There are many websites and apps to help buyers visualize themselves in a new home and assist sellers who are preparing their homes for the market. Here’s a sampling.

The internet has disrupted many professions, and the design trade is no exception. The proliferation of online design tools available can not only feed the imaginations of buyers but also help sellers transform their homes faster and more affordably.

Here we offer this guide of six noteworthy new tools, though this isn’t an exhaustive list. One element to always keep in mind is the need to carefully pair the designer or merchandise with the listing’s marketing plan or the homeowner’s needs, style preferences, timetable, and budget, says designer Keitha Brathwaite, with Contrast Design Group in Chicago. Many sites solve that challenge by matchmaking based on a questionnaire or phone call and lots of visual options—not too dissimilar from online dating.

Stage Time

Real estate professionals who want to help a home shine often call on stagers or borrow from what they’ve seen and rearrange rooms themselves. But a serious staging job requires time and effort either way. And, of course, there are the costs, which can become confusing with a combination of hourly charges for time, plus fees for purchases (sometimes based on wholesale prices plus a markup or retail minus a discount).

So, it’s no wonder virtual staging has grown in popularity as the technology that facilitates such renderings has become more advanced. Some sites now offer virtual staging with 3-D images that help home shoppers visualize a room without buying or rearranging a thing, says broker Allison Bethell, a real estate investment analyst with New York–based “It allows clients to look at a property that they may not have been able to imagine living in before, but now can see how their furniture and artwork would look,” she says.

One example of this technology in action is RoOomy, which was originally developed to create models of furniture to demonstrate to manufacturers how their sofas and chairs looked in different colors and fabrics. Over time, the company shifted its focus to 3-D virtual staging to help reduce the cost and hassle associated with moving physical furniture in and out of homes, which Taylor Wilding, RoOomy’s business development director, says can run “between 1 and 3 percent of a listing price.” How it works: A user uploads photos and dimensions of a room onto the app’s program and adds furnishings based on pieces they want in a certain style (the site stocks a wide variety). Wilding adds that home buyers can look for something comparable to what they already own, such as a baby grand piano, to see if it would fit in the space. Each staged photo costs $109, but the company also offers package deals for brokerages and individual salespeople. 

Staging can have an out-of-the-box look, but many buyers today, especially millennials, seek a more authentic look in their furnishings and interior design. A new app called The IXA allows consumers to shop both high-end listings and the products used to stage them. Developers and real estate salespeople bring listings to founder and designer Jennifer Ridel. She works with contemporary art consultancy and gallery Velvenoir Network to stage them using both one-of-a-kind and bespoke art and furnishings, which users can buy through The IXA app or an e-commerce website on the platform.
As products are purchased, new items will be added. The app, currently launching in beta, just debuted with its first listing: a large modern home with a swimming pool in Venice, Calif., listed at $3.88 million. Besides exposing buyers to new decor options, Ridel says she’s helping real estate professionals present their properties in a more interesting way than a typical staging.

Designing in Real Life

Many of these new online design options have vetted, experienced experts ready to recommend everything from furniture and color palettes to accessories and cabinets. One benefit of the shift to online services is that the price for such expertise is more affordable and transparent from the start. If you’ve got a client who’s looking to remodel or redesign their home, consider these options. Some offer a visit to a home; some work only through online chats and videos.

Decor Aid is a New York–based firm that charges $150 per hour in packages of five or 10 hours of design help, though its design team starts with a free consultation. Though many of the firm’s clients are homeowners, real estate salespeople also find the design service useful in primping rooms for resale, according to cofounder Sean Juneja. The company has 250 designers on its platform—some are in-house and others are freelancers—in many of the country’s major metropolitan areas. The vast majority of designers will visit a client’s home to offer their services. In either case, they provide a floor plan and pass on the firm’s trade discounts when furniture and other items are purchased through the service.

Founded by Gretchen Hansen when she experienced difficulty furnishing her home, San Francisco–based Decorist helps homeowners and salespeople through one of three packages, priced at $299, $599, and $1,299. The price differences reflect the designer’s level of expertise; clients have 400 to choose among, mostly freelancers. Each designer provides two different “concept boards” of options for any given room based on a questionnaire homeowners fill out and measurements and photos of the space. Designer and client go back and forth until they reach agreement. The service also provides clients a shopping list, floor plan, and installation instructions. For items that aren’t available online, the company offers recommendations for local craftspeople or shops. For those who have a hard time visualizing the results, the company offers a 3-D rendering for an additional $199.

The 500 designers working with New York–based HomePolish offer services across the nation—some as full-time staff and others freelancing. All charge an hourly rate starting at $130 with a minimum of 10 hours. Projects range from just one room to an extensive gut rehab of the entire house. The company matches a designer with projects based on a phone conversation and provides a free consultation to start. While many clients receive multiple in-person visits, those living in locales with no available designer are served through video consultations. The company creates a shopping list based on the design (along with its industry discount) and a floor plan. Since HomePolish started five years ago, the company has seen its clientele shift from younger home owners seeking help on a budget to those wanting advice for bigger, more luxurious projects, says designer Orlando Soria.

Because newly remodeled kitchens rank high on many home buyers’ lists, it’s perhaps no surprise that one tool is dedicated to this all-important hub of the house. Kitchen Visualizer, developed by Quote Countertops in conjunction with Colonial Marble & Granite, an industry fabricator and installer in King of Prussia, Pa., helps homeowners imagine how different colored kitchen appliances, cabinets, backsplashes, countertops, sinks, faucets, and more will look in the most typical kitchen designs, whether L-shaped, galley, island, or a few other configurations. While users cannot upload their own photos or imagine exotic materials or unusual appliances not carried by Colonial Marble & Granite, the variety is still wide enough to give an idea of what a dated kitchen might look like with a refresh. “This saves time so the homeowners and any professionals working with them don’t have to go to multiple kitchen showrooms, but can play with design and colors from the comfort of their home or office,” Bethell says. Since it includes pricing information, the tool can also help a real estate salesperson estimate how much it might cost to update an outdated kitchen.