The Best of the Tech Helpline: Enhancing Photos and Virtual Staging

 December 09, 2019
Best of the Tech Helpline

Did you know that enhancing a listing photo could be a violation of your local MLS rules? There’s another catch: the rules surrounding enhancing photos and using photos are unique to each MLS.

Knowing your local MLS guidelines about listing photo “dos and don’ts” is essential, especially if you are uploading images that use virtual staging technology.

What is virtual staging? It’s a photo-editing feature that can insert realistic furnishing and flooring into photos of empty rooms. Like standard staging, which uses physical furnishings, virtual staging is designed to use advanced technology to help buyers visualize what the home could look like fully furnished.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, 83 percent of buyers’ agents said staging a home made it easier for a buyer to visualize the property as a future home. Since 90 percent of all home shoppers start their buying journey on the web, photos are essential for every listing.

New technology lowers the cost

The main attractiveness of virtual staging is the cost. A standard staging service over the life of the listing may cost as much as $5,000 or more. Using a leading virtual staging service like BoxBrownie, VHT Studios or PadStyler can cost about $30 for each image. For most listings, the investment could be a one-time fee of $500 or less.

But there are new risks that come with using photos enhanced with virtual staging. Because the photograph has been enhanced, this may trigger a rule your MLS may have about the use of rendered photos.

Know your MLS rules

Most MLSs permit the use of virtual-staged photos, using either a photo with replaced furnishings or an image of an empty room that is then digitally furnished. 

Some MLSs may prohibit photos that have been “embellished”; other MLSs might emphasize accuracy in their guidelines — for example, a photo with the addition of furnishings is allowed, but a photo with the addition of an entire backyard pool is prohibited.

But the biggest challenge with virtual staging, agents will admit, is making sure the photos meet buyers’ expectations. If home shoppers visit a house based on virtual-staged photos, and the shoppers react negatively because of mismatched expectations, the enhanced photos have not benefited anyone.

Disclosure and accuracy are the keys

When MLSs permit virtual staging, their guidelines always emphasize two things: disclosure and accuracy. The golden rule for virtual staging may be best expressed in Article 12 of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, which requires agents and brokers to “present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.”

If you keep this in mind when enhancing any photo, you are more likely to meet a buyer’s expectations and still help accelerate the sale of your listing.

This contributing article is from the Tech Helpline, a service of the WRA.

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