Renters Take Online Reviews Seriously

Columnist Lew Sichelman on the latest study of renters' habits by ApartmentRatings and SatisFacts Research.

Even as consumer affairs agencies at the state, local and federal levels crack down on fake online reviews, potential renters are using these evaluations more and more often to make their choices.

Lew Sichelman
Lew Sichelman

That’s one of the numerous key findings in the latest study of renters’ habits by ApartmentRatings and SatisFacts Research. The 2023 Biennial Online Renter Study, now in its 12th year, includes the feedback of more than 28,000 renters nationwide to determine their behaviors and preferences when it comes to apartment living.

That apartment hunters are tuning to online reviews is a notable shift, the study reported, particularly among those ages 18 to 34. Recognizing this “top of tunnel” behavior, where renters look at reviews at the start of their apartment hunt as well as during the decision making process, is “crucial” for landlords – especially those charging higher rents.

Renters are paying attention

Renters who plan to pay at least $1,750 a month are doing the most research when compared to other renters before ever contacting a potential place to live. More than four in five looked at both a property’s website and its online reviews before moving forward, the study found.

Importantly, the study also notes that 70 percent of renters look for negative reviews, an indication, it said, of the “desire for balanced and unbiased information.” Renters, it added, “value a comprehensive view that considers both positive and negative aspects” and are unwilling to trust a review site featuring just positive evaluations.

Renters aren’t naïve, though. They realize that no place is flawless. While they take the time to read the critiques, they also look to see how the property responds “as an example of your commitment to customer service,” according to the renter study.

The SatisFacts and ApartmentRatings study found that people look to see how a property responds to a review, good or bad. Roughly seven in ten respondents think a response is an indication of great customer service and about the same number say a project likely does not have great service if it fails to respond.

Still, there is a healthy skepticism among renters, who are concerned about being manipulated, the study also found. “As deceptive tactics used to create reviews become more sophisticated,” it says, renters are finding it more difficult to distinguish between fake comments and the real thing.

Transparency matters

To protect renters and other consumers from being duped, the Federal Trade Commission has proposed regulations that would outright ban fake reviews and testimonials. The rule would also prevent anyone from suppressing honest negative reviews and from paying for positive reviews, which deceives consumers looking for real feedback and undercuts honest businesses.

In another key finding, renters want landlords to be more transparent about their mandatory fees. Approximately one in five respondents reported not being informed about all the charges associated with their current lease and four in five said that property managers need to come clean up front rather than hide extra fees.

This finding “cannot be overstated, especially in light of the regulatory focus on junk fees in the rental housing market,” said the report, which calls for more clarity in fee structures.

“The study results indicate that renters appreciate transparency and may be more inclined to consider communities that are clear and open about their pricing structures,” the report says.

Whether it is on a community’s website or its newsletter to residents, potential renters want to see what life would be like should they choose to lease there, the study found. At the same time, save for higher-end renters, the management company’s brand is not usually a primary factor in the rental decision.

In another finding, approximately nine out of ten renters in almost all age groups – from 18 to 65-plus – said they would frown on any company that treats its employees poorly.

Finally, the report said the renters who responded to the online survey indicate they’d do things a bit differently the next time around. More than half said they would visit their next place in person and almost half said they’d do more research into the property management company before pulling the trigger.

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