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When buyers and sellers first encounter virtual staging they’re simply amazed by the transformations of rooms and spaces. In virtual staging, everything is made to look perfect — down to the smallest detail.

However, when using this powerful marketing tool, you want follow MLS rules for virtually staged photos.

Some people ask, “Is virtual staging legal?” “Is this ethical?” “Will buyers visiting the property, feel deceived and be angry?” 

These are excellent questions. After all, angry buyers don’t write good offers.

So in this post, we’re going to answer the question, “Is virtual staging legal?” And we’ll also learn common MLS rules for virtually staged photos.

The Proper Purpose of Virtual Staging

The right reason to use virtual staging is to show a home at its best while also demonstrating its full potential. 

In virtual staging, cutting-edge photo editing techniques are used to:

  • Make empty rooms look more inviting
  • Help the buyer imagine updates and remodeling options
  • Present the buyer with design and decorating possibilities

Therefore, the purpose of virtual staging isn’t to mislead or trick buyers. 

So far, so good.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the legality of virtual staging and how to make sure your following MLS rules for virtually staged photos.

How to Ensure You’re Following MLS Rules for Virtually Staged Photos (5 Tips)

Unfortunately, virtual staging, when done improperly can mislead potential buyers and lead to frustration and anger – therefore it’s important to know how to use it correctly.

1. Avoiding This Scenario 

Person feeling tricked

First, you want to make sure you avoid this or similar scenarios.

Imagine seeing a spectacular, well-appointed listing online, decorated perfectly — only to arrive at your showing to find an empty, dull home instead. There was no mention of virtual staging.

In such a situation, you would likely feel tricked and you certainly wouldn’t be happy about it.

Now, instead of the above scenario, let’s learn how to use virtual staging confidently, following the rules to be MLS-compliant, and not accidentally misleading anyone. 

2. Clearly Mark Each Virtually Staged Photo

MLS-compliant virtual staging

Any virtually staged photo added to the MLS or used for any other marketing purposes should be clearly labeled as “virtually staged.” 

Keep in mind, that while most multiple listing services allow agents to add property photos with marks on them, some do not. 

Therefore, prior to posting labeled photos, check with your local MLS to ensure doing so is in compliance with its policies. If you can’t mark the photos, you can try:

  • Disclosing that the photos used are virtually staged somewhere in your marketing copy
  • Checking to see if your MLS has captioning ability beneath each photo
  • Mentioning your use of virtual staging in all your marketing materials

Here’s an example  of a disclaimer you can add to your listing description:

“Some images have been virtually staged to better showcase the true potential of rooms and spaces in the home.”

Disclosing the use of virtual staging is the most honest and transparent way to present your photos and to keep you compliant with MLS rules.

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3. Display “Before & After” Photos

Another common MLS rule for virtually staged photos is to include the before and after photos in the listing and marketing materials. This prevents potential buyers from feeling deceived when they see the home in person. 

Here are some display ideas:

  • Use a sliding reveal bar to showcase before and after changes — if your MLS is capable of displaying them
  • Make sure each photo is ordered with the proper before photo first, followed by the correct after image
  • Explore other professional photo editing techniques to powerfully display your before and after images

Professionally edited before and after photos can be extremely effective at showing a home’s potential — and also guarantee that you’re being upfront and transparent with potential buyers. 

4. Disclose Virtual Renovations & Updates

Virtual staging typically adds furniture and decor items to photos of empty spaces. Yet virtual staging is sometimes used to make extensive remodeling and online repairs.

For example, virtual staging can be used to:

  • Change wall colors 
  • Make repairs to damaged surfaces
  • Add new flooring or tile
  • Include extra windows or fixtures like fireplaces

In such cases, virtual staging can be an extremely effective way to market a fixer-upper home to buyers. 

However, in these situations, you’ve gone beyond typical virtual staging and a more accurate description might be something like “virtual renovation” or “virtual remodeling.”

The more accurate your disclosure, the better off you’ll be.

5. Learn Your Local MLS Virtual Staging Rules & Policies

Most MLS allow virtually staged photos as long as certain rules are followed. Those rules will likely concern the following:

  • Policies concerning labeled or marked photos
  • Disclosure standards and language
  • Prohibitions on removing certain items or neighboring property structures
  • Using furniture or furnishings that won’t fit in a particular room or space
  • Creating views from the property that do not exist, such as lakes, skylines, and other landmarks
  • Adding fixed features that do not exist, such as a fireplace, windows, or a property addition

Remember, the primary purpose of photographs, floor plans, video tours, and other media is to convey an accurate and compelling visual representation of the property. 

Virtually staged photos are an excellent way to do this, as long as you avoid the possibility of deceiving potential buyers. 

Therefore, it’s vital that you learn your MLS rules and policies so as to be compliant. 

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Now you’ve learned that virtual staging is not only legal, but it’s also perfectly ethical.

In fact, it’s an incredibly effective, flexible, and affordable marketing tool for real estate sales — when done right and when compliant with MLS rules.

And here is where PhotoUp can help!

Let PhotoUp’s virtual staging help you sell listings faster and for higher prices.

PhotoUp makes virtual staging easy and affordable. Our full range of virtually staging services include:

  • Virtually staging for vacant or furnished rooms
  • Kitchen and bathroom redesigns and full makeovers
  • Dozens of furnishing and decor style options
  • Color changes for walls, furnishings, and flooring
  • Digital decluttering and repairs and updates
  • Blue sky and green grass enhancements
  • And much, much more!

And unlike some of our competitors, our virtual staging services are extremely easy to use. In just 3 simple steps, you’ll get stunning, virtually staged rooms.

1) Sign up for a PhotoUp account and upload your photos.
2) Select from our large library of design styles and furnishings.
3) In under 48 hours, we’ll send you proofs for approval and download.

Check out our virtual staging image uploader tutorial to see how easy it is to get started:

We also offer cutting-edge, affordable real estate photo editing, video editing, single property websites, virtual assistants, and more. 

Sign up for a free PhotoUp account, and let our expert real estate photo editors and stagers make every one of your listings look specular. 

In today’s post, you learned that virtual staging is legal and how to be MLS-compliant. If you enjoyed this post, please also check out these, related, resources:

Gregory Gronbacher

Real Estate Sales Agent / Professional Blogger

Gregory is a real estate sales agent and a state-certified instructor of real estate licensing and law. Originally from New York City, he's called Grand Rapids, Michigan home since 1995.

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