each of the blown-up photos would be stamped with a conspicuous "virtually staged" disclaimer; and

c) would present prospective Buyers and their agents with a written acknowledgement for them to sign before entering the home and doing a showing.

What Buyer could claim that they'd been deceived after complying with all that?

"No go," came the quick answer.

Clearly, the virtual staging companies are risk-averse, and don't want to be in the business of policing how Realtors use their photos once their computer whizzes (electronically) ship the photos out the door.

I get that.

But by declaring the best applications off-limits -- at least for now -- the virtual staging companies are very much undermining demand for their services.


Virtual Staging Solutions said...

Interesting opinion but it's hard to say unless you actually have experience in the virtual staging field and have had feedback from buyers and sellers. We believe it is better to not modify any of the structural elements like paint and wallpaper, that's not something that is sold with the house and you don't want buyers to be disappointed when they show up and don't see the walls painted or floors changed ect... most of the time a home can look great without doing any of that. We are the largest virtual staging company in the world right now and 90% of our clients ask us NOT to change the wall colors or structural elements because they know it can be deceiving because it is part of the home and expected to be included with the sale of the home.

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