Should we trust apartment review sites?

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Old apartments near Jing, used under Creative Commons license.
My fiance and I are going to be moving soon, and have started apartment hunting. We have a definite budget for rent, so that means we’re looking at cheaper complexes.

We have found several places that we can afford, and everything seems decent enough, but the online reviews for these places are all very disappointing.

I’m wondering how seriously I should take these reviews — can I trust apartment review sites? -Danielle

Homies, what say you? Are online apartment reviews filled only with the most disgruntled feedback, or should you trust the reviews you find there?

Comments on Should we trust apartment review sites?

  1. I don’t think so… Before we moved into our apartment complex, ours had an 83% positive rating. I checked it the other day just for poops and laughs and it was at 12%. We’ve been here 4 years, have never had any problem with the staff, the buildings, the neighbors, the noise – nothing. Reading the reviews was like reading about a completely different complex.

  2. Yes and no. Take everything you read with a grain of salt. Obviously if several of the comments are about the landlord charging fees for obviously wrong reasons, be wary and know how to protect yourself with a large paper trail. Then again, if it’s like my complex, which has a few comments that say “OMG, the party wasn’t even that loud! Why did I get in trouble?” read between the lines. Sometimes people complain for legitimate reasons, and others are just entitled little troublemakers who thought the rules didn’t apply to them.
    Regardless, always get everything in writing and know your renter’s rights. Ask a lot of questions when you meet the landlord to see the place.

  3. My husband and I just bought a home after nearly ten years of renting, so I have some experience with apartment hunting. In my experience, very few apartment reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Because people who are satisfied aren’t often writing reviews because they aren’t seeking places to vent about their experiences.

    What I tend to look at is what the reviews are about, what the majority of complaints are. Like if there are ten reviews and eight mention problems with maintenance issues being resolved, I hesitate a bit. However pay attention to dates of reviews, because if all similar negative reviews are several years past, and there is no mention of said issues in more current reviews, it may mean that the problem has been resolved. And some people will write a bad review of the most random reason. Like I know one place I looked at, someone gave a one star review because they didn’t like the color they repainted the outside of buildings. Which I guess could be a bummer, but overall it wouldn’t stop me from renting somewhere.

    So what I mostlyu look for is safety complaints (break-ins, ect), maintenance issues, and complaints about the management. With the last item, it’s helpful if they name the manager they dealt with so you can see if they still work there. Also I tend to discard reviews that go like this, “So, and so is total B*($h, and I hope she loses her job because she sucks.” Yes, someone is obviously very angry, but that could just be because they got an answer they didn’t like. I don’t tend to trust reviews where they just lob insults without explaining what the actual issues are.

    • A lot of this is great advice for any type of customer review.

      Especially checking the reasoning as well as the rating. I once came across a review on Amazon that gave an MP3 player one star because the buyer had expected a slightly lighter shade of purple.

  4. i think the people that leave reviews on sites like that do so because they have had a bad experience in some way. people will go out of their way to share a bad review than a good one.

    • This is very true. Part of my job is corporate relocation and if you were to believe the rental review sites, every single apartment complex in this city is a shithole. Obviously this is not true. So I’ve found the best approach is to go scope out the place around rush hour time and approach people as they’re checking their mail, etc. Ask them how they personally like the place. Most people will be friendly and honest with you.

  5. As someone who’s written apartment reviews, I can tell you that it’s a big ol’ cesspool of ASDAFFALHJGRKCON! Tons of negativity and exaggeration. While some of what’s said is exaggerated out of proportion, you can usually see trends in the reporting.
    Every single resident at any given apartment complex has a different experience than the next. That’s just how it is. Maybe one person was late on a rent payment and had nothing but vileness for the complex since. Maybe one person’s whole apartment is flooded and filled with mold and no one will come help. Maybe one person has had nothing but terrible interactions with the staff, who seem like total dolts. Maybe one person has THE WORST NEIGHBOR EVER.
    But if three different people seem to have the same experience, it’s worth looking into. Always tour an apartment before you sign anything, take a walk around the grounds (the staff should be HAPPY to accommodate this) and if you can stop by at night, do so.

  6. My boyfriend and I went through this same thing about a year ago. I realized that most of the people who leave reviews are people who had really bad experiences, and a few who had especially good experiences. Most people living in most apartments probably have a reasonably fine time of it. That’s why most sites will have between 10 and 100 reviews of any given apartment complex, which is probably a very small percentage of all the people who have ever lived there.
    That said, like several others have commented above, it is still worth reading the reviews to look for consistent complaints. Someone writing “The landlady is a bitch” is probably not helpful, but if several people mention that they did not get their deposits back for no reason, you know you should watch out for that and get deposits covered in detail in your contract.

  7. The apartments we used to live in posted tons of fake positive reviews to push the real negative reviews off the page. I’d say take everything with a large grain of salt, go visit yourself, and maybe try to talk to people who have lived there.

    • My horrid complex did this too! It was super obvious though – dozens of negative reviews, and then suddenly 10 positive reviews in a row, all in a 24 hour period. After I commented that it seemed a little fishy, the management admitted that it sought out certain people to leave positive reviews. It was ridiculous – the reviews were suddenly remarking on the attractiveness of the staff even.

  8. I’d say there are two types of people who make online reviews: people who are crazy in love with whatever, and people who are seriously peeved. If there are like 100+ reviews, and they are generally negative, that’s one thing, but if there are only 12, you gotta think about it. The best thing is to find someone who lived/lives there and ask how they liked it. It’s totally ok to greet your potential new neighbors to find this out if you don’t have any friends who have lived there. Also, I always visit any place I might live during the day and at night, just in case.

  9. I used to work as a leasing agent at a fairly large apartment complex. I agree with what everyone else said, “Take everything with a grain of salt.” Also, pay a lot of attention to the grammar and spelling. 99% of the overly exaggerated negative comments had poor grammar and incorrect spelling.

    I’ve rented 6 different places in the last 5 years. They’ve ranged from never want to leave to how quickly can I get out of my lease. All the bad places had one thing in common, bad cars. I’m not saying that to be a nice place there needs to be Mercedes and BMWs, but if the cars are well taken care of old or new it’s a good sign that they take good care of their apartments and other items.

    • So THIS! I had to write in. It’s not about what type of cars they have but how well they’re kept, have they been washed, are they full of trash, etc. I’m a huge car slob, so I’m not pointing fingers, but I’m also willing to admit, I’m a pretty big house slob, too. One or two nasty cars is one thing, but if every car is dirty or nasty or brokedown or full of crap, that says something about the type of people your prospective landlord or property management company is renting to. *end hypocrite rant*

      • These are also the people you don’t want for neighbors. If you have to share laundry rooms, they might steal your stuff, dump your laundry out and steal your machine, be loud, attract mice and bugs or do inappropriate things you don’t want your children to hear. Good idea visiting at night. I lived in a complex where half of them were still up after 1am! I was making minimum wage and ended up living in the Section 8 Manor where hardly anyone worked. I spoke to the landlord, letting them know even if they didn’t let me out of the lease I was moving, and got out of my lease (with deposit) since I cleaned, shampooed and repainted before turning over my keys. Twenty years later – half of the complex has been shut down by the board of health.

    • Omg, this totally! Whenever I’m looking for a place, or a friend needs advice on whether a neighborhood is decent or not, I *ALWAYS* say check out the vehicles parked there. If you see rusted hunks of junk, cars on blocks, ones that sit in the same spots for months, cars that in general look like they’re not maintained even slightly… consider it a warning sign. I even caution to look around and see if it looks like neighbors are doing oil changes or basic car repair in an apartment/townhouse communal parking lot. There’s nothing wrong with people doing their own oil changes in and of itself, but beware of renters draining oil onto the pavement- they have little incentive to clean it up themselves, and a bad neighborhood will have grease stains out the wazoo. Just something that I’ve noticed over time… the bad neighborhoods will have the makeshift car repair guy out front.

  10. It really depends. If you see several comments stating the same thing–i.e., it’s a noisy complex–I would worry. If it’s one here or there, I’d ignore it. They were probably just unfortunate enough to have a bad experience.

    Also, pay attention to the dates. Apartments that were bad even one or two years ago could be under new management and shaping up.

  11. The only thing I really would worry about is reports about bed bugs or other infestations not being dealt with. Don’t mess around with that stuff! (Obviously infestations do happen even in great buildings, and great buildings deal with them – but multiple complaints about the same building on a bed bug registry, especially if any are recent, sends up a big red flag for me.)

  12. I used to manage apartments. Before you sign the lease, drive by the building/complex at night, ideally on a weekend, to see what it’s REALLY like. If you have a lot of time, summer holiday weekends give you a pretty good idea of how bad it’ll ever get. (Talk to some of the current tenants if you can.)

    If there is a back alley, check it out as well, ideally on a Sunday morning. If a lot of partying goes down on the premises, you will see a lot of cigarette butts, broken glass, and recycling bins overflowing with bottles and cans.

    Definitely watch for poorly maintained cars. The only problem tenants I ever had all drove filthy, beat-up cars with cracked windows and muffler trouble. One or two might just be a sign of broke grad students, but if every car looks like hell, don’t say I didn’t warn you. (Also watch out for overgrown/weedy/dead landscaping, burned-out or broken outside lights, and security gates/doors that are always broken or propped open. They are often dead giveaways that management isn’t paying attention and/or doesn’t care.)

    If you are looking for an apartment in another city and can’t go in person:

    Court records and criminal complaints are MUCH more public than most people know…so check and see if the management company has ever been sued for something serious or charged with violating any laws.

    Better yet, check the local paper’s crime beat. It should list recent crimes committed in the area, along with approximate location. If the complex is too close to a hot spot, stay away! If you absolutely must rent in a particular area, you’ll at least know what to expect. In my own case, I couldn’t find a neighborhood in a particular city that didn’t have vehicle break-ins, so I made sure to get an apartment that came with a non-shared single car garage.

    By the way, if you value peace and quiet, stay the hell away from any complex with a pool, tennis court, etc. Trust me on this. They are NOISY, and not everyone obeys posted hours and/or rules.

    And stay off of Yelp – that site is a scam.

  13. Thanks a lot for all the great advice. I think I was probably taking those reviews to seriously. We did drive through a few places after dark and that was very helpful. Thanks again.

  14. It depends… who, do you think, writes reviews for such a website? If it is mainly people who moved out of these apartments, they may have had their reasons – maybe they simply did not get along with the apartment. It happens. I would always recommend looking at a place in person and maybe keeping the reviews in mind without giving them too much attention.

  15. I usually don’t bother with the online reviews. What I ussualy do is:
    1. call and talk to property manager
    2. tour premises (including alleys, parking, garbage area)- if these areas are messy it’s a good sign the building isn’t well managed.
    3. talk to anyone who is out and about at the building — people will generally give you their opinion if you ask nicely.
    4. come back at night to see what the building is like after dark – loud parties, loiterers, ect.
    5. Check online crime records – our city has a searchable data base. type in the address and out pops all the crime data and trends over the last few years.
    6. take a stroll around the neighborhood during the day and again at night. We actually decided against a great house because when we walked around at night my husband who has a really really high sketchy tolerance was like, “no way, this house is great but the walk from the bus stop is way not safe enough for my wife and kids.”

    I’ve been renting apartments and houses ever since I moved out of my parents house in 1998 and have for the most part had really good luck following these rules.

  16. Along with everyone else’s great advice, I’d also suggest talking to the property managers (especially if you see a recurring issue). Although they might try to spin a negative, you should be able to gauge the complaint’s validity by their reaction.

  17. I think they can be helpful, at least to get better insight into a place and what potential negatives might be. I lived in one really nice, new “eco friendly” apartment complex that had great reviews but I absolutely hated it. The hot water in the shower never got above luke warm no matter how many times I complained about it, and the management was super annoying and nitpicky, you were basically not allowed to have anything on your balcony, they wanted to enter the apartments all the time, and the general feel was not welcoming or friendly. So I did leave a less that glowing review, because althoug the place was nice in some ways it was one of the least favorite places I have ever lived.

  18. We’re going through the same thing! My red flags are mentions of break-ins, drug dealers, and fees that multiple people complain about.

    But it’s terribly frustrating, because there are some complexes that have FAKE rave positive reviews. So you almost have to count out the 90-100% positively reviewed places along with 30% and below.

    So, I mostly look for complexes with about 60% positive reviews that have zero mentions of crime. One of those 60% ones my friend happens to live in, and she says it’s fabulous there. So, because I’ve been there and know she wouldn’t lie to me for the recommendation money, I’ll probably go with that one! After I’ve visited it and checked it for all the things you ladies have mentioned, of course 😛

  19. Should you trust them? Yes and no. A lot of the people posting online apartment reviews in my city obviously had race issues. Think statements like, “there’s always a bunch of sketchy Mexicans talking in the grass every evening,” or, “I’m a white female and I’ve just never felt comfortable here.”

    My strategy was to completely ignore any review that a) complained about the type of people living in the complex without describing any specific and repetitive instances of bad behavior from neighbors and b) anything explicitly prejudiced in any way. These people just aren’t credible in mind. After that, I’d look at all the other reviews for consistent complaints. Especially for any posted within the last year, which are more likely to be issues with current management.

  20. Make sure you ask the rental company/landlord to see the actual unit you will be renting before you sign anything or put down money! My current place had a “show unit” that was of course in perfect condition, and then when I saw the unit I was actually renting, it was pretty janky. Fortunately, I was able to advocate for myself, so they fixed all of the broken appliances and stuff within a few days, but still, the overall interior quality is very poor. It is also a complex near a University, so there is a lot of turnover and not much motivation to keep the units nice since it’s mostly “just students” living here. However, the grounds are well kept, the maintenance guy lives on site, and it is quiet, so overall not too bad. I wish I would have been more proactive about seeing the actual unit I was renting before signing papers though. A lesson for next time!

    In terms of online reviews, I agree with what others have said…take them with a grain of salt unless there are tons of them with consistent complaints. You never know if the reviewer is just disgruntled for some reason that really has nothing to do with the property, or was a bad tenant who can’t take responsibility for his or her own ineptitude…just because somebody is typing an online review doesn’t mean they have any sort of credibility or were themselves a good renter (in terms of following rules, keeping the place clean, paying on time, etc.) For all you know, that person may have been a terrible tenant and deserved to lose his or her deposit or whatever the complaint is regarding.

    • this happened to us too! the appliances in the apartment are terrible compared to the fancy energy-star ones in the model apartment and the quality of the walls and floors is really poor as well. I know now to ask to view the actual apartment before signing anything….

  21. Online reviews ultimately determined where I looked the one day I had to shop when my husband and I moved to a new city.

    Like most have said, look for the common thread. If almost all reviews mentioned some type of petty theft, it’s probably not the best community. The reviews online eventually persuaded me to the place we’re in now (but about to leave for a house). Most reviews online for our place are spot on; the units aren’t the nicest, office staff isn’t the most helpful and maintenance takes FOREVER to get anything done, but in general it’s a safe neighborhood and it isn’t too noisy. And rats do live by our dumpsters. (I saw one take a 4 foot jump the other day!)

    Keep in mind you’re always going to find extremes anywhere you’re looking up a consumer review. Some people are going to love it and others will utterly despise it, so look for the middle ground. Those tend to be the more truthful reviews.

  22. look out too for fake reviews. I was checking out different apartment complexes in our area and I started seeing negative reviews for multiple complexes that were basically just duplicates of each other (like someone from one complex was trying to make their competitors look bad) these reviews were all scathing and dramatic…

  23. I once lived in a very, very bad apartment complex. It was in a tough neighbourhood, so we were prepared for some of the things that go along with that (such as frequent visits from police outside, people under the influence wandering the halls, etc.). What we were NOT prepared for was the slum-lord style management. We weren’t prepared for the fact that we would end up calling the police on the BUILDING MANAGER for assault in the lobby. We weren’t prepared for the laissez-faire attitude toward water pouring from our ceiling (pouring, not dripping), and dealing with THREE simultaneous infestations (mice, roaches, bedbugs) that were only given the cheapest possible treatment.

    We went to visit this complex before we signed the lease, we toured the building as well as our unit, and for the most part it actually looked quite good. I’d also like to note that this wasn’t a cheap place to rent, just a rough area. The staff person who showed us around was courteous and presented himself professionally. What we didn’t know was that his only job was to secure tenants and that once we were in, we would be at the mercy of a very scary building manager who used coercive methods to keep tenants from lodging complaints. AFTER signing the lease, we started to get suspicious and looked up reviews online. Hello! TONS of complaints about this specific manager. Way too many with specific horror stories to be just people blowing off steam.

    That said, we had friends on another floor of the building (we were on ground floor near the manager’s office, so had a lot more contact) who had no problems.

    I would say… yes, reviews are worth reading!

  24. I have to say that I have never left a review of anything online that wasn’t negative. Maybe that says something bad about me, or maybe it’s that disgruntled people are more likely to want to talk about the bad thing that happened, while happy people don’t feel the need to review things. I worked in property management for a good company, and we had terrible online reviews because of disgruntled tenants because no matter how reasonable you are or how well you take care of tenants, you just can’t please everyone. And we wouldn’t go on the sites and leave ourself fake positive reviews to get our score up like many people do, either. Everyone who says go there, visit, day and night, and talk to people actually living there is dead on. Also, depending on what state you’re moving to, crime statistics are usually a searchable database, sometimes even with a nifty map, and checking that out is a must. If you can’t find the info online, call the police department in the area you are moving to. That information is public record and they must give it to you. Good luck!

  25. It depends… Is it a few disgruntled people with various complaints that you can live with? (OMG the landlord gave me the evil eye when I turned my rent in late!) Or is it a series of people all with similar, major complaints? (My AC was out for 4 days and no one would respond to my maintenance calls; the area is unsafe).

    I’ve reviewed 3 apartments – 2 were positive, one was overwhelmingly negative. When I looked at the bad apartment’s reviews, when leaving my own complaints, I saw that other people had had the exact same issues, and I wished that I had read all that stuff before! I could have saved myself a lot of headaches.

    Oh! And keep in mind that if the complex is huge, it might be that certain areas of the complex are nice and other parts are awful. That’s the way my old complex was – some reviews were very positive and mystified by the complaints of noise, broken glass, and bad neighbors, while others had the exact same complaints as me. Soon I realized that people on one half of the lake were fairly happy, while those of us on the other half were miserable.

    • I lived in a place like this. We rented a one bedroom for a year without problems so we upgraded to a two bedroom when our lease was up. Apparently the one bed units were newer than the two bed ones, and it was like night and day. Tons of maintenance issues, and they often went ignored for weeks. I hadn’t realized how bad the staff was our first year because our first apartment didn’t have problems.

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