Extreme Apartment Reviews: How to Read Between the Lines

Typically, the bigger the cost, the more time you'll take to research ratings and reviews. Since signing a lease is typically one of the most costly decisions you'll make all year, reviews are important. But it's also important to know how to really get the most of them.

Why renters should check reviews

You can look at apartments' flashy promotional materials all day long, but at the end of the day, you probably want a less biased source of information. “Parking Available" might actually mean “Enough parking for 10 percent of tenants," and photography using good “angles" applies as much to pictures of buildings as it does selfies.

Reviews from people who know the building and don't have a vested interest in you signing a lease are by far the best way to find out online what to actually expect. But how do you navigate the rough and tumble world of apartment reviews?

Know what matters to you

Renters all want different things in a new place, so you'll want to check out different types of rentals. By looking at the complaints and compliments in the comments of reviews, you can hone in on topics you care most about when finding the perfect new rental.

Mind the extremes

Reviews might seem confusing or overwhelming since they're often divided between glowing and horrible. Rent.com data shows that 75 percent of renter ratings are either 1 star or 5 stars.

number of reviews vs number of stars

This, of course, comes from the fact that emotion is often the catalyst for leaving a review at all. If something is just good or mediocre, you likely won't think twice about it. Review sections often have an outpouring of conflicting good and bad emotions to sort through, and apartment building reviews are no exception.

A good rule of thumb is to look for the 2-, 3- and 4-star reviews so that you'll likely be getting more thoughtful responses from people who aren't in the throes of emotion.

Have the rentals changed?

Management can change as well as other amenities. When checking apartment reviews, it's a good idea to pay attention to the date of the review and if anything is noted as new since then.

apartment reviews by topic

In reviewing Rent.com data, most reviews (both good and bad) mention workers at the building or complex: Staff (31 percent), Manager/Management (19 percent) and Maintenance (8 percent).

Other things can change over time, as well. Comments about parking also made up 14 percent of the reviews, but if the complex has opened up another parking lot or added access to a parking deck, then some reviews may not reflect this yet.

Entire neighborhoods can change in a few years, so be sure to pay attention to the timeline to get the full story.

Why you should write reviews

Rental reviews provide some accountability and peace of mind when buying and selling things online. Have you ever been reading through a product review before purchase and found yourself saying, “Thank you, kind Internet stranger?" You could be the very person getting that good karma next time you go to lease a new place.

There's been a lot of chatter lately about how legit online reviews really are, which is why the FTC has begun cracking down on companies posting fake reviews.

Another reason you should leave apartment reviews is for accountability. If you've had a great experience, isn't writing a quick positive review the least you could do? The story told about each rental becomes more accurate and complete with higher quantities of reviews.

Whether your experience has been good, bad or just 'meh', writing the review puts the information out there so another renter can at least have the details to make a more informed decision.

How to write a good review

A good review, positive or negative, is a specific review. What one person calls “cramped" another calls “cozy." One person is looking for a complex with mostly families while another is looking for young people who like to go out.

Exactly how were the facilities “horrendous" or how do you feel you were “scammed?" Even if you're upset about an experience, if your advice isn't clear and specific, it probably won't carry much weight.

Reviews on rentals are one of the best ways to get opinions from people who have actually lived in the apartment complex you're checking out. Though they tend toward the extremes, a clear picture usually emerges with enough reviews written. If you are living in a rental, write a review on Rent.com to leave the internet a little bit better than the way you found it.

The details about the review data

The reviews examined in this report represent data from September 2018 to February 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.

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Ellen SirullEllen Sirull has been a writer for 15 years, covering topics from personal finance to identity protection to professional development. Her work has been featured on CNBC, New York Daily News, Fox News, Yahoo! Finance, AOL Finance, Experian and the Identity Theft Resource Center. She enjoys spending time with her family and traveling as much as possible.

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