As Lenore Spinelli explains it, it's just a piece of the business plan she's been working on for the past 18 months, in the aftermath of the real estate downturn.

As Lenore Spinelli explains it, it’s just a piece of the business plan she’s been working on for the past 18 months, in the aftermath of the real estate downturn.

“Everyone in the industry is trying to reinvent themselves to get people’s attention,” said Spinelli, an interior designer whose plan is called “smooth transition” — a list of services to get people from one house to the next smoothly, whether they’re corporate relocations or aging longtime homeowners trading down or out.

The owner of Lenore Frances Interiors in Mount Laurel, N.J., who said she has been “on my own” since 1998, emphasizes at the start that her “stressless-move concierge” plan is from Gail Doby of Design Success University in Colorado, tailored to the her local market.

There are a lot of pieces to smooth transition — and “I think that what I’m offering to real estate agents was perhaps a bit overwhelming,” she said.

Fees range from $250 to several thousand dollars.

But one aspect has sort of caught on, and for a variety of reasons, it’s the most important related to price drops and equity losses when the housing bubble burst:

Virtual staging.

There’s plenty of evidence from real estate agents that houses with furniture and decor tastefully executed by professional stagers attract more prospective buyers than empty ones do.

Spinelli agrees, but added that she is not a “physical stager,” and that she uses professionals — “the right people with the right talents” — for that in her business.

With virtual staging, Spinelli said, she visits an empty house or one that’s in need of updating, draws on her designer talents to capture the most important rooms photographically, then stages them digitally.

“If the house is in need of work, what I try to show is what it would look like with the necessary improvements, because it is very difficult for most people to visualize,” she said.

One reality of selling in the digital age is that a large percentage of buyers sit at computers, sifting through hundreds of listings, to cut physical visits to a reasonable number.

Another reality, as agent Nancy Schumacher of Re/Max Power Central in Medford, N.J., notes, is that staging costs can be very expensive the longer a house remains on the market.

“Not staging an empty house makes it look cold and less inviting, but not everyone in today’s market can afford the cost of doing so, especially when you add in the monthly expense of furniture rental,” said Schumacher, who has been using Spinelli’s virtual efforts for one of her listings, a $500,000 house owned by a couple who moved to North Carolina and left it empty.

“It is the electronic version of curb appeal,” Schumacher said, adding that activity picked up in the first three weeks of the virtual staging.

The cost is $198 an image, which comes with an unlimited licensing fee for use in brochures. On the Multiple Listing Service, the house must be identified as digitally staged.

And when prospective buyers make a real visit?

“Lenore gives you 8-by-10s you put in each staged room, so they don’t have to remember what it looked like,” Schumacher said.


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