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Freeland, WA-based Barbara Moran founded a virtual staging company, Virtual Staging, virtually by accident.

Virtual staging typically includes online photos, videos and other images of a home for sale, but can include any marketing images of the listing and the text that goes with it.

Not long ago, Moran, by trade, an online content expert and author of "Crafting Multimedia Text: Websites and Presentations", was watching a friend browsing for housing.

"My friend would click through various slide shows for listings and if she saw one slide she didn't like, she'd leave the listing entirely. I wondered how many other potential homebuyers made major decisions about contacting a real estate professional based on the quality of the online slide show and its descriptive text," Moran said.

Apparently, quite a few.

In several informal focus groups, Moran asked participants to pretend to look for their dream home. They repeatedly passed on listings based entirely on one bad photo or on boring text in an online listing.

"That's when I thought I might be helpful," said Moran realizing many of the principles she covers in her book are unknown to most real estate professionals.

Virtual Staging was born to teach real estate agents what she and good Web designers already know: content -- good, eye-catching and revealing content -- remains king.

"I was shocked at how easy it was to find truly bad examples," she said.

Her website contains digital photo examples of the good, the bad and the very ugly including:

  • A gloomy photo of a home's lake view by day, turned brilliant when photographed at sunset.
  • A photo of a cluttered kitchen with refrigerator magnets as the focal point is compared to another kitchen, this one, uncluttered, well lit and inviting.
  • A photo that shows nothing but white walls, a closet and a door. Doh!
  • Out of focus, too dark and too light photos that are hard on the eyes.

Moran offers five free evaluations. She will examine any existing or upcoming listing, email the listing agent an evaluation of the photos and written content, and offer suggestions to punch up the marketing.

Subsequent evaluations are $50 per listings with discounts for 100 or more evaluations.

She also offers year-long exclusive contracts to give agents willing to pay the fee a competitive edge. Only one agent in a defined market area is entitled to purchase an exclusive territorial contract.

Current clients without territorial contracts say Moran has helped them boost their sales so well they fear giving up their competitive edge in the current market and refused to go on the record and give away their location.

Moran also offers tips to those engaging in virtual staging.

  • Consider security. Keep photos and expensive possessions out of the pictures.
  • Don't doctor photos. Don't use image editing software to remove cracks from the wall, stains from the rug or kid's drawings on the wall. Fix the problem. Then photograph it. Use image editing to enhance photo quality, not content.
  • Don't use verbiage. Don't be vague. Learn to spell. Use a spell checker. Get a writer or an editor. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes reduce credibility.
  • Don't make visitors sign in. Focus groups reveal people treat "sign-in required" websites like the plague.

    "If visitors see a listing they like, make it easy for them to find you, but let them browse around first without demanding personal information," Moran said.

  • Avoid mystery room photos. Online visitors want to recognize what each photo represents. Include living rooms, bedrooms, baths, kitchens, and other readily identifiable spaces.
  • Freshen stale photos. If your listing has languished, reshoot before you lower the price. New images and rewritten text may be all you need.
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