PALO ALTO, CA - In the murky world of online ratings and reviews, the apartment industry has taken its fair share of abuse. With many sites allowing anonymous postings, it’s not uncommon for apartment managers to suspect competitors, non-residents and even those nimbyism neighbors ranting online.
As countless studies have demonstrated the meaningful impact reviews have on consumer decisions, the apartment industry, as well as savvy entrepreneurs has certainly taken note. In fact, many progressive multifamily housing operators have created entire departments to not only combat bad reviews, but procure good ones.
With reviews remaining a hot topic on the agenda of many apartment manager’s list for the past several years, an array of reputation management companies have sprouted with the aim of becoming the next TripAdvisor or Yelp of apartment ratings. With the ability to leverage technology to deliver what is being said online, as well as mining new reviews, apartment operators are now working to get control over their property’s reputation, as it holds valuable marketing resources in today’s review driven world.
And now there’s a new rating agency that’s taking a different approach to the rating and review game the apartment industry has struggled with. Enter Silicon Valley start-up RentLingo, who is on a mission to change the way apartments are reviewed. As RentLingo’s Founder and CEO Dan Laufer describes what they are doing, he simply states, “it is more Zagat than Yelp, as that model is better suited for the apartment industry, than random reviews from anybody with an axe to grind.”
RentLingo takes an on the ground approach, it hires local experts, typically former Property Managers to mystery shop multifamily properties, who rate and review them. The experts grade each property on 30 different criteria, which largely evaluate the quality of the property itself. Their evaluation rolls into a single overall score for the property and then they also write a short qualitative review of the property.
Laufer compares the apartment industry to hotels, who live or die by online reviews. “Obviously, TripAdvisor dominates in that market,” states Laufer. But he quickly points out that before TripAdvisor there was the AAA Guide Book and even today there are rating agencies which determine the hotel quality. He argues, “TripAdvisor is valuable in sharing guests’ experiences but when you see a Hampton Inn rated above a Ritz Carlton, we all understand that Hampton Inn might be overachieving on the value and experience but the Ritz is almost certainly the better hotel.”
Laufer states, “There are other analogues. With restaurants, Yelp has become a notable hub but Zagat remains a valuable indicator of which restaurants are truly the best. The hole in the wall tacqueria that gets 5 stars may provide excellent value and an authentic experience, but most people probably wouldn’t consider it to be better than say, The French Laundry.”
This balance between user reviews and expert ratings exists in other verticals as well. Amazon has helpful consumer reviews and Consumer Reports provides objective and consistent product comparisons. Fandango can show movie goer sentiment and movie critics rate the quality of the film.
The stated goal for RentLingo is to offer consistency and objectivity. To be sure, there are drawbacks with this model as well. Having experts review on a mystery shop experience could lead to false conclusions. But Laufer insists they take that into account, “we never score down a property because of a grumpy leasing agent. We understand we’re not there every day. While it’s possible something is coincidentally wildly off from its normal standard on our visit, we do everything we can to identify and understand what the property’s normal state looks like and we don’t think that varies wildly from day to day.”
Laufer conceded that in instances where a property claims there is a mistake they will redo the review or gather information to determine the true condition. Although scores don’t always improve upon re-inspection, he offers, “above all else, we want to be accurate.”
The challenge for RentLingo going forward may be how quickly and efficiently they can scale this model. The cost of hiring the reviewers is borne completely by RentLingo, which may make it harder and almost certainly slower to grow than some of their competitors.