ApartmentRatings.com has long been considered the most controversial of the ratings websites out there. Many managers and owners consider it a hotbed for resident hostility. In a recent small scale survey distributed and compiled by Houston-based Multifamily Insiders and sponsored by Lutherville, Md.-based SatisFacts Research and Corralville, Iowa-based Apartment Grade, 58 percent of respondents said they felt they received a false rating.
“ApartmentRatings.com has a reputation for being the site where everyone goes to complain,” says Greg Benson, senior director of marketing at Charleston, SC-based Greystar. “That’s in part because as an industry, we haven’t done enough to nurture positive feedback.”But they can’t ignore the negative feedback, whether its own ApartmentRatings.com, Yelp, or social media.

“If it’s out there, we’re not the only ones that know it’s there,” says Julie Brawn-Whitesides, executive vice president of Folsom, Calif.,-based FPI Management. “If our residents and clients check the feedback, it’s relevant. We try to take a proactive approach to it.”

Only 39 percent of respondents said they consistently respond to reviews. When they do, most people said the community managers respond to the complaints.

Brawn-Whitesides and others said they try to respond to negative reviews on all social media and web forums, but think it’s more valuable to do so offline.

“We do not publically respond to negative reviews on ApartmentRatings.com due to the negative nature of the website,” says Melanie Stiles, vice president of marketing and training for Dallas-based Milestone Management. “Instead, our community teams reach out to the reviewer (if known) to see how we can take care of them. Once all issues are resolved, we do not ask the resident to remove the comment but to simply update their original review to reflect the outcome.”

Only 12 percent of respondents to the survey said they incentivized their residents to submit a review. The use of incentives is the wrong attitude, according to Benson.

“How do we start to encourage our residents to post a review to communicate their experiences through customer touch point processes already in place,” he asks. “I think that there is concern.  The industry is still worried about what a customer might say rather than having confidence in the quality of product and services we provide.”

Memphis-based MAA started doing its own internal surveys for feedback to try to get ahead of online review sites. “We’re trying to look for ways to get our survey feedback onto our own websites or some of the ratings websites,” says Melintha Ogle, vice president and director of marketing at MAA.

The most startling result may have been that 26 percent of respondents said they posted a fake review of their own property (however, only one percent admitted to posting fake negative reviews of competitors). Not surprisingly, every manager and owner interviewed for this story discouraged that tactic.

“Something about that feels wrong,” Ogle says. “As tough as it is to swallow the reviews on the ratings sites, we encourage our people to not post factious reviews and not to engage.”

Benson agrees. “We do not approve of our team members posting false reviews or pretending to be someone else,” Benson says. “With a portfolio of our size, I imagine that it probably happens. It’s not something that we encourage. We’re in the process of drafting guidelines to educate our team members, help them relate their customer service training to the reputation management environment and share best practices.”