Is Virtual Staging Better than Real Staging When It Comes to Selling a Flip?

To stage or not to stage—that is the question. The importance of home staging in selling a home is undeniable. A staged home allows a potential buyer to see a property at the top of its game, with all the bells and whistles—the furniture, artwork, rugs, and decorations—removing the need for the buyer to use their imagination. 

However, staging a home is not cheap, especially for upscale residences. For flippers, it means adding thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars to their costs

Virtually staging, however, has come as a godsend for many. With most homes viewed online, an interior designer with software skills can create a lifelike rendering for a fraction of the cost of actual staging, with none of the hassles of hauling furniture, creating scuff marks, and paying for holding costs. 

With artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality options available with companies like Matterport, the staging game is undergoing a seismic change. Here’s what you need to know to keep up.   

Why Home Staging Is Pivotal to Selling a Home

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR): “About 80% of buyer’s agents say staging helps their clients better visualize living in a home. A third say it can even increase the home’s value between 1% and 10% compared to similar homes that aren’t staged.” 

Additional benefits noted by NAR include reduced days on market before a home sells and the ability to market to buyers through video home tours via social media.

The Pros of a Virtually Staged Home

So why should you virtually stage your home? Here are three reasons.

Fast to implement

Speed is undoubtedly one of the main benefits of virtually staging a home, with AI-powered modern staging software now available as phone apps and able to implement sophisticated images in seconds. Although pro designers use sophisticated computer-based software and take hours rather than minutes to create a rendering, there is no doubt virtual staging is becoming more accessible at an alarming rate.

Low cost

If you hire a virtual professional staging company, the cost can range from $72 to $360 per home, depending on how many rooms you choose to stage. That can increase in more expensive markets when staging upscale homes. However, it can also be significantly reduced should you decide to use a freelancer site such as Fiverr or Upwork, where you can outsource staging to a gig economy worker for prices starting as low as $5.

Allows sellers to stay on the cutting edge of design trends

One great advantage of virtual home staging is that you can show your home in multiple styles to multiple buyers, from traditional to contemporary, rustic to farmhouse chic. Virtual staging is like a catwalk for your home, changing outfits between each strut on the runway.

The Downsides of Virtual Home Staging

Virtual staging isn’t always the perfect solution. Here are three things to keep in mind. 

Does not work for in-person home showings

While a virtual tour might be good if you need to get a listing online quickly, an interested buyer will eventually want to see the home in person. This is where real staging pays off. 

It can be tough to ask a buyer to walk through an empty home while looking at their phone or a real estate agent’s iPad. The tactile and sensory sensation of sitting on a couch and observing the atmosphere helps buyers visualize themselves living in a home in real-time. 

Limited capabilities with virtual/video tours

Immersive, lifelike AI-powered home tours are already available through listing sites such as Zillow, but they currently do not allow agents to appear in the videos, either in the way that a prerecorded video or a real-time tour through FaceTime allows, which was popular during the pandemic.

It can sometimes look artificial

The issue with virtual reality and AI, in general, is that unless you employ extremely high-quality rendering software as used by architectural firms or have a skilled design eye, some virtual staging can look a bit fake, which is often a turn-off for buyers. A buyer is inclined to think: “That was obviously done with a computer. What are they hiding?” 

Tips From the Experts

Jade Walker, a house flipper with Turnkey Investment Properties in Pittsburgh, has used both virtual and real staging and has returned to real staging. She offers a realistic take.

Pay Attention to the Market

“There’s no real way to gauge what is more successful, especially in the current market, because there is so little inventory that as soon as a house that’s priced right gets on the market, it sells,” Walker told BiggerPockets. “However, I’ve found that when buyers walk through a property, having real staging helps with the process. I don’t have to explain what could go where. It certainly gives me peace of mind that I’m leaving no stone left unturned.” 

If You Can Afford It, Don’t Leave Anything to Chance

Adds Walker: 

“One way to tell is to list two townhouses in the same development—one staged virtually and the other conventionally—and see what sells fastest. I’ve certainly met other sellers who have done great with virtual staging. In my case, when an in-person showing didn’t result in an offer from a virtually staged home, it left me asking myself, ‘Would conventional staging have made a difference?’ It’s worth it to me to pay an upfront fee of $2,400 to stage a home and then $200 per week for a three-bedroom,1,500-square-foot home with a half-finished basement to help a buyer see the vision.”

Have the Buyer Pay for Staging

In expensive cities such as New York or Palm Beach, Florida, real estate agents, banking on big commissions, will often pay for real staging as part of the cost of doing business.

“I have several Realtor clients who might make $60,000 commission from the sale of the house and pay $16,000 out of their own pocket to stage it,” Tiffany Woolley from, based in Delray Beach and working throughout Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and the Greater Miami area, told BiggerPockets. “They will then work the deal so that the buyer pays for the furniture, so they don’t have to furnish it themselves when they move in. The alternative is to have a listing sit on the market and lose a potential commission.”

Perfect the Software

Woolley’s team has also embraced virtual staging, and she sees this inevitably as the way of the future. “You have the convenience of speed and lower costs with virtual staging,” she says. “There’s an art to using the software to give you what you want. For example, certain rooms look better when they are lit with 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvins. It gives them an intimate, warm, and inviting feel. However, if you don’t know this, and you set the lighting to 5,000 Kelvins, it will be too bright, like you’re in an operating theater.”

“Of course, the drawback is that any potential buyer is still walking into an empty room,” Woolley adds. “We overcome that by having a huge easel with high-quality virtual stagings in every room, so the buyers can immediately see how the room can look. It helps overcome a lot of questions.”

Use Virtual Staging to Pre-Sell

Virtual staging also allows flippers and developers to spark interest before a home is finished.

“We can create a rendering from the architectural drawings and floor plans,” Woolley says. “That allows our clients to pre-sell, which is very useful for developers of apartment buildings and flippers, and from my perspective as an interior designer, it doesn’t limit me to one geographical location.” 

How to Save on Staging Costs

Woolley offers practical advice for home sellers who need help finding the budget for staging:

“It’s amazing what you can achieve by decluttering, painting, moving things around, and adding a few accessories. Often, homeowners have good furniture that is not being showcased effectively. Flippers might have a few basic items in storage they can use in every house, and then pay for someone to come in and accessorize.”

Woolley has also noticed a growing trend among real estate agents who have a lot of social media followings to leverage their influencer status: “Home interior brands and designers will do favors to influencer agents for a mention on social media, which means free furniture and accessories. It’s more prevalent in the luxury market than anywhere else. I can see it eventually growing to other real estate sectors.”

Final Thoughts

As technology advances, virtual staging will become increasingly predominant in helping to sell homes. However, for high-end homes that must be seen in person, real staging is not just optional but a necessary expense. 

It’s not inconceivable that home and virtual staging can be used in conjunction with one another. Real staging gives potential buyers an immediate sensory experience, while virtual staging reveals the multiple design options the space could accommodate.

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

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