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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Virtual Staging: How to Make a Modest Property Look Marvelous

Written by Posted On Monday, 17 April 2017 10:22
A living room staged virtually. A living room staged virtually. Marketplace Homes

Today’s renters rifle through online listings as if they’re dating apps; they scroll and swipe at warp speed, searching for photos that catch their eye. If the first image they see looks blurry, bland, or bleak, they swiftly move on to a different listing without a second thought.

That’s why people looking for long-term love on dating sites don’t post unflattering photos. They put on their nicest outfits, choose slimming angles, and try to minimize the presence of blemishes and wrinkles. They show potential suitors what they look like on their best day — not what they look like right after rolling out of bed.

It’s crucial for landlords and investors to take a similar approach when marketing their rental properties in the digital era. Photos shouldn’t just show a clean home; they should show what a property will look like if a tenant maximizes its potential. They should make your home look sexy!

Don’t show an empty, echo-filled house with bare walls and floors. Stage it with stylish furniture, rugs, curtains, and artwork. Even if it’s been sitting empty for years, make it look like a family with impeccable taste is currently living there.

Unstaged homes spend 73 percent more time on the market than staged homes, and people tend to pay more for staged properties. However, you’re probably thinking that staging sounds awfully expensive. Well, it can be. Even if you buy cheap or secondhand furniture, you’re still looking at spending $10,000 to $20,000 to doll up a multibedroom property. If you’re listing several homes, the financial burden can really add up. 

Luckily, modern technology makes it incredibly easy and inexpensive to virtually stage a home. All you need is an eye for style and some Photoshop skills. If you don’t have either of those things, there are plenty of property management companies out there — mine included — that do it for free as part of their marketing services. Make sure to ask whether a company provides this crucial offering.

Virtual staging isn’t meant to mislead consumers; it’s meant to inspire them. The point is to show how each room could be utilized by your tenants. 

If you opt to take the DIY approach, here are four tips to keep in mind:

  1. 1.  Tasteful beats tacky. Stick to a consistent, cohesive, and universally appealing aesthetic. Very few people will appreciate hot pink couches, lime green rugs, or curtains drenched in rainbow polka dots. Most people will see this wacky decor as an excuse to scroll on to the next option.

    At the other end of the spectrum, decking the halls with boring beige colors will also give people a good reason to navigate away from your listing. Some nice, inoffensive blues and grays should do the trick. Just be sure to tie everything together with colors and patterns that match, and don’t forget to incorporate them into smaller details like drapes, throw rugs, and accent pieces. 

  2. 2.  Evoke emotions. If you show online consumers an empty home, all they’ll feel is emptiness. Without standing inside it and taking measurements, they have no idea how the space could be utilized by their family.

    Your virtual staging should show them they can create memories that last a lifetime in this home. If a major selling point of your property is that it has a huge dining room, put an extra long table in your photos, and make sure it has several chairs around it. Send a clear message to tenants that this room can easily accommodate large dinner parties and family gatherings. 

    While you’re at it, put a bar, pool table, and projection screen in the basement to show how this space could become an epic man cave. Place a twin bed and a beanbag chair in the smallest bedroom to show what a great kid’s room it could be, and add elegant furnishings to the master suite to get the adults excited about their private space. 

  3. 3.  Elevate the exterior. Exterior staging is just as important as interior staging, and it’s easy to neglect this area. There are many things you can do to show potential renters how they could use the outdoor space to entertain their friends, play with their kids, or just lie around on a lazy Sunday afternoon. 

    You could add some rocking chairs to the front porch, put a swingset and fire pit in the backyard, or even string up a hammock between two trees. In addition to furniture and play structures, pay close attention to how the yard itself looks. If you snapped your photos during a heat wave and the lawn isn’t as green as it usually is, your virtual staging specialist could enhance its coloring and make it look healthy and vibrant. 

  4. 4.  Cover up the imperfections. Covering up imperfections is different than hiding major problems. If there’s a gigantic hole in a wall that you don’t plan on fixing, Photoshopping it out would be dishonest and misleading. However, there’s nothing wrong with placing a rug on top of scratched-up hardwood floors or putting an end table in front of a harmless (but unsightly) crack in a wall. In all likelihood, this is exactly what a tenant would do with his or her own belongings after moving in.

Staging a home helps people feel like they’re already living there, and in the digital era, it’s never been cheaper or easier to accomplish this key marketing tactic. Virtual staging gets the job done — it helps you drive traffic to your properties, fill them faster, and boost your bottom line.

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Mike Kalis

An entrepreneur at heart, CEO Mike Kalis leads the team at, a Detroit-based brokerage that specializes in new construction sales and property management. Marketplace has sold more than $3 billion in new construction homes and gained a controlling interest in more than 2,500 single-family properties. It also offers new-construction homebuyers a guaranteed lease on their previous properties for up to six years. It is currently the third-largest property management company in the United States.

Mike has been featured four times on the Inc. 5000 list, and in addition to his managing partner role at Marketplace, he is a venture capitalist and investor for ZipTours. The startup helps homebuyers and renters view homes with agents who stream live to their smartphones. It has conducted tens of thousands of tours since March 2015. When he’s not busy creating new real estate solutions and helping investors purchase new-construction homes, Mike loves wakeboarding, playing guitar, and spending time with his family.
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