While the old adage says that real estate is all about ‘location, location, location,’ marketing is all about being in front of the customer. That’s an important factor in marketing co-op and condo apartments that was essentially vaporized by the COVID pandemic. Units were available for sale, but the traditional method of showing a property to let a prospective buyer look around, ‘kick the tires,’ and get a real sense of the place was not possible for many months. On-site, in-person showings were simply verboten.
The Virtual Alternative
Online listings have contained photos, floorplans, and even videos for years. For many buyers, they’re the first contact they have with potential property purchases. Online portals connect the potential buyer to a broker, who arranges a physical encounter with the property for the interested party.
Virtual staging services take this interface between the real and the imagined one step further. Peter Schravemade, global director of sales, marketing, and revenue for BoxBrownie.com, defines virtual staging as “the art of digitally placing furniture into a vacant listing,” and says that “The service can be used for rentals or sales of apartments. The virtual listing has a 360-degree picture to which we add virtual furniture. It better demonstrates to the purchaser what the space actually does. How a room can be viewed for different uses, say as a living room versus a bedroom. Agents understand space immediately when they view a floor plan - that’s how they are trained and that’s their experience. Purchasers on the other hand may look at vacant spaces and not necessarily see the same thing. Virtual staging takes away that opaqueness. It also demonstrates how a space might be used, without needing an agent physically present to suggest to potential purchasers what the potential functions of a room might be.”
Virtual staging was used before the pandemic, explains Schravemade, but COVID accelerated the practice sharply. “From April to May 2020, we grew our virtual staging user base by 7,000 users each month - mostly people who never used it before,” he says. “They had used physical staging, but not virtual. And since physical staging was ruled out by many government entities during the pandemic, there could be no visiting apartments. But once you become used to it, virtual staging becomes a part of how you market property. We have actually discovered that some agents find virtual staging highly addictive. Those users who joined during that two-month period haven’t left. Some return to physical staging and use it in tandem with virtual.”
Another big perk of virtual staging for agents is that it can short-circuit what is often a very uncomfortable moment for sellers, agents, and even buyers. That’s the moment when the agent must explain to the seller that they need to strip all of their personal taste and aesthetic out of the living space in order to attract buyers. This ‘clean-up’ can extend to everything from clutter to out-of-style furniture, to walls in need of a new paint job.