Is Virtual Staging Legal in North Carolina?

QUESTION: Virtual staging has become a big thing in many areas of the country. I have some ideas on how I might use it when listing properties for my clients. However, I want to be sure I am not violating any North Carolina laws or rules, or violating the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. What guidance can you give me?

ANSWER: The North Carolina Real Estate Commission has not yet issued any sort of official guidance on the subject of virtual staging. However, according to one of their attorneys, the Commission’s position is that virtual staging is permissible in North Carolina as long as (a) any advertising using virtual staging is not misleading, and (b) the advertising includes proper disclosure that images have been altered.

The first requirement is consistent with both the Real Estate License Law and Article 12 of the Code of Ethics. The License Law allows the Commission to discipline a licensed agent for “pursuing a course of misrepresentation… through agents, advertising or otherwise.” Article 12 of the Code of Ethics requires that REALTORS® “be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and… present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.”

One could argue that all virtual staging presents something other than a “true picture” of a listed property. However, virtual staging that depicts furniture that is not actually present in a home does not misrepresent the home itself in any way. It merely shows potential buyers the possibilities that exist. That is quite different from listing a home that is in disrepair and virtually staging it to appear as if it were in good condition. That type of virtual staging would not be permissible. Similarly, it would not be appropriate to photoshop out defects or “eyesores” that exist either inside or outside the home.

Any agent who uses virtual staging should be sure to include a conspicuous disclosure that some photographs have been altered to depict furniture or other interior decorating features that do not actually exist in the home. As an example, an agent should not depict a different paint color in the home without a clear and conspicuous disclosure of that fact. All disclosures relating to virtual staging should be included in the public remarks section of any MLS listing. If a proper disclosure is made, visitors to the home will have no reason to be upset when they see interior decorating in the home that is different from that depicted in your advertising.

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