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Digital Staging: Creative or Misleading?

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

What is Digital Staging?

Many real estate agents have heard of home staging, where professionals arrange furniture and artwork in rooms to make them look more presentable and enticing for potential buyers. But now, there's another cost-effective option that doesn't involve the moving of heavy furniture and tireless hours of physical labor.

Digital staging is where home stagers take digital photos of rooms (empty or furnished) and use photo-editing software to improve the aesthetic and appearance of the room by adding new furniture. This way, potential buyers can envision the true potential of a property and are not limited to a generic listing picture that may not show a room in the best light.

This new technology is certainly a step in the right direction for the industry and is a great asset for real estate agents. That being said, the tradition nature of the industry and some agents means that this innovative approach is sure to have plenty of push back.

Here’s how:

My Experience

I recently had a beautiful listing in a desirable part of Louisville. Everything was practically new: roof, mechanicals, hardwoods, kitchens, bathrooms, and it was sure to show very well. As we were outlining our marketing plan, it was a no-brainer for us to add digitally staged photos because the house was empty and furniture always adds a little something extra.

However, this time we decided to show off the size of the lot by adding an in-ground pool to the backyard. Staged, of course. Complete with a pergola. Did this show the fantastic potential of the property? Absolutely. A little clickbaity? Perhaps. Misleading? Definitely not. We disclosed the staged pool in the listing and included 7 additional shots of the backyard from several angles, as well as aerial shots, none of which indicated there was a pool.

Here is the offender.

The existence of this pool became a hot topic in a local real estate forum where agents go to get the opinions of other agents or to vent about things they find annoying. After the first day on-market, we were the talk of the group. Here was the initial comment:

“Virtual Staging. A couple saw a listing that had the living room and bedroom virtually staged, normal. But then they added an in-ground pool in the back yard that isn’t there and finished the basement that is not finished. Should this be allowed? Not a dig on anyone I promise but an open discussion for the thoughts of our membership. Could you add a tiled shower to a bathroom, open up a wall, change paint colors, etc?”

Here lies the question: is it legally, morally, or ethically allowable to insert a staged pool in MLS listing photos where there is not a pool.

My Takeaway

Moving forward, I will be sure to incorporate the following steps to ensure that the information I provide will not be seen as “misleading” in any way.

  • Add a watermark to the stages picture letting the buyer know the photo is staged.

  • Follow the staged picture with an actual picture of the space so it’s clear what exists today.

The first is a new and novel concept for me, which I will be adopting immediately. But the second is also key. Until today, I always made a habit of posting staged and actual pictures back to back, for obvious reasons.

My goal is never to deceive or mislead anyone. After all, it’s hard to make a sale if someone feels that way. But for this listing I added the staged pics early on, and then again next to the actual pics later in the deck. The issue is that buyers were seeing the pool, and without looking any further sent them listing to their realtor because they wanted to see the house that has a pool!

The Bigger Discussion

We are entering a very digital age where real estate marketing is absolutely key to listing agents. And that marketing strategy now needs to include a mix of social media, digital ads, video, drone, 3D tours, and - you guessed it - digitally staged photos.

So what happens when digital staging goes to the next level and starts reconfiguring spaces, adding elements that don’t exist, and changing paint colors and flooring? Because this is going to happen with more and more frequency.

Want to show a space as a game room or with a sectional sofa? Digitally stage it. Want to change the ugly red wall color the owner refuses to paint? Digitally stage it. Want to show what an open floor plan can look like if you remove one wall? Digitally stage it. The options are unlimited and it helps buyers see the true potential of a listing.

Builders also use it to show renderings of a potential build. That’s right! ENTIRE HOUSES can be listed with pictures of a house that doesn’t exist, but digital staging pools and pergolas seem to be crossing the line.

Times are changing in the real estate industry and the incorporation of a creative, strategic marketing plan with innovative assets and approaches will become the new standard. It’s just a question of which agents will decide to move with the times.

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To learn more about Louisville real estate and short term rentals, listen to Jonathan Klunk's interview on ESPN here!


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