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What to make of virtually staged listings

Out of sheer nosiness, I’ll occasionally look at listings in our building. One floored me: I had no idea our neighbors were so chic! Then I clicked the next photo and saw reality: a vacant unit with rusty radiators and peeling paint. It was virtually staged — digitally repaired and repainted, with new lighting, furniture and art added to the photos.

Welcome to the brave new world of virtual staging: no matter how terrible a place looks in person, it can be magically transformed for the Internet — with the help of a little computer-generated imaging.

It’s often hard to tell actual from imaginary space. Architects have always produced renderings, and agents stage with rented furnishings, but now it’s commonplace to do it all on the computer.

Scott Harris of Brown Harris Stevens likes it.

“Virtual staging is really helpful to give buyers a glimpse of the future,” he said. “New floors, new kitchens appear magically — all without a seller having to commit to doing that work before selling. Buyers often can’t see themselves in an unrenovated space. They need help with the vision part.”

Unlike some agents, Harris shows the unvarnished floors, too.

“We always show the actual condition,” he explained. “It’s important not to create a feeling of disappointment when buyers arrive. Our relationships with agents and buyers are built on trust and I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone. There are many opportunities for agents to grow buyers’ trust, and many ways to erode it. I wish all agents took the longer view, which requires truth in advertising.”

Here are four listings — three staged virtually, and one decidedly not

A one-bedroom at 167 Perry St. as it actually exists, above.

A one-bedroom at 167 Perry St. as it actually exists, above.

The same Perry St. apartment “virtually staged” with furnishings added via computer imaging.

The same Perry St. apartment “virtually staged” with furnishings added via computer imaging.

A one-bedroom, one-bath in a doorman co-op at 167 Perry St., with river views, a wood-burning fireplace and a small balcony is on the market for $1,399,000.

https://www.bhsusa.com/manhattan/downtown/167-perry-street-3n/coop/19267685

Virtual furnishings lend a hip feeling to this Hudson St. pad.

Virtual furnishings lend a hip feeling to this Hudson St. pad.

In far west Soho, a one-bedroom, one-bath with high ceilings and huge windows at 255 Hudson St. is for sale for $1,175,000.
https://www.bhsusa.com/manhattan/downtown/255-hudson-street-5f/condo/19401875

Festival virtual furnishings enliven this Upper East Side offering.

Festival virtual furnishings enliven this Upper East Side offering.

In Carnegie Hill, a two-bedroom, one-bath in a doorman building has a serene bedroom sporting the kind of complicated bed linens you rarely see in real life. $999,999.
https://streeteasy.com/building/60-east-96-street-new_york/6c

The real McCoy: The photo of this E. 50s flat features the actual furnishings.

The real McCoy: The photo of this E. 50s flat features the actual furnishings.

Nothing virtual about 434 E. 52nd St., a two-bedroom, two-bath with yards of built-in bookshelves, 13-foot ceilings, and a wood-burning fireplace, going for $1,695,000.
https://streeteasy.com/building/434-east-52-street-new_york/4e

BY MARTHA WILKIE

Select agents offering 3D views

Craig Neil

Craig Neil

Real-estate marketing continues to evolve exponentially. For decades, agents looking to advertise homes for sale had one option, besides planting signs in front yards: the print media. Then, in the mid-1990s, the advent of the internet shook the status quo. But that only offered a wider, and cheaper, exposure for Realtors’ still photographs. It took almost another two decades for dramatic advances to appear. Now Realtors are expanding their presentations with drone photography, virtual staging, and 3D tours.

The best 3D tours are a real step up from the “virtual tours” that appeared a few years ago. Those either seem stilted or tacky in comparison to the 3D tour, and sometimes turn out to be simply slide shows with music. The more naturalistic 3D tour allows you to move around in the room, and among the rooms, and zoom in to inspect details.

You either navigate with the computer mouse or arrow keys, or your finger with touch screens. Moving through a property on the smartphone can be more fun than on the computer, although you’re limited by the smaller screen size.

For a more immersive experience, you can get a pair of Google Cardboard goggles for $10 and view these house galleries in a realistic dimensionality.

All of these options are available for a few home listings at homesantafe.com, the website of Realtor Paul McDonald (Sotheby’s International Realty). “I do think there is an issue with the users’ familiarity with technology and their desire to do something like this, so it would seem to me to appeal to the younger of mind,” he said. “It’s pretty rare that someone has said they want to buy a house as a result of just seeing the 3D tour. Like other technologies that are tiptoeing in these waters, it’s more about the selection process.

“I think like any technology it’s kind of clunky at first; whether it ever gets to critical mass I don’t know. I have a good friend in business who said, ‘The problem with your industry is the delivery of your product: you have to get in your car and go out and see it.’ This gets us one step closer.”

McDonald has his own Matterport 3D camera. The Matterport has nine lenses: three down, three straight ahead, and three up. The photographer attaches it precisely level on a tripod, then makes a series of exposures in a circle, repeating the process at 30 or 40 locations in the house. When you later view the 3D imaging, there is a circular figure at each location and you can progress from one to the next to move wherever you want in the home.

The Realtor has heard that Zillow is testing a similar technology that would allow the average real-estate agent to assemble a dimensional home tour using an iPhone. “The other part of this technology is looking at it in terms of the three mantras of business — faster, better and cheaper — and if the Zillow model works, you don’t have to go buy a Matterport camera [for about $3,000] and it doesn’t take you a couple hours to do a house.”

The Matterport facility also offers viewers another perspective, focusing on the plan view, looking down on the room layout from above.

Check out the Tesuque Creek property listed on McDonald’s website and you see an example of virtual staging. “This is another technical aspect of marketing a home that’s not real, if you will. They take a CAD drawing, they select things they want to dress it up with [furniture, rugs, paintings on the walls], and then send it ovenight to India, using massive computing power, and when it comes back... you’re not going to believe it’s not really staged when you look at the image.

“I feel like these two technologies are competing in this arena. We see this virtual staging assisting new-construction projects. I’ve used it on a home that was empty and I wanted to get going on the marketing. I think these are both tools that we didn’t have a couple of years ago that are going to be with us forever.”

Another Realtor using the Matterport system is Craig Neil with Keller Williams Santa Fe Realty. He said the resolution of the Matterport pictures has improved to the point that the agent can often use captures from a 3D tour of a house for websites and even brochures. “You’re saving money because you don’t have to do both 3D and regular photography.”

Neil and his business partner Sarah Said own their own camera. “Sarah has been a Realtor for more than two decades but I’ve just been in real estate for two years,” he said. “I come from the tech side; I worked for Apple for three years and I worked with Google doing Google ‘business view’ shooting, which is linked to Google Street View. I used my Nikon D7000 with a wide-angle lens and I’d take three different exposures at four angles of a circle, then composite those 12 images together to make a circle and then connect them to other circles.”

Neil said he agrees with McDonald that the 3D technology appeals more to a younger audience. “I would guess 5 to 10 percent of people use this.

“The two things I think are of the most benefit to me as a Realtor is that for people from out of town who have seen the 3D tours, they’ve already walked through the houses and they know which properties they want to see. And most important, if they were here and walked through the actual house and later they can’t recall where the kitchen was. They contact me and I give them the link and they just go online and they can see it all.

“The market is so competitive right now that people want to get a head start. They see the listing come up and say, ‘We’re thinking of coming to Santa Fe in three weeks,’ and I have to tell them, ‘Well, that house is going to be gone in three days.’”

By Paul Weideman