When online media professional Ross Killeen was putting his Greystones apartment on the market last year for around €300,000, he was confident he could stage the former rental property himself to drum up more interest from buyers.
After all, he had worked in the sector for 20 years, starting out as a lettings and property management agent before combining his passion for property with his photography skills at MediaPro, the real estate photography and video company he runs.
"I gave the apartment a paint job but the furniture let it down," Killeen says. "I got a quote of €6,000 from a home-staging company. Instead I went to Ikea and spent €2,000 on bits and pieces so I could stage it myself. But it made me think that there had to be a better way. I realised you could spend just a couple of hundred euros on virtually staging a property instead of a couple of thousand on staging it with real furniture."
Starting this year, MediaPro began offering virtual staging to estate agencies. The technology presents visually-driven online house-hunters with a furnished version of an empty property, giving them a sense of how the home is laid out and what furniture will fit where.
Killeen's timing couldn't have been better: when construction work, home-staging and viewings ceased after the Covid-19 lockdown in March, the concept of virtual staging - more common in the UK, Australia and the US - truly came into its own in Ireland. With the public prevented from viewing properties in person, the technology became another marketing tool for estate agents and vendors, along with 3D virtual tours and virtual viewings.
Computer-generated images have been used for years to sell new homes selling off the plans - occasionally with unflattering results - and architects and interior designers use digital models to give clients an idea of the finished product.
But the technology behind virtual staging has recently come on in leaps and bounds, and with the best images, the untrained eye can barely differentiate between virtual and real-life furniture and home accessories.
This is the case for the imagery of 8 The Avenue, a five/six-bed semi-detached home that has just gone on the market at Marianella, an upmarket development of houses and apartments in Rathgar, Dublin 6. As well as taking photos of the entire empty house, which are also displayed in the online listing, Killeen overlaid eight photos of the rooms with images of items such as furniture, pictures, lamps, plants and rugs.
No 8 The Avenue, which is selling for €1.55m, is a three-storey red-brick home with 2,735 sq ft of living space. It was built by Cairn Homes and belongs to an 8.1-acre complex off the Orwell Road that was once home to a Redemptorist monastery. Cairn also built a residents' clubhouse, complete with a gym, a lounge and a cinema room.
Off No 8 The Avenue's entrance hall, there is a living room that Killeen virtually staged with some mid-century style pieces, such as a mustard chair and sideboard, as well as a contemporary L-shaped couch and a wall-mounted TV over the real-life gas fire inset. Pocket doors lead to the rear open-plan kitchen/dining room, which is being sold with a sleek feature island with a stone countertop and handle-less Leicht kitchen units from McNally Kitchens.
Beside the floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors that open onto the landscaped patio and garden, Killeen added a white contemporary dining table with six chairs.
Because the buyer has the option to turn the sixth bedroom on the first floor into a second reception room, Killeen styled the space as a cosy, informal lounge with a media wall. In the study, he added a desk and hexagon-shaped shelves to the wall. The master suite is also located on this level and comes with a walk-in wardrobe. On the second floor, there are four more bedrooms and a family bathroom.
Another property which was virtually staged by Killeen is 29 Leinster Street East on Dublin's North Strand, which got a complete digital interior fitout. The three-bed went up for sale at the end of March for €355,000. Indeed, it is at this price point that virtual staging makes financial sense, according to Killeen and Lesley-Ann Devins, the Sherry FitzGerald agent selling 8 The Avenue.
Prices for MediaPro's services start at €250 for four photos, compared to about €5,000 for the home staging of a three-bed semi, which includes the cost of renting furniture and fixtures throughout a viewing period.
Devins says: "We've been quoted €10,000 for home-staging some houses. They do look fantastic but it's only doable if you have that kind of money to spend and lots of people don't.
"Some people who are selling a three-bed semi on behalf of a relation who has passed away would usually sell it as it is. But you might be able to tap into a client and show them the benefits of virtually staging it."
It is a fact of estate agency that empty homes are more difficult to sell in Ireland. Buyers like to imagine a property as a place to live and when they are devoid of furniture, they can appear soulless.
While a virtual staging obviously doesn't change the fact that the house is empty, it does give buyers an idea what it would look like as a furnished home.
Indeed a home that has been dressed with the right furnishings can sell up to three times faster than a vacant home, according to a survey last year by the Home Staging Association UK & Ireland, while the National Association of Realtors in the US estimated that a staged home can fetch as much as 20pc more than an empty house.
Devins says it is "near impossible to quantify" whether a virtual staging can increase a selling price the same way a physical staging can.
But by giving prospective buyers great virtual images, it makes sense that the property would garner more attention online.
"If you open up a house to a wider market, you are giving yourself the potential to attract more interested parties," Devins says. "Therefore, the property becomes more saleable and there's an opportunity to maximise the price."
The house at 8 The Avenue at Marianella is selling for €1.55m through Sherry FitzGerald (01) 496 9909. Viewings are by appointment.
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