Virtual Staging – Is it legal?
When something is legal, it means it is permitted by law. It can also mean that there are no laws governing the behavior, and so the behavior is not illegal or prohibited by law, meaning it is permissible.
All the legal jargon aside, there are no laws prohibiting the use of virtual staging at the present time in the United States. However, there are various trade associations, such as the National Association of Realtors®, which have incorporated various guidelines for the use of virtual staging which their members agree to when they join.
Ethical Considerations for Virtual Staging
The various state real estate licensing organizations have agreed that (a) virtual staging advertising is not deceptive, and (b) the advertising must clearly state that the photos have been altered. This is covered under the category of Ethics, and most states’ real estate license regulations spell this out.
A licensed agent can be disciplined by a state real estate commission for “pursuing a course of misrepresentation… through agents, advertising, or otherwise.” Realtors® must “be honest and truthful in their real estate communications” and “provide a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations,” according to states’ Codes of Ethics that govern real estate agents.
Every local licensing board of directors has its own set of rules. Professional real estate agents should check with their local association of realtors to ensure they are not violating any association guide to virtual staging or other legal issues.
One could argue that all virtual staging does not give a “genuine picture” of a listed property. Virtual staging, on the other hand, that depicts furniture that is not actually there in a property, does not in any way mislead the home itself. It just demonstrates the options available to potential purchasers. That’s not the same as listing a home that’s in bad shape and digitally staging it to make it look like it’s in good shape. This kind of virtual staging would be prohibited. Similarly, photoshopping out flaws or “eyesores” that occur inside or outside the home would be inappropriate.
Virtual staging real estate agents should make it clear that some images have been edited to portray furniture or other interior decorating aspects that do not exist in the home. An agent should not, for example, show a different paint color in the residence without making a clear and prominent disclosure of that fact. Virtual staging disclosures should be provided in the public notes area of every MLS listing. Visitors to the home will have no reason to be angry if the interior decoration in the home differs from what is shown in your advertising if adequate disclosure is made.
If you are a homeowner and listing your own property online, it is best to follow these ethical guidelines if you are virtually staging your home for your web listing. If you have questions, consult a real estate legal professional to be safe.
Virtual Staging vs Virtual Reconstruction/Renovation
Virtual staging uses photos of existing rooms in a home and digitally furnishes each room to illustrate function, furniture placement and traffic flow as if the room was furnished in reality. Virtual reconstruction or renovation redesigns the floors, walls, ceilings, and built in features to improve the visual appeal of the space without actually doing the suggested remodeling. The principle difference is that potential buyers aren’t buying furniture, so those digital furnishings don’t affect the price or value of the property.
Virtual staging is permissible in real estate photos as long as the photos are clearly marked that they have been virtually staged. When selling a home, virtual reconstruction is misleading to listing viewers because it gives the impression that the improvements have been made and contribute to the value of the home. Virtual reconstruction has no value to a potential buyer. Since buyers are buying space and virtual renovation has manipulated that space and the home’s assets that make up the space, it is not an honest and ethical practice.
There is usually some confusion when a buyer sees a builders’ virtual renderings of a proposed construction home on a listing. Many times the builder will include upgrades in the images (fixtures, finishes, features) chosen by interior designers that are not included in the quoted price of the home. Ethically, these upgrades should be noted as such in the listing. For example, showing a masonry brick fireplace in a virtual rendering which is not included in the “base price” of the home is misleading and misrepresents the value that the potential home buyer would receive.
Virtual Staging Disclosures
To avoid any misinterpretation to potential buyers, it is advised that all photographs of staged empty spaces be clearly marked on the photo that they are virtually staged. Many online listings will have both the empty room and the staged room available for potential buyers to view, further reinforcing the fact that the room has been virtually staged. You want to avoid real estate lawsuits at all costs. So be very clear with a staged photo.
Most buyers have a hard time envisioning their furnishings in an empty room. They also have a hard time picturing how they will use a space if the purpose of the room is not clearly defined. That’s what virtual staging accomplishes if physical traditional staging is not done. The amount of time you have and your budget will dictate which option, virtual staging or physically stage, you should choose. Both are ethical and legal if done correctly.
Ethical Mistakes to Avoid When Virtual Home Staging
1. Limit virtual staging to furniture and décor only. Do not attempt to “fix” any home defects in the staged image.
2. Do not change the floor plan in any way from the original empty houses’ room photos.
3. Don’t forget to make the virtual staged photos available in the empty room or vacant home. It will help the buyer reconnect their thoughts to the room they made an emotional connection with online in the listing photos.
4. Make sure all staged photos are marked clearly.
5. Consult with an attorney if you are unsure about real estate legal issues which may pertain to your staged homes.