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Virtual staging can make houses look too good to be true

Kenneth R. Harney on

Real estate staging professionals also are concerned by growing complaints about digital misbehavior. Jay Bell -- co-owner of a company in Atlanta that offers both traditional, physical staging and virtual staging -- says that digital cover-ups of flaws in properties, including changing wall colors and installing make-believe moulding, are all out of bounds ethically.

"It's a slippery slope," he said in an interview. His VirtuallyStagingProperties.com site prohibits alterations of listing photographs in any way that differs from Bell's physical staging activities, which primarily involve changes to furnishing and decor.

"People ask for this stuff all the time," he said, "and we'd love the business." But he says his company refuses to digitally repair or renovate rooms depicted in photos submitted. Bell's company also requires clients to inform shoppers and visitors online that the interior photos have been virtually staged.

Though the National Association of Realtors has not issued specific guidance to its 1.2 million members on virtual staging, Bruce Aydt, past chairman of the group's professional standards committee and senior vice president and general counsel of the Prudential Alliance brokerage [now Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Alliance] in St. Louis, told me it's all about "truthfulness."

Putting aside the changes to furnishings, "is the representation of the property what it actually looks like" in reality? Equally important, said Aydt, are there clear disclosures that photos have been manipulated digitally?

If not, he said, then it's likely they violate Article 12 of the Realtors' code of ethics, which requires agents and brokers to "present a true picture in their advertising, marketing and other representations."

Bottom line: Though most online photos have not been digitally altered, be aware that some may be. It doesn't hurt to ask before you visit.

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Ken Harney's email address is kenharney@earthlink.net.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group


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