Breaking Down the Rental Decision

Study finds that strangers are more influential than friends and family.

Rarely do prospective renters know the people who post reviews of an apartment community they’re considering as their new home. They’re complete strangers.

Yet, a recent Kingsley Associates study sponsored by RentPath, which received responses from nearly 30,000 prospective renters, found that ratings and reviews were more important in the apartment decision process than referrals from friends and family. The surprising findings underscore the growing importance of reputation management to apartment owners and operators, many of which are seeking ways to address negative online reviews.

“Today’s prospective renters are searching for an objective view of what it’s like to live at an apartment community and have found that ratings and reviews offer a perspective that they can’t get anywhere else,” says Bonnie M. Spinks, social media marketing manager for Pegasus Residential. “This isn’t bad for apartment companies. It’s an opportunity to not only better manage your reputation, but also to make the necessary changes on site to provide an outstanding living experience to residents, which translates into more new leases and renewals.”

While many apartment companies, like Pegasus and Morgan Properties, are embracing reputation management, some remain hesitant because of the potential for residents to post negative reviews about their communities. Spinks, however, sees opportunity when a resident posts an unflattering comment about a community online.

“At Pegasus Residential, we embrace ratings and reviews as they are a crucial part of the online reputation for our communities,” Spinks says. “Of course, no one wants to see a negative review, but it gives us the chance to show how we can turn their negative experience into a positive one with our response and follow up.”

Peggy Hale, vice president of sales, training and marketing for Morgan Properties, agrees, adding that ratings and reviews aren’t going anywhere.

“There are so many places to leave reviews, and the number of them continues to grow,” Hale says. “You can’t purchase any product or service today without being asked for a review.

The response to negative reviews is critical for apartment companies, according to the Kingsley study. The study found that nearly 70 percent of prospective renters expect apartment companies to respond to online reviews. The apartment communities at Morgan Properties are experiencing the importance of responding first hand, despite having some reservations in the beginning.

“My site teams were not very happy with us when we gave them the responsibility of responding to online reviews back in 2010,” says Peggy Hale, vice president of sales, training and marketing for Morgan Properties. “Today, if we took it away from them, they would be very upset with us, because they love it. They’re connected with their residents because of it, and they’ve created connected communities. They know their communities, and they’re doing a magnificent job of responding to reviews.”

Morgan Properties made the conscious decision to train onsite teams to respond to reviews, because “they’re the ones dealing with the prospects and their residents on a daily basis,” Hale says.
That makes putting guidelines and a plan in place to handle negative reviews a critical first step in developing a reputation management program at any apartment company, according to Rick Sells, reputation management expert at RentPath.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to create a reputation management plan and policy as soon as you possibly can,” Sells says. “Stories are being told about your company and communities online right now. Apartment companies need to play a role in shaping those stories or negative reviews are going to define their communities and service levels. And today’s prospective renters are visiting multiple review sites to read those stories before deciding what apartment community to call home.”

In fact, 69.3 percent of the respondents to the Kingsley survey said they research ratings and reviews prior to leasing at an apartment community. With so many prospective renters turning to ratings and reviews to decide where to live, it’s no wonder apartment owners and operators like Pegasus and Morgan Properties are making ratings and reviews a priority.

Scott Asher is vice president, marketing and operations at RentPath.