Virtual staging and crypto rent payments – how Atlanta companies are using tech in real estate

Matt Harrison
Matt Harrison is founder and chief photographer for Curb Appeal, a real estate photography company based in Atlanta. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

One of the first stops for those interested in renting an apartment or buying a house or condo is likely the internet. And if you’ve done this, you know that some real estate photos can be breathtaking, while others can fall flat.

So we wanted to find out: is there an art to showcasing real estate online?

“It’s about giving them a unique perspective to get them more interested. And the whole purpose is to get them interested, so they call the agent and schedule a showing,” said real estate photographer Matt Harrison.

We met him as he was climbing the front steps of a gray, two-story house in North Fulton County. He had a tripod in one hand and was pulling a small rolling suitcase in the other.

The neatly-organized bag has room for a couple cameras, a powerful flash, memory cards and other tools to capture images both interior and exterior.

“My bag really has everything it needs in it while I’m at a shoot,” said Harrison. “If I need to bring out my drone, my drone is packed in there. We use a DJI Air 2s which does everything we need it to do and it’s nice and compact.”

It was six years ago when Harrison founded his real estate photography business, called Curb Appeal.

For this house, which has four bedrooms, three baths and 3,000 square feet, he hopes to come away with about 45 photos. And as soon as he walks in, he starts surveying to see how best to capture each room.

“It just determines how we shoot the house, if the house has a lot of dark wood, like this house has lots of dark wood in those stairs and door frame,” said Harrison. “Anything dark absorbs light, so we have to introduce more light to kind of capture that scene.”

We walked up the stairs for photos of the main bedroom first.

“As you can see with that flash, it basically spreads this light and kind of just fills in shadows and brings out colors and it allows us to accurately match the colors when we go into post-editing,” he said.

A house this size takes about an hour to photograph. After he’s done here, Harrison packs up his gear and heads to photograph a condo in Northwest Atlanta.

But this job is a little different. The place is empty.

“Obviously there’s no furniture, so that’s actually sometimes good and sometimes bad,” said Harrison. “Good in that it’s easier to get through the job a lot quicker, because I’m not dealing with furniture.”

He says often when he photographs empty spaces, they can go in later and superimpose furniture and decor to help prospective buyers get a better feel for the space.

“Virtual staging is less of a cost than doing regular staging because regular staging can cost upwards of thousands of dollars,” Harrison said. “Where the agent could spend $50 per photo, per room to virtually stage it and it looks pretty much identical.”

Harrison works with a team of 10 photographers in Atlanta and more in Texas. He says each person can photograph five to six properties a day. And the company promises a 24-hour turnaround time on photos.

“We shoot during the day while editors are editing at night. And that’s the only way we can think about being able to turn around in 24 hours,” he said.

Curb Appeal not only photographs residential properties but commercial spaces too — even billboards sometimes. And with Atlanta’s bustling real estate market, there’s plenty of work to be done.

Ponce City Market
Jamestown, whose portfolio of properties includes Ponce City Market, has started letting tenants pay rent using cryptocurrency. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

A new way to pay rent

Even after a tenant moves in, the role of technology for real estate managers continues to evolve.

This includes a company called Jamestown — where Michael Phillips serves as president.

“In Atlanta, we have Ponce City Market, the Westside Provisions District and Buckhead Village to name a few,” Phillips said.

The company started doing something new recently. It began accepting rent payment via cryptocurrency.

“We think of airline points and credit card points as a value system to us and often buy things with them and provide benefits through them. And I think in the crypto world it’s a similar dynamic,” he said.

Phillips says his company has partnered with Atlanta-based BitPay to make the transactions possible. He expects payments using alternative currencies to continue to grow in popularity in the years to come.

“We have had tenants take us up on the offer, we also have tenant mandates in cities like New York and San Francisco that that is a requirement of office tenancy negotiations,” said Phillips.

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