How Virtual Renovation Photos Help Home Buyers Dream Big—and Sellers Score Top Dollar

Home sellers know that quality photographs are essential to generating buzz about their listing and quickly nabbing a buyer. That means including pictures of well-staged rooms in tiptop shape that show off the house’s best assets. But for folks selling a fixer-upper, coming up with enticing listing photos of a house that’s in desperate need of TLC is a much bigger challenge.

Because of that, sellers have taken to a new trend: including virtual renovation photos in their listing slideshow. These not-quite-real shots are meant to show the house’s potential. All that’s needed is a buyer with a renovation budget to bring it to life.

But just how effective are virtual renovation pictures when it comes to selling? We did a real-life deep dive into the unreal to see if inserting room mock-ups can work to a home seller’s advantage. Here’s what sellers—and buyers—need to know.

What are virtual renovation photos?

Virtual renovation photos take the concept of virtual staging a step further.

“A photographer will shoot from specific angles from outside and inside the home, and a virtual artist will create renderings that show the home’s potential,” says Christopher Totaro of New York’s Warburg Realty.

These renderings can show an elegantly decorated living room or a decked-out chef’s kitchen.

Totaro has several listings that use the virtual renovations, including a loft in the Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca. The images emphasized the unit’s potential with renderings that showed what it would look like with the walls taken out.

What are the most common virtual fixes?

“Remodeling kitchens and bathrooms are likely the most common, since those are big hot buttons for buyers,” says Phoenix-based HomeSmart agent Kellie Parten. “And it’s sometimes difficult to imagine the face-lift that a new kitchen or bathroom can give a space without ‘seeing’ it. Virtual renovation photos help a buyer to see a new possibility.”

Domingo Perez Jr. of Warburg Realty virtually renovated the dated blue-tiled bathrooms and flamingo-etched shower doors in a Brooklyn brownstone. And he virtually removed a wall between the living room and the 1950s kitchen with formica tops to turn it into an open-concept space with an expanse of windows overlooking the garden.

Are virtual renovation photos an effective tool to help sell homes?

All signs point to yes. After all, home staging is popular—and successful—because buyers often have a difficult time imagining what a space might look like if it is empty or if the furniture is unattractive. And virtual renovation takes the guesswork out of homes that need really big leaps of imagination.

For example, Perez took over the sale of an apartment that had been on the market for eight months.

“My pitch to the seller was all about how I was going to reintroduce a totally reimagined space,” says Perez. He put the property back on the market—with virtual renovation photos—and had an all-cash offer in 53 days.

Perez also had two offers on the Brooklyn brownstone with virtual renovation photos by the end of his only open house.

“Do I think virtually staging and renovating had anything to do with it? Absolutely!” says Perez.

And instead of just using the idealized renderings in the online listing, he enlarged them for posters he placed on easels at the open house. That way, when prospective buyers walked into a room or floor, they were greeted with a completely reimagined—and totally feasible—version of the space.

If you decide to include virtual renovation photos

To make sure you don’t mislead buyers, virtual renovation photos—as well as the current condition of the home—should be disclosed in the listing.

Totaro has a listing of a SoHo loft that has the potential for an extra bathroom, so he’s commissioning a virtual rendering that depicts what it could look like.

“It’s important to clarify that a bathroom is a guaranteed option,” says Totaro. “It’s a ‘what-if.’ We also make it very clear that an architect needs to be consulted and the board would need to approve the plans.”

What’s next in virtual technology?

Parten recently held a brokers’ open house for a property that was “remodeled” using virtual reality. As they walked around the actual property, the visitors were able to use virtual reality headsets to see a virtually renovated space.

“It was great to hear everyone’s reaction when they first saw the house through the headsets,” says Parten. “People were reaching out to touch the updates.”

VR tours would not only benefit buyers in the immediate area—this type of technology could also give out-of-town buyers the type of intimate feel for the home that photos could never provide.