As virtual reality and 3D imaging tech continue to encroach upon the real estate industry, many agents and consumers are asking the same question: what is virtual staging and how can I use it to my advantage?

Clients love traditional staging – just ask the National Association of Realtors®. According to their data, 77 percent of buyers’ agents say that staging makes it easier for buyers to visualize themselves living in a home.  As many as 38 percent of sellers’ agents say that they stage all their clients’ homes before listing. Virtual staging offers many of these same benefits and depending on your situation, potentially even more. To discover which method will deliver the best results for you, you’ll need to learn what virtual staging is and how it differs from traditional staging.

What is Virtual Staging?

Virtual staging, like traditional staging, helps a buyer better visualize what a home will look like after it’s been furnished and tastefully decorated.

“I have always explained to my sellers that buyers will imprint on the first photos they see of a home and will develop their first positive feelings and attraction to a property at that time” describes Jen Williams, Redfin Market Manager in California.

But as the name implies, virtual staging is done with a computer. The tables, chairs, plants, and any other refurbishments or decor in the picture are curated by professionals with keen eyes for design. These virtual furnishings are inserted into high-resolution photos of empty rooms, transforming barren square footage into the type of cozy, lived-in spaces that buyers can actually see themselves in.

A balcony with a sweeping view of the ocean might be nice as is, but with a few virtual chairs, a table, and a plant, it becomes a personal space that the buyer can project themselves into.

What Homes is Virtual Staging Best Suited For?

There are still many situations in which traditional staging is your best bet. However, virtual staging can be a huge benefit if it’s done properly in:

• Unoccupied homes

• Homes that haven’t been renovated or redecorated

• Properties with tenants in them, which leave the homeowner little control over the space’s appearance

If you still occupy your home and you can stage it to make it as appealing as possible to potential buyers, whole-house virtual staging isn’t for you. (You can still virtually stage some rooms if you and your agent think it’s appropriate, though.

Virtual vs. Traditional: Which is Right for You?

Virtual staging can be a useful tool if you’re operating on a strict budget. Here’s a rough breakdown of the costs:

• Virtual staging costs somewhere between $39 and $199 per room, depending on the contractor you use, your location and the amount of space you need to be staged.

• Traditional staging can cost several hundred dollars per month, depending on the stager you use, how much furniture you need to rent, your location and the number of rooms you need to be staged.

Price isn’t the only sticking point, though. Each method has its own pros and cons that you’ll have to consider, particularly if you’re trying to sell an empty house.

The Good and the Bad of Virtual Staging

Key to your decision of choosing between virtual and traditional staging is the knowledge that virtual staging will require a vetted professional. It’s essential that the virtually staged picture of a room be indistinguishable from a picture including real furniture. To accomplish this, you’ll need a professional from a reputable company with an impressive portfolio of completed work.

This side-by-side list will help illuminate several other important distinctions of virtual staging.

Pros of Virtual Staging

  • Can help you showcase an empty home’s best features
  • Is cost-effective when compared to traditional staging
  • Attracts prospective buyers’ attention online
  • Offers you the opportunity to stage any number of rooms
  • Allows you to stage flex rooms in multiple ways

Cons of Virtual Staging

  • Becomes more expensive when you need to remove furniture or items from photos
  • Can be difficult to use when the house is occupied, unless you have previous listing photos
  • Furniture and décor only exist in the virtual space – buyers will never see it in person

Pros and Cons of Traditional Staging

Contrary to virtual staging, the tried and true practice of traditional staging has been used by agents for decades. While a hired professional isn’t always essential to success, an eye for detail and the ability to create a space that appeals to the widest possible range of buyers absolutely is.

To determine whether or not it’s the best way to sell your house, here’s a brief list of traditional staging’s pros and cons:

Pros of Traditional Staging

  • Gives buyers real-life perspective when they tour the home
  • Prevents buyers from having to tour a completely empty, vacant home
  • Appeals to buyers’ sense of imagination
  • Makes spaces appear larger and enables prospective buyers to gauge size
  • Helps your home stand out in buyers’ memories after they leave

Cons of Traditional Staging

  • Can be expensive, and you’ll keep incurring costs until the home sells
  • Requires stagers to bring in furnishings, décor and other items
  • May be unnecessary, depending on how quickly homes are selling in your market

Frequent Virtual Staging Mishaps

The most crucial error to avoid when choosing to use virtual staging is selecting a sub-par company to do it. As mentioned above, the only way to take full advantage of this cutting-edge technology is to hire an expert that knows it like the back of their hand.

Aside from choosing an inadequate company, here are some other common errors made in the virtual staging process:

  • Failing to provide prospective buyers with photos of empty rooms as well as staged rooms. Buyers may expect the home to look the same as it does in its listing photos, so provide both.
  • Choosing virtual staging that makes the home look worse, not better. You have to be careful not to overdo furniture and decorative elements in staged photos.
  • Using virtual staging when it’s unnecessary. Replacing furnishings and decorative elements in photos when they’re perfectly fine to begin with can be a significant waste of time (and money).

How can Virtual Staging Help Me?

Virtual staging can be a tremendous asset when you’re selling a vacant home or one that has wild-card tenants or outdated décor. It allows prospective buyers to view the right vision of the home – not an empty, cavernous space, but one that’s comfortable and easy to live in.

Have you used virtual staging to sell a home? We’d love to hear your story and how it worked out for you, so please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Angie Bersin

Angie is part of the content marketing team at Redfin.com and enjoys writing about home decor and real estate trends.