Virtual staging is becoming more and more popular as sellers leverage a variety of software and photoshopping options to make their homes look their very best. Not surprisingly, virtual staging has also led to some pretty nasty disputes when reality and virtual reality don’t entirely match up after closing. However, a common use of virtual staging software has the potential to tempt even the most honest and forthright of sellers, so if you or your sellers photoshopped your tree or other holiday décor out of holiday listing photos, you’d better check in on some other little items that might have “slipped” while your seller was removing that 20-foot Santa and sparkling garland.

First, did they touch up their paint?

Virtual staging is a great way to show a buyer what a home could look like after some light or even heavy renovations, but generally sellers are discouraged from making major changes to the look of a home without full disclosure of those changes. However, the convergence of the holiday “break” and the invitation to “edit” the look of a home can prove too much for sellers, who may opt to touch up paint or even change and upgrade colors in order to make things look a little brighter and more attractive, assuming that they’ll get the project done before the winter break is over. If they didn’t, you’ll need to disclose this or change it back!

Second, did someone do a minor (virtual) remodel?

The same issue with paint also applies to kitchen cupboards, sinks and hardware, and even window treatments. If the changes aren’t actually in place, probably need to put the originals back.

Finally, remember holiday cheer leaves dust and debris.

Once things are actually back to “normal” in a home for sale, it can be easy to forget that the holiday clutter may have masked normal wear, tear and dirt accumulation that might otherwise be cleaned up promptly. Remind sellers to do a top-to-bottom cleaning to make sure that their property sparkles just like those slightly retouched, tree-less listing photos in person.

While holiday-related virtual staging pitfalls are usually relatively innocuous, some investors do succumb to the allure of electronic renovation in ways that land them in hot water. Investors often want to show potential of a property, which can be difficult to see when it is in disrepair. In most cases, while photoshopping can be annoying – and even kill a deal if a buyer feels misled – there are few legal ramifications unless the deal closes and a buyer makes a case to undo the transaction and recoup his or her funds. However, if you are selling to a buyer who has not (and will not) see the property in person before closing or if the buyer spends a fair amount of money to visit in person and feels that he/she has been misled, you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands. The biggest issue occurs when sellers or their representatives remove major landmarks or eyesores from listing images.

You can get more of Carole VanSickle Ellis’ coverage of this topic and others online at


About the Author

Carole VanSickle Ellis is the host of Real Estate Investing Today, a daily nine-minute investing podcast, and the editor of the Bryan Ellis Investing Letter. Contact her at or visit



Categories | Article | Operations
Tags | Design | Staging
  • Carole VanSickle Ellis

    Carole VanSickle Ellis serves as the news editor and COO of Self-Directed Investor (SDI) Society, a membership organization dedicated to the needs of self-directed investors interested in alternative investment vehicles, including real estate. Learn more at or reach Carole directly by emailing

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