Is Virtual Staging Effective?


4 minute read

February 19, 2019

I can’t tell you how often I’m sitting at my desk wondering, “What should I blog about?” when all of a sudden, an idea is handed to me.

That was exactly the case for this blog post, as a client had emailed me some “digital staging” and asked for my two cents.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, so let me set the scene, and turn it over to you guys for some feedback.

Quite often on MLS, you’ll see a property being sold where the feature image on MLS is an artist’s rendering of a home that could be built on the lot, but the property offered for sale is actually land value, be it an empty piece of land, or a piece of land with a dilapidated bungalow upon it.

So is there any issue with putting this photo on MLS…

…when the house actually looks like this?

Folks, this isn’t just “virtual staging,” as I have come to know it, but rather something the listing defines as, “digital enhancement.”

And while I understand the concept of virtual staging, I wonder how effective it is.

Some people would consider this a “bait and switch,” and others would just be disappointed when they get to the home.  It’s like when you see a 2-bedroom condo listed for sale on MLS, only to arrive and find out it’s really a 1-plus-den.

Here’s the excerpt from the MLS listing that “explains” the images:


But what I don’t understand is the strategy here.

For example, here is the photo of the living room:

And then further in the photo array is this photo of the actual living room:

The listing agent and the seller aren’t cheating here.  They’ve given the “actual” as well as the “digitally enhanced” to the consumer.

And the photo array on MLS shows everything:

But I ask you, the consumer, what you think of seeing this kitchen photo…

…only to see this photo later on:

Is it effective?

Is this about showing what the house could be, with some TLC?

Take this bedroom for example:

If we installed hardwood flooring, new window coverings, and a new light fixture, it could look like this:

So I ask: effective, or not?

Now let me show you one more example.

This time around, we see a condo that was first listed with actual staging, and then after languishing on the market, the seller re-listed with a different brokerage, and an agent who decided that virtual staging would be more effective……..and a hell of a lot cheaper, but we’ll come back to that.

So you tell me – can you pick the virtually staged property from these two photos?

Yes, I made them smaller, and thus it’s more difficult.

But I also needed the side-by-side shot to fit my screen!

Here are the two photos, full size:


The second photo contains the virtual staging, and while I can’t say that it looks bad, I can say that it’s so far out of scale that it’s going to leave buyers disappointed.

Look at the books on the shelf – they’re about 1/3 of what an actual book would look like.

The room also looks twice as large because, well, you can do that with virtual staging and fake furniture!

What about the kitchen and eat-in area?

Here’s the staged photo:

Here’s the virtually-staged photo:

Well the first thing you’ll notice is that the shades are drawn in the virtual staging photo, since the light affects the stager (graphic artist) and their ability to super-impose the furniture.

And once again, the issue of scale arises.  Not to mention those ugly gold bar stools.

But above all, the issue I have with the virtual staging is that they seem to have no idea how staging actually works.

Notice in the first photo, you have a dining area by the window, which is where most people would want it, and you have a small couch and coffee table in the foreground.  This is not only how a buyer would set up the space, but also how it shoots well in a photo.

In the second photo, you have a big, clunky table and four chairs in the foreground, and then you can barely see the couch by the window in the background.

Well, whaddya expect?

How about the living room?



Once again, it’s not just the crappy virtual staging that’s the issue.

It’s the angles at which the photos were taken too!  Note that the first photo captures more of the room, and the second photo shows the doorways on the left for some reason.  The lighting is better in the first photo, and the shades are closed in the second photo.

How about one of the master bedroom, just to say we did?



You be the judge, and again, consider scale, not just the colour scheme and throw pillows.

But the most egregious example exists on the roof.

First, we have the actual unit as it is:

Then we have the rooftop with a super-imposed hot tub!

That hot tub would never actually fit in this space, but with virtual staging, you can do whatever you want!

At the end of the day, you can say what you want about the photos of these two properties, both staged and virtually-staged.  But the biggest issue with virtual staging, or “digital enhancement,” is that the buyer is going to see something entirely different when he or she visits the property.

Getting the buyers into the property is the #1 job, no question.  But if you have to lie to get them there, then aren’t you setting them up for disappointment?

I stage every single property I list for sale, no matter what.

I’m currently arguing with a prospective seller who doesn’t believe in the value of staging, and in explaining it to him, I asked: “How would you rank the look and feel of your space right now, out of ten?”  He answered, “At least a seven.”

I asked him, “Why in the world would you settle for a seven out of ten?” and then explained, “Anything less than a ten out of ten means you’re leaving money on the table.”

Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.

There is no corner cutting in real estate, in my opinion.

And while the folks in the first example were looking to “digitally enhance” the property, and perhaps this could add value to some buyers, the people who decide to leave their house or condo empty (or messy, or cluttered) are leaving money on the table.

I welcome your thoughts on the two examples above.  Something tells me the opinions are going to vary…

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. Carl

    at 9:15 am

    If we are going virtual then I, as a buyer, want to see the home virtually empty, the way it will be when I move in. I want to see what I am actually buying, not somebody’s idea what a beautiful home should be like. I go to MLS to buy a house, not furniture.
    And better still, give me an interface to do my own virtual staging, with my own furniture. When a seller offers that, it will definitely get my attention.

    1. Izzy Bedibida

      at 12:02 pm

      Good point. This is just a silly gimmick.

    2. Condodweller

      at 8:47 pm

      I second the user configurable staging idea. Just give me a 2d plan and let me add my furniture to see if it fits.

      Of course this will never happen because the last thing the listing agent wants is for potential buyers to be able to quickly eliminate their listing.

  2. daniel b

    at 12:02 pm

    i think the virtual staging is very effective for the new house, but mainly because that house gets a lot of lift from the changes being made. Importantly, they just did changes that are relatively straightforward (e.g. the kitchen retains the same plumbing and appliance layout).

  3. Jennifer

    at 12:32 pm

    I dont mind the house one because they specifically said which were digitally enhanced, and showed what it actually looks like. They were open about it. Whether it makes the house sell, who knows. Could it hurt? On balance, I would think not.
    The ones with the fake furniture just look bad.

  4. GinaTO

    at 12:40 pm

    Seems like just another silly way to save money and work, instead of going through the actual effort of fixing the place up. It adds nothing to the listing. Seeing the house look better in the “digitally enhanced” photos, my gut feeling would be to expect a discount on the actual house because it’s not “good enough” in its present state. Not the effect they want, I would guess, so it totally backfires.

  5. Kyle

    at 4:25 pm

    I think the first example is very effective. They clearly staged the actual house and included actual photos, so i don’t think the idea was to “bait and switch” or to save money on marketing, but rather to show an example of how this dated house could look with some simple cosmetic updates.

    The second example is an Agent who is A) smart enough to know his client has unealistic expectations (probably why it didn’t sell the first time), so he therefore doesn’t want to risk the time and money to invest in the marketing, but B) dumb enough to still take on the listing.

  6. Libertarian

    at 5:16 pm

    The question I have about the first house is: How is it priced? Is it looking to get top dollar because it needs only some minor cosmetic changes, or is it priced as a fixer upper? If it’s the former, shame on them because those are not minor cosmetic changes. If it’s the latter, then I have no problem with it. They’re trying to entice flippers.

  7. Joel

    at 6:01 pm

    My problem with the virtual staging is that it takes away the potential buyers creativity.
    If they were going to put in some actual effort and move walls and redesign the layout I think it would add value.
    If I am buying a gut job I am well aware that it is a gut job and want to put my own spin on it.
    In the first house they are really missing the point. In the condo the virtual staging is bad and adds no value, but at least it doesn’t detract potential buyers.

  8. Condodweller

    at 8:41 pm

    IMHO staging is an insult to my intelligence. Virtual staging is adding insult to injury.

    I’m smart enough to know those tiny tables/chairs/couch etc. are totally useless and don’t begin to resemble anything I own or would purchase for a new place.

    I’m ok with virtual staging as long as it’s disclosed. In the condo, I actually think the real thing is better than the virtual version.

    All I really want is the original plan to the unit with measurements to allow me to calculate if the size is workable for my furniture. A few photos would be good to indicate the condition of the place to be able tell if it’s move in ready or needs work. That way I can quickly eliminate the ones that don’t meet my chriterion.

  9. Pete

    at 1:38 pm

    Regarding the staging vs virtual staging pics, in every one I preferred the real picture. So time and effort wasted on virtual pics that make the place look worse.

    But frankly, I’d much rather see the place empty. I don’t care about the sellers furniture, or their staged furniture. Just let me see the empty rooms so I can imagine my own stuff in there, without having to mentally erase the other crap first.

  10. Frances

    at 5:10 pm

    With the house, the virtual staging is misleading and misleading your customer is a no-no. I don’t mind actual staging but I’m perfectly capable of figuring out how a room will look or can be used without help. And I want floor plans. Moreover, I think the house is fine as is.

    As for the condo, that virtual photo where you remarked on the doorways being shown is good because it shows the whole room and where doorways will affect the furniture placement. I find that room photos can easily be misleading because the part behind the camera can’t be shown. For that, you need floor plans.

    But generally, I can live without virtual staging and even the real thing.

  11. Cristian

    at 2:16 pm

    There are a lot of uncreative people, or people ready to pay for a finished product. I understand the purpose of virtual staging because I’m not a very creative person and giving me advice or an idea helps me to at least have a little perspective of what I want. I did had an experience with, for an office in Brooklyn, and I was surprised how they made a simple room into a pinkish tasteful office. In the end it worked. But well, that’s my experience…

  12. Barbara

    at 10:29 am

    I’m wondering if virtual staging couldn’t amount to false advertising with the Advertising Standards Council and RECO? All it might take is for some disappointed prospective buyer to complain to RECO…..

    1. Dennis Locke

      at 10:31 am

      In my opinion, if virtual staging is used, disclose which pictures are virtually staged. Probably most effective with vacant homes. Apply the old rule: Disclose, disclose…

  13. Anna Lynnyk

    at 6:50 am

    Thanks for raising such an interesting subject. On the one hand, a virtual tour offers a unique opportunity to explore different spaces before visiting or buying them, clients receive a clear, and detailed depiction of the apartment design and space. On the other hand, this is all about the smart use of technology. Here is a relevant post – Maybe someone will find it useful too.

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