By: Ashley Smith


Thoughts and tips from an active Realtor during one of the weirdest years in history…

BY: ASHLEY SMITH | Oakwyn Realty Ltd
August 31st, 2020

While physically staging a vacant home is almost always the most ideal option, there are many reasons why someone may want to consider the digital (or virtual) staging alternative. If you’re a potential home seller, landlord, REALTOR®, property manager, or real estate developer, here are my top 9 reasons to virtually stage your property.

1 – Get people through the door

I’m asked all the time if virtual home staging is “enough”. What if some people can’t visualize a space once they’re physically in it?

Understandably, this may be true for some folks. However, the key to home sales and rentals is to get the attention of prospective buyers or renters – typically online to start – and to encourage viewings. Let’s face it, well done professional photos are the most important aspect to marketing real estate. For most of us, photos are the first thing we review, encouraging us to investigate further or to skip a property entirely. Vacant photos are often boring, and may cause a home to be disregarded or overlooked.

TIP: Be up front – disclose that your photos are virtually staged so people don’t expect a furnished property upon arrival. Once someone is physically in a space, you can provide a visual reference to the staged images or tour. This can be a video or slideshow on screen (iPad, TV, or digital photo frame), print material like brochures, or even displays on canvas in primary rooms. If you’re a listing agent like myself, it may be helpful to be present for showings to add vision and insight to potential buyers. What I love is that people can refer back to the photos after they have viewed the property in person.

#201 – 3300 Ketcheson Rd, Richmond | PHOTO 1 – VERSION B

These photos are from our townhouse listing at West Cambie, Richmond. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, while we were fairly busy with showings, offers were just not coming. We decided to re-list the property at a slightly reduced price, and opted to get updated staging pictures. Immediately, we received 2 competing offers, and the property sold for full asking price. Virtual staging definitely had a positive impact and allowed prospective buyers to see the home with fresh eyes.

Ashley Smith – Personal Real Estate Corporation | Oakwyn Realty

2 – It’s far less expensive than traditional home staging

Yup. This is probably the most important consideration for anyone debating which direction to go with their home listing and marketing preparation. While cost may vary depending on which company you hire for either service, digital staging is simply much more cost effective – at the very least, when comparing the up-front cost. Keep in mind most traditional staging companies also charge some form of monthly rental beyond the initial service fees (which may include consultation, design, move-in/out). This can add up to tens of thousands of dollars if a property is listed for several months and/or if it’s a large residence with many rooms.


3 – The photos are evergreen

Okay, so the photos of digitally staged and traditionally staged spaces are both “evergreen” (meaning they last forever). However, if you opt to go the more expensive and potentially risky route of physical staging, and the property is not successfully rented/sold within a few months – you may make the tough decision to remove the staging furniture because you no longer want to carry the rental cost. In this case, you are left with an empty space and staged photos – the same situation you would be in with virtual staging.


4 – The photos are flexible

Considering the previous example, if you wish to refresh photos for marketing purposes – perhaps because a property listing has “gone stale”, you can simply recycle the vacant photos you initially used and try a brand new style and/or layout! I love this flexibility. If you want new photos after removing traditional staging, you have to pay for them – and they’ll likely be of a vacant space. And – while we LOVE our real estate photographers (they are so very important to us real estate professionals)… their services do not come cheap.

SPECIAL NOTE: Unless you are a skilled amateur photographer with professional equipment, please do not attempt to photograph the property yourself if the sale or rental means anything to you. If you do opt to do this despite my advice, at the very least, please stay out of the bathroom mirror in your photos. Thank you! 😉


5 – Offer multiple styles and layouts!

You don’t have to wait for the listing to need a “refresh” to offer multiple versions of the same space. How fun!? If you want to stimulate a prospective buyer or renter’s imagination – give them choice. Plus, people will likely spend more time on your website or social media channels. That’s always a good thing – more brand awareness and the algorithm will work in your favour.


6 – Less wear and tear

This is something that may not cross our minds when planning home staging. Every time movers arrive, things could potentially go wrong… Do you remember the “Friends” episode with Ross and Rachel trying to get the couch around the corner and up the stairs? Every time I see a furniture obstacle, I immediately think “PIVOT!” Things get banged up, art on the wall may require nails, innocently moving a dining table to a new angle can scratch the floor, movers may have dirty shoes on… need I say more?

Also, if you’re selling/leasing an apartment in a condo building, there’s also wear and tear to the elevator and hallways (which is why most require move in/out fees – easily a couple hundred dollars – a cost that typically will apply to home staging).

There can also be wear and tear to the home staging items and furniture. This will be less of a risk in a vacant home, but if you’re looking to stage an empty or unfinished room in a residence that also houses pets, children, etc… prepare for scratches, fur, and spill stains – even with the best of intentions.


7 – A reasonable option during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you’re listing a property during these unprecedented times, it may be worth considering a different marketing strategy than you would have taken on pre-2020. First, having fewer people (including movers and home stagers) through a property may not be the worst thing. In many regions, social distancing and proactively limiting physical interaction is prudent or at least ideal. Also, a vacant property has fewer surfaces. While we should encourage the use of hand sanitizer, perhaps gloves, and definitely limited touching of anything inside a property, a vacant one is pretty easy to encourage good COVID behaviour.

In many markets, real estate listings are taking longer to sell or lease because of a shift in priorities, economic challenges, people opting to delay significant life changes, and in some cases, increased vacancy rates or negative market impacts as some people leave urban centres, their small homes and high costs of living. If you expect something may remain on the market for more than a couple months – even with the best marketing and appropriate pricing – virtual staging may be the best approach for you.


8 – Who pays?

Well, if you are a home seller or landlord, the cost of marketing may depend on who you hire to help you. What I can say is that digital home staging is something that many professionals may consider including in their services as a part of their commission or fees (in many cases meaning that you will pay for them upon a successful sale or lease). Given the higher cost of physical staging, fewer professionals will pay for this up front – often passing the cost and risk to the client. This makes sense – if a Realtor or property manager has a healthy listing portfolio, it would be a huge part of their monthly output to physically stage every listing (probably not sustainable). There are absolutely different business models, but as an example, I now include virtual staging as part of one of my listing service packages (and sometimes, so is virtual “re-staging” or “renovating”). For me, it’s more in line with the regular cost of doing business – similar to photography, floor plans, and advertising for listings.


9 – What if you hate it?

Nothing is worse than paying for physical staging and hating the look. This has happened to me before. Perhaps I’m too picky, but it is really important to align the home decor and staging style (and layout) with the target buyer/renter demographic for best results. If the physical staging does not meet your expectations, it may be tough to change it after the fact – whether the company is not up for making alterations, or simply your ideal listing timeline won’t easily accommodate the hastle of re-doing things. So far, my experience with digital staging is that changing up a few that you would like done differently is relatively simple (at no cost and with fairly quick turnaround time).

BONUS – The virtual staging process can be remarkably fast! Preparing for physical home staging can take a little time (though I must admit, I’ve been very impressed with how quickly professional home staging companies can work). That said, digital staging means you can get vacant photos done immediately, and generally wait time for the finished product is short.


We are so lucky to be in 2020! Wait – what?! Well, we CAN be thankful for the advances in technology that allow us to continue with our lives and businesses, at least to some extent. Having experimented with virtual staging about 6 years ago, I can tell you that digital tech has come a long way – service provider options have expanded and are much more accessible (I had to search high and low for someone before), the cost is very reasonable for the value, and turnaround time is typically pretty good.

Finally, I should say that while I LOVE virtual home staging, it is simply one tool in the toolkit… and I still LOVE traditional home staging. Done well, nothing beats the experience of a thoughtful layout and curated aesthetic live and in person. I’m sure we could take some of the 9 points above and debate which option is truly the best. Of course, virtual home staging can be executed reasonably quickly, and may even be the best option in a very fast-paced market… you can get to market ASAP, and with a strategic plan and price, perhaps find yourself in a very similar sales process one way or the other.

This said, if the option is “vacant” or “virtually staged”… I would argue virtually staged will perform better in most circumstances. Give it a try! I would love to hear about your digital experience.

OUR LISTING – 15767 Roper Ave, White Rock


I already mentioned that I like the idea of complimenting virtual home staging with visual references inside the physical space. If you really want to go the extra mile, you can also consider an online 3D virtual tour (such as Matterport technology) to give a prospective buyer or renter the true virtual experience of walking through the home. I love this – especially during COVID. If you use this technology, then it balances the “staged vision” in the photos, with the “vacant reality” in the tour. It can really set the tone and help someone pre-qualify a property and determine if they want to view it in person. This said, I’ve noticed some virtual staging companies are now offering virtually staged videos! This is admittedly new for me, and I’m really excited to try the service soon.


Wow! This was a long post, and I didn’t even get in to the virtual “spot staging”, digital furniture removal, and virtual renovation options… would you like to know more about these? Let me know!

Have a look at the virtual staging for our new listing at 15767 Roper Avenue, White Rock. What do you think? CLICK HERE for more details.