Property managers have always had a tepid relationship with ratings and review sites, becoming frenemies, of a certain nature.
The ratings could either help drive traffic to a property both by good reviews and Google placement, or it could drive prospective tenants away thanks to exaggerated, negative ratings. There seemed to be no middle ground.
That’s until the ratings and review system evolved, becoming less of the wild, wild west as websites developed more checks and balances. The sites have become nearly ubiquitous, with 81percent of renters greatly depending on ratings and review sites in their apartment search, according to Norcross, Ga.-based Apartment Guide.
“We knew there was a need and desire from consumers,” says Scott Asher, Apartment Guide’s vice president of marketing. “They weren’t necessarily getting what they wanted from other sites. We provide them with an accurate outlook on what the property truly is.”
Part of the problem was the anonymity that ran rampant on review sites, as it initially put off property managers and some residents from using it. But that’s finally changing–now, 86 percent of customers trust reviews from certified residents more than anonymous users, according to Apartment Guide. New brands are embracing that trust, using it to separate themselves from the rest.
“The reason property managers haven’t embraced [review sites] is because a lot of existing platforms, which I call gripe sites, are where people go to just complain,” says John Kobs, CEO at San Francisco-based Apartment List. “We finally have the ability to provide an accurate portrayal of the property.”
A Modicum of Moderation
When Apartment List acquired RentAdvisors in October, it committed to a full-scale integration of ratings and reviews on its site. It now has 5.1 million users. And by proactively surveying residents directly through property management companies, Apartment List has gotten more accurate reviews, without having to wait for users to sign up, just to complain.
“The rent advisor platform average rating is 3.9 stars [out of five],” Kobs says. “It’s not because we’re surveying unhappy residents; we’re doing it for everyone.”
Apartment Guide keeps the same moderation approach, partnering with a third-party research company, Kingsley Associates, to develop a process that certifies residents before they can rate a community. By having resident-emailed surveys come from the property itself, Apartment Guide has more control over who’s commenting on its site.
Property managers also have a chance to view the responses first, and are given the tools to manage it as they have an early chance to respond back.
“They get a head start on the review before they go public,” Asher says. “We try to balance needs for what the residents want, while still giving the managers tools.”
There’s a moderation balance in place, he says, so that an automatic filter will determine whether reviews are an honest portrayal, largely depending on some of the keywords used in the review.
“There are legitimately reviews that are negative,” Asher says. “We’ve coached and talked to property managers to learn best practices. That resonates better in their minds.”
Now, Apartment Guide has more than 62,000 reviews on its site, with an average rating of four [out of five], and it saw a 500 percent increase in reviews since launching the certification process earlier this year.
At Apartment List, about half of its users are using a mobile platform, and Kobs expects that number to go up to 60 percent by the end of the year, indicating the direction rating and review sites are headed, he says.
“The future is all mobile,” he says. “Trends are so obvious that everything the renter is going to be doing is on-the-go. You need a product that engages with renters when they’re on-the-go."
-Linsey Isaacs is an assistant editor with Multifamily Executive magazine. Follow her on twitter @LinseyI to continue this conversation.