According to Forbes.com, 90 percent of consumers read online reviews before even visiting a business.
Reviews provide insight from those with direct experience that can’t be gathered by touring a community, visiting its website or even asking the leasing staff.
Of course, there are many factors that can influence a review. The most obvious being the reviewer’s level of satisfaction with the product or service that they’ve received. But are there less apparent variables at play, perhaps beyond a community’s control, that prospective residents should be wary of when reading its reviews?
Could something as simple as the time of year affect a reviewer’s temperament and thus, how they feel about their home?
By studying the average monthly score and the number of reviews received for nearly 3,000 communities across 15 review platforms over the course of three years, it’s apparent that there are both positive and negative trends in direct correlation to the calendar. However, you may be surprised by the timing of these trends.
The holidays can be a stressful time for many. It’s the busiest time of year for travel, entertaining guests, preparing extravagant meals and trying to find the perfect gift for that hard to shop for a loved one.
For these reasons, one may expect November and December review scores to suffer, but these months actually yielded some of the highest averages and high numbers of reviews received. From September to October 2017, we witnessed the highest growth in the number of reviews written, going from 5,668 to 7,029 in just one month’s time.
When looking within the context of the calendar, it could be that onsite teams are influenced by the holiday spirit and deliver higher levels of service during this time of year. It could also be that reviewers themselves have higher levels of gratitude closer to the holidays and are more inclined to share their feedback at this time than during other months.
The month with the single highest review score overall, however, was April 2018. It’s interesting to note that our sample group also received nearly 1,000 more reviews overall, or 12.5 percent more than the previous month, meaning that more satisfied people took to the web to share their feedback in April than in any other month over the last three years.
Why are April reviews so positive?
Spring is the beginning of what is the most common time for people to move or begin looking, so it’s not surprising that new residents would take the opportunity to express excitement about their new home at this time.
Additionally, the leasing process is often the most interaction a resident will have with their community’s staff, and thus, spring would be the most relevant time to express their satisfaction.
Upon examining the most common topics mentioned within reviews written during April 2018, this theory is reinforced by the numbers. Not only was “staff” the single most common topic expressed, but when combined with “management” and “manager,” reviewers mentioned the people who work in the offices of our sample group in 46 percent of all 8,000 reviews written that month, which suggests that positive interactions lead to more reviews, and in this case, more reviews lead to higher averages.
It’s interesting to observe that months with the highest average review scores were followed by months of not only the lowest scores, but the lowest amounts of reviews received, as well.
January 2018 saw a drop of nearly 500 reviews written from the previous month and January 2019 experienced a huge decline of roughly 1,000.
Reviews are rarely edited and review sites only allow users to complete one review per business, so it could be that the majority of people who feel positively about their home did so in November and December, leaving the remaining new reviewers to control the averages.
Why are January reviews so negative?
Over the last three years, the month of January saw the lowest average review score, with the most common sentiments expressed being staff, parking and management. In January, the holidays have passed, the cheer has diminished and winter tightens its grip across the country. The days are shorter, the temperatures colder and seasonal affective disorder can be a factor.
In a more practical sense, residents can encounter concerns unique to this season that can have a large impact on their experience. Issues with snow removal could equate to issues with parking and their homes’ heat, which would likely leave them with a negative opinion of their community’s staff if their concerns are not promptly resolved. Both of these topics are among the most commonly mentioned in January reviews.
What does this mean for potential residents?
It can be ascertained that the time of year can have both a positive or a negative effect on a community’s review scores, so it’s important to do a little digging and read more than the most recent reviews.
However, there’s also an effective “expiration date” to keep in mind. Seventy-seven percent of consumers believe that reviews older than three months are no longer relevant.
Sentiment by site
Additionally, there are patterns of positivity and negativity within different review sites themselves. Among our sample group, Facebook averaged the highest rating over the course of our study at 3.9 stars and Yelp averaged the lowest rating at 2.8 stars, as displayed in the chart below.
The most obvious difference between these two sites is that Facebook is primarily a social network, while Yelp is solely dedicated to reviews and geared toward consumers, which may draw more unsatisfied residents seeking to damage a community’s reputation.
This disparity highlights the importance of conducting your research using more than one source. Most importantly, if you notice a trend within a community’s reviews that jumps out at you, positive or negative, it’s always a good idea to make a note of it and come prepared with questions to ask when you speak with someone onsite.
The reviews examined in this blog represent data gathered from January 2017 to May 2019. These reviews were given on specific apartments and come from a variety of platforms including ApartmentGuide.com, ApartmentRatings.com, Apartments.com, Facebook, Google and Yelp.
Statistics from RentPath, Community Reputation PRO, ApartmentGuide.com and Forbes.com were also used to further analyze and illustrate trends related to online reviews.