Chris Crummitt has been photographing real estate for the past nine years for her Frederick-based company Picture Perfect LLC, but she started getting a new request during the pandemic: virtual staging.
Crummitt had never done it before, but she reached out to a friend who had. Now, a year later, Picture Perfect LLC has spawned an entirely new company, Picture Perfect Virtual Stagings.
“It’s more than just my local Picture Perfect clients because everybody is doing it now,” she said. “It’s more cost-effective. They can stage four or five rooms, and it’s a couple hundred [dollars] versus a couple thousand for bringing in a real estate stager.”
Virtual stagers do the job of professional stagers from their computer. Instead of a staging team coming in and physically putting furniture in a house, virtual stagers edit photos to insert new furniture or take old furniture out. Thanks to the power of Photoshop, they often don’t empty some of the properties before taking the photos.
Virtual staging caught steam during the pandemic when sellers were hesitant to let stagers in and out of their house, and stagers were reluctant to rent out their furniture. And because so many people were shopping for houses online rather than going to open houses, sellers didn’t necessarily have to stage their homes.
But a year later, when open houses are beginning to return, it’s still a popular option. Crummitt thinks virtual staging is the wave of the future.
“I think agents have realized they can present the property much cheaper and without a lot of hassle,” she said. “... There’s no need to really bring in their staging furniture and then have to de-stage the house when you can just do it virtually.”
Chris Reeder, owner of Team Reeder at Long & Foster Real Estate in Frederick, said she’s been using virtual staging a lot during the pandemic. For example, one house she recently listed in Middletown was furnished entirely except for one bedroom. She hired Crummitt to virtually stage the last room so it wouldn’t stand out from the listing’s other pictures. She said the seller was shocked by the results.
With the market still leaning to the side of the seller, Reeder jokingly said she could “sell an outhouse for $100,000” with multiple offers. So the cost of traditional staging, which often runs a couple of thousand dollars, wouldn’t be worth it for houses that will sell quickly regardless.
Peter Murray, owner of Murray & Co. Real Estate, said the price comparison is one of the most attractive parts of virtual staging.
“It’s expensive up front because you have to pay an editor to edit the pictures, but you don’t have to rent the furniture,” Murray said. “And the furniture rentals are where the real staging gets very expensive.”
During the era of online home shopping, complete with 3D walkthrough tours, Crummitt, Reeder and Murray all agree that listing photos are important. They’re the first impression buyers get and can help them decide which houses they want to see in person.
“So if there’s five open houses, and they can only make it to three, they’re going to go look at the ones that they think look the best,” Reeder said. “If it’s four walls and an empty room, versus a house that has virtual staging, I think they’re going to go to the virtually staged one.”
Crummitt agrees, despite the current seller’s market.
“I know things are selling really quickly but the vast, vast majority of my agents still do professional photos with all of their listings,” she said. “Because they feel like it’s really important to do, to still provide that service to the sellers and to give the property as much attention as they can get it.”
While Picture Perfect’s clients are mainly in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Crummitt has gained clients from all over the country. She and her designers never have to see a house they virtually design in person. Picture Perfect also offers virtual renovation, allowing buyers to see what houses or commercial properties may look like after some updates.
Reeder said that virtual renovation is beneficial for houses that might need more work done. After using virtual renovation, though, Picture Perfect must disclose that they have edited the photos as not to misrepresent the home.
“A lot of [sellers] print the pictures out and put them in the room just to give the prospective buyers an idea of how to reimagine the space; that’s really what that’s for,” Crummitt said.
Reeder said she has seen many open houses in recent weeks as COVID-19 cases drop and more people are vaccinated. But she still doubts she’ll see many fully staged homes.
“It’s not nearly as important that real furniture be in a house, as long as people can see online what it would look like with furnishing,” she said. “That’s really all we need in this market.”