Not only did Casa e Progetti win this year’s Home Staging Award for Best Virtual Staging, they are also HSA Founding Members. Paloma Harrington-Griffin sat down with Casa e Progetti’s Zaid Shuhaiber to discuss the company and their clientele, staging during the pandemic and the secrets of Virtual Staging.

 

Tell us a little bit about your background and how Casa e Progetti was born.
I was brought up in the Interior Design and Architecture world. I owe it all to my father who is a notable designer in the Middle East. Since I could walk, I was folding his drawings and learning how to read floorplans. I loved nothing more than going to work with him and watching these huge hotels and developments being built – it was like real life Lego! Shadowing my father from an early age really taught me to love furniture and how to envision an empty space while creating paths and clear routes through.

After University I created a tech company which provided a multitude of services; I’m also very tech oriented and love finding and creating new products. I started working with my father in design and construction on a hotel in London where I learnt how to deal with furniture manufacturers and the trade. After around 10 years of contracting and managing developments, I decided to take a break from construction and, as I was assisting an acquaintance who was looking for a new build property, an idea came to me.

The fact that the buyer could not envision the property furnished was a little tedious! We had visited one property, unfurnished, and showing zero interest he was suggested we see the next one. The agent decided we should take the buyer to the show home below which was exactly the same plot! The show home was nicely put together, though nothing to be blown away by. But after walking in, the buyer quickly said, “I WANT THIS ONE!”

I instantly had my light bulb moment. I spent the drive home and the next few days trying to find the best way to enter the staging market in a virtual capacity. I had seen that in the USA there were a few Virtual Staging companies starting up, but the quality wasn’t really there yet – even the Virtual Reality goggles were not up to a good resolution where it could look real – and I didn’t want to enter the market unless I could ensure my quality of photos was indistinguishable from reality!

The trick to what we do and our USP is that we can provide the buyers with all or part of the furniture from our staging – this has proven especially useful to international buyers! It is really evident that staging works from the figures from the HSA latest 2020 report. You really only get one chance to make a first impression!

In general, we buy products and services based on emotional needs or wants, and then we justify our purchase logically. It’s all part of our human behaviour – we like to ‘buy pretty things’ to put it bluntly. I wanted to find a way to get an emotional response from the buyer’s subconscious before they’ve even visited a property. Planting an image into the buyer’s mind of the home they’re viewing even when it’s unfurnished allows their brain to store where the furniture would be placed and see a homey space, rather than an empty one.

Purchasing a property is such a daunting decision and journey to undertake. You’re spending a lot of money and you want to be sure you’re making the right choice. Our staging helps all sides of the market. The buyer, the seller, the agent and even the furniture manufacturers!

 

How long have you been doing Virtual Staging for?
It has been over 3 years of some fabulous projects, and I am super proud of every milestone! It seems a lifetime ago since one of our first projects – staging a Nash property in Regents Park – was featured in the newspapers and turned out to be the most expensive home rented in London. When I started, I was purely focussed on Virtual Staging and procuring furniture for buyers.

 

Do you also do Physical Staging?
Some of our projects are realised in Physical Staging. We always team up with a Physical Staging company for this and manage the property’s staging to make it exactly like the Virtual Staging. One of our recent projects like this, which we are very proud of, started as a Virtual Staging project, after which we were asked to exactly translate the Virtual Staging into real life!

It was all completed within 2 weeks of the order, with bespoke sofas and beds using the Romo fabrics we utilised in our staging, and then sold over the Christmas period 3 weeks after the launch; we were so pleased with the response and what everyone was saying during the open house!

 

The demand for Virtual Staging has increased significantly the pandemic hit – have you seen an increase within Casa e Progetti as well?

I am a firm believer in being flexible in all situations and trying your best to overcome any set of circumstances one may find themselves in. I had to think outside of the box and in February introduced a few more services which have been a hit with our clients! The Virtual Tour has really caught the attention of the market; we have tried to give, mainly developers, another marketing tool to get the attention of buyers who are unable to physically view a property or a show home. Though we also do video flythroughs to give a glimpse of a show home, we’ve found that these videos do not have the interactivity that prospective buyers desire. Therefore, to our Virtual Tour enables the buyer to control their own path and to see every room at their own pace. I believe the need for Virtual Tours and the quality of the tool is good enough to allow people to purchase after their Virtual Tour journey even after the pandemic.

Organisations like One Global Property Services based in Singapore and Hong Kong are contracted by UK developers to sell their plots to the International market, they hold events and sell blocks of properties to international investors who base their buying decisions on the Developer’s marketing. We have split up our services into 2 categories:

  • Pre-Build Marketing
  • Post-Build Marketing

The pre-build marketing entails CGIs for internal and external, Virtual Tours and a video. We work from the architectural floorplans and realise the specifications into an ultra-realistic 3D model.

Our post-build marketing mainly consists of our standard Virtual Staging. We also feature Virtual Tours within the post-build marketing, where we go to a property and take 360-degree photos and then furnish the spaces, in a similar way to our standard Virtual Staging but with a tour created for the space.

 

Why do you think people are looking for Virtual Staging?
We have found our clients require our Virtual Staging for a number of reasons. A huge developer, for instance, normally has one or two physical show homes, but as you cannot cater for every taste of the wide range of buyers out there, they require 2 or 3 virtual show homes to cover all their base range. Additionally, as social media, especially in this market, plays such a huge factor in marketing, a developer needs a huge library of photos (that do not look the same) of different properties within a certain development to advertise.

Smaller developers on the other hand, who would have a smaller marketing budget and are more time-sensitive to sell as many plots prior to completion, look to Virtual Staging in order to market their plots before they are white carded. This is the time period between the plot being completed and the show home being installed. Therefore, we would digitally have to cover all the snagging and then digitally furnish the space.

Estate Agents and Private Sellers seek us out to assist their property marketing as most of them want to save money and do everything they can to sell their property with minimal cost. We actually have had a number of clients who try to use us to save money instead of using physical staging, but as their property already has furniture the cost will be better used to have a physical stager or home stylist come in and revitalise the space and its use.

We have been approached a number of times by interior designers who use our service to indicate to their clients exactly what to expect when their refurbishments are completed. We also provide a number of services to furniture manufacturers in creating virtual showrooms to assist during this pandemic, which is very exciting and cutting edge.

 

Are your post-pandemic clients the same as the ones prior, or have you seen a change in the profile of the people looking for Virtual Staging?
We have thankfully gained a number of new clients since February. Most of these clients, I would say around 70%, have been developers while 20% have been agents utilising us to promote properties they are charged with selling. We have actually had a rise of clients enquiring about Virtual Staging to see what their space would look like refurbished. It has been great to work and realise the client’s visions on what they want for their spaces. We normally do all the design work in-house but realising someone else’s vision and seeing their reaction is actually very special.

 

Who are your main clients?
I have worked with a lot of fantastic companies, from the largest UK developers to the smaller start-ups. We also do work for the main high street estate agents like Knight Frank and a number of the smaller well-known agents like Wetherell in Mayfair.

 

Who would you normally recommend Virtual Staging for?
Developers are definitely the main targets for Virtual Staging mainly to revolutionise their website and really boost their marketing, as well as not having to use stock images of a physical show home to promote a plot so that each plot has their own specific images – the buyer has become more intelligent and more photo oriented. Websites and social media are the main way to get a global reach on your development these days. Being able to hold international events to promote your development and offer virtual tours to allow investors to walk through show homes rather than just show them photos is a huge plus.

 

What is your secret to making your images look so real?
Magic! I believe if I’m doing something it has to be done properly. If I can’t tell the difference, then I’ve done a good job!

 

Do you think that Virtual Staging should totally replace physical staging?
Not at all. I believe virtual and physical staging go hand in hand, they just have their uses at different times. I believe every development should have at least one physical show home, and for every physical show home there should be at least two virtual show homes.

 

Can physical staging and Virtual Staging professionals work together?
100%, it is tried and tested. For physical stagers to get a foot in the door to create a show home for a developer, they can offer Virtual Staging pre- or post-build to offer the client a diverse package to suit their every need. As I stated previously, a developer should try and refrain from using show home images for every plot type within their website or seem to only promote one show home on social media. We are in a cost-conscious market and to be able to provide Virtual and Physical Staging to our clients is important.

 

Casa e Progetti is a known Virtual Staging company, an HSA Founding Member, and now an award-winning company – what is next for the company? Are there any exciting plans on the horizon?
We could not have done this without having such a great association to assist our growth! For our future, we firstly aim to increase our number of clients and demonstrate to the market how we have assisted in numerous sales over the last few years.

We are working on a number of very exciting items right now such as Augmented Reality, so that you can see exact pieces of furniture within your space through your phone and its camera. Technology is not there yet for it to look super realistic, but it’s only a matter of time to get there.

I believe the use of Virtual Tours is going to be huge and essential part of the real estate market and we are excited to be a part of it.

 

How can people find you?
We are on the Home Staging Association website, and we have also put a lot of energy into developing our own website. We feature on Houzz, Instagram and have a lovely Pinterest page which has a mix of our own projects and inspiration – we love our Pinterest and are so proud to say we have over 280,000 unique visitors to our page monthly.

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