Realtors have new staging tool for selling vacant homes

Courtesy Virtually Staging Properties

What’s a cheap way for a realtor to market an empty house? Show what’s like furnished ...without any actual furnishings.

Cheryl Campbell, an associate broker with Prudential Jack White Vista in Wasilla, is one of only a handful of realtors in the state to try a new patent-pending digital media tool called virtual staging. The realtor uses this device to digitally add furniture to online images of empty properties.

Jay Bell of Virtually Staging Properties, which is based in Atlanta, Ga., said this is a less expansive way to make properties more appealing to buyers.

Bell said that staging an Atlanta home the normal way with actual furniture can normally range anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000. He said doing it virtually brings that price tag down to the $225 to $325 range. He said in larger market, using actual furniture can sometimes cost as much as $10,000.

“It’s a lot of the same benefits for a fraction of the cost,” Bell said.

Campbell is a big fan of saving that money. Besides the savings, she said it helps with buyers because they can see what these places look like as livable rooms and can better visualize their own furniture in there.

“It’s been a great marketing tool. I do think that it attracts more potential buyers to look at the home,” she said.

Campbell said it’s also given her listings more online traffic and generated more calls.

Online realty in general is quickly becoming the norm. Campbell has been a realtor for 24 years and has watched the technology change the way she does business. Physical photos and flyers used to be enough. She said now the Internet is the first tool a buyer turns to. Buyers look online themselves even before calling a realtor. Campbell said this means a “stellar” online presence is becoming more and more necessary in this business.

“With technology, it’s turned 180 degrees since I started,” she said.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 92 percent of first-time homebuyers and 86 percent of repeat buyers start their searches online.

When only looking for information without buying, most also turn to the Internet for that information before asking realtors, banks or friends.

“So it looks like in general, that’s where people go first,” said Brenda Miernyk, area manager of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

Bell said at least 90 percent of homeowners claim to view homes online before arriving in person, and most of them say it’s the photos that help them decide on the house. He said this is what led to the inspiration for Virtually Staging Properties in the first place.

Among the biggest groups who influence real estates trends are between ages 21 and 31, known as the millennial group. Miernyk said this generation is bigger than the baby boomers and so its preferences play a lot into real estate trends. She said traditional realtors have had to change their thinking a bit because this generation is so digital-savvy.

Miernyk said that nationally, 70 percent of the millennial group looks online first. Wells Fargo didn’t have statistics specific to Alaska, but Miernyk suspects it could be just a little bit lower here.

As far as social media, Miernyk said many realtors here have gotten into Facebook and creating brand pages for their listings. Twitter use is a bit slower locally but is picking up in popularity for listings.

Campbell uses Facebook for listings. She’s also started with other websites like LinkedIn but says Facebook has been the biggest one for realtors to get their business out there.

Wells Fargo recently held a “CineMeeting” for realtors, which involved video of national experts in the field. A big focus at the Anchorage presentation in June was the importance having an online and social media presence.

Campbell also said pictures must be perfect online. This is something else that led her to explore more digital tools for her business.

“The first thing they’re looking for is location and price range, but the pictures have to stand out and beat the competition and that’s what virtual staging does,” she said.


Jonathan Grass can be reached at [email protected].

07/19/2012 - 8:29pm