Consumers often rely on online reviews before purchasing products or trying new restaurants.
Online reviews are perhaps even more important to multifamily owners and managers. That’s because the online reputation of an apartment community impacts not only whether prospective tenants visit and tour it but also leasing rates, rents, tenant retention and valuation of the property.
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That’s why owners and managers need to pay close attention to Online Reputation Assessment (ORA) scores, an industry standard that measures a property’s online reputation. Created by Houston-based J Turner Research—an online reputation management firm that monitors the online ratings and reviews of over 126,000 properties nationwide—ORA scores establish a score for each apartment community that’s an aggregate of that property’s ratings across various review sites. The scores are based on a scale of 0 to 100 and are updated every month.
“It’s a simple way to rank how well you’re doing in terms of online reputation,” said Joseph Batdorf, president of J Turner Research.
In May, the firm released its annual ORA Power Rankings, the top 10 of the 2021 NMHC 50 largest apartment managers by online reputation. The Bozzuto Group was ranked the top management company for the seventh consecutive year, earning a companywide ORA of 84.23.
In July, J Turner released the third annual Division ORA Power Ranking, ranking the top 25 companies in Division II, Division III and Division IV, based on the number of units under management. Ranking tops in each division were Mill Creek Residential, Wood Residential and Hanover Co., respectively.
Why ORA Scores Matter
Keeping track of an apartment community’s online reputation is essential “because the first step a prospect takes in their journey toward leasing an apartment is to see how other people who actually live there have viewed that property,” Batdorf told Multi-Housing News.
Not only do ORA scores impact whether a prospect will visit a particular property, they also affect the leasing rate itself. According to J Turner, properties with high ORA scores produce 15 percent more leases than properties with lower scores.
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Industry executives also report that ORA scores positively impact rents. “On average, our rental rates are about 15 percent higher than our competitors in a given market,” said Lisa Gunderson, vice president of asset management for Bristol Development Group. “If the ORA scores are higher, rents are a few percentage points higher than that 15 percent. So, we are laser-focused on making sure they are the best they can be.”
Higher ORA scores are also associated with better tenant retention. “There is definitely a correlation between higher ORA scores and resident retention,” Dana Damato, a senior marketing associate for Greystar in Orlando, told MHN. “That’s why we try so hard to see how many five-star reviews we can get each month.”
Furthermore, according to Bekkah Doyle, senior search marketing specialist for Reach by RENTCafé at Yardi, ORA scores provide an extensive overview of a property’s online reputation. “Properties that monitor their online reputation can increase credibility in the property and improve prospect or resident confidence in their ability to address problems or issues,” she said.
Yardi offers an array of reputation management tools, including RENTCafé Reach, and there are other online platforms in the property management realm that streamline the process of reputation management.
Improving Online Reputation
Savvy owners and property managers can increase the ORA score of their properties with care and attention. Here are five ideas to improve the online reputation of an apartment community:
1. Treat your residents and prospects right. Listen to your residents, make them feel heard and respond immediately to criticism or problems. Top multifamily property managers have a keen interest in their ORA score, so they focus and make sure they treat their customers right. “At the end of the day, people will stay at the property longer, and word of mouth will be better if they’re treated right, so focusing on customer service has a lot of benefits,” Batdorf said.
“The customer is always right,” added Greystar’s Damato. “You’re here to make them feel accommodated and to give them the best living experience. It’s the same mentality as staying in a five-star resort—you’ve got to go above and beyond.”
2. Invest in training. Top-ranking Bozzuto trains its entire team and actively manages its online reputation. “This is not a set-it-and-forget-it,” said Kelley Shannon, senior vice president of marketing and customer engagement. “This is about being the constant deliverer of our brand promise to customers who spend a lot of money to live with us. We make sure we engrain in the team why 15 minutes a day of managing our reputation is important and will pay off in the long run.”
3. Give the same attention to all properties. Any property can have a top ORA score. The best scores are not limited to the newest luxury communities with all the bells and whistles. Kimberly McDougal, former property manager for The Courts of Devon, a Bozzuto-managed community in Gaithersburg, Md., was able to turn the property into the top-ranked apartment community on the ORA Elite 1 percent list. Its ORA score increased from 88 to 98 over a four-year period, despite the fact that the property was over 20 years old and lacked many of the amenities of newer, more luxurious communities.
“You’ve got to keep the property clean, but it doesn’t have to be sparkling brand new. The care and concern you show for your residents and knowing who they are—we ensure our team greets residents by name—shows that we care enough to remember,” Shannon said.
4. Respond to negative reviews immediately. This is critical. People need to know they are being heard and that their issues are being addressed.
Damato said Greystar responds to negative reviews within 24 hours. Gunderson, of Bristol, suggests responding within 48 hours. But she stresses that you need to be authentic. “The wrong approach is to gloss over the problem if there was an incident or an event that took place,” she said. “Address negative reviews in an authentic manner, and don’t use the boilerplate standard response because that just generates more people who are angry.”
5. Ask for reviews. This may seem obvious, but industry executives report that they often have to remind their team to simply ask a resident or prospect to post a review after a positive interaction.
“Whether it’s a new lease-up community or one that we’re rebranding, we’ve found that the first online reviews set the tone for that community,” said Stephen Prochnow, executive vice president of property management for Mill Creek Residential. By simply asking for a review, residents feel encouraged to take the time to go online and offer their positive feedback.