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Reviews/Ratings. Do You Trust Them?

online-reviewsPretty much everything is reviewed online now. Apartments. Restaurants. AirBnB hosts (& travelers). Hotels. Contractors. Books. Lyft drivers (and riders). Couchsurfers. Real estate agents. Etc.

I saw an ad on TV last night for Apartments.com. The message was “rate your apartment on Apartments.com”. We’ve been thinking, and talking, about putting reviews on Horizon for over 6 months. We had a discussion about the topic again on Friday, with a friend (from the real estate industry coincidentally). Thus, I thought I’d put a few thoughts out there and see if people disagree, or agree, with me.

Reviews come down to trust and incentives. I don’t trust reviews, because I know any business owner with minimal smarts and a few dollars can game their own reviews. I honestly really only care what people I already trust think, and exponentially more, what my close friends think.

Reviews more often than not don’t reflect reality. Most things in life are not AMAZING. Nor do most things suck. They are somewhere in between. Yet, the vast majority of reviews are simply the extreme negatives and the extreme positives. Hence, they don’t tell the real picture. Pretty much all ratings you see are 5’s, scattered in with a few 1’s and 2’s.

In the context of Horizon — I’m honestly not a fan of rating people, especially those in my own social circles. I don’t want to review, or rate, my friends — nor do I want them to review or rate me. That’s weird. Across the board, people don’t tend to leave negative reviews about other people. Why? People have feelings. And maybe – just maybe – that negative review they leave will make that person mad and cause them to retaliate in some way (this is certainly the case with lack of negative reviews on Couchsurfing).

Going back to the apartment reviews ad I saw last night — I don’t believe there is a strong enough incentive for the average person. What’s my specific incentive to rate my apartment on Apartments.com (or anywhere else)? What do I get? There isn’t one, to be honest — which is a big reason no one has really been able to scale apartment reviews (I’ve talked to 2-3 entrepreneurs over the past year or two working on this, all have had problems scaling). Sure, I’m happy to tell my friends about the buildings I’ve previously lived in if they ask. But I wouldn’t pro-actively seek to review the units/buildings — unless they were over the top amazing, or beyond terrible. The reality is, they have all been mediocre.

This is somewhat of a mind dump on a Monday morning, and I’ll stop rambling. The real question — do you trust online reviews (and ratings)? Does that differ between reviews/ratings on physical things, versus people?

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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  • This is a great mind dump. I think you’ve hit on something, and it’s that after a certain level of experience with online reviews, we don’t trust them.

    That doesn’t mean they’re useless, we just know, as you do, to read the content and ignore the tone. They will be gamed and unfairly skewed to the extremes. There still may be facts to be gleaned from within a large sample of reviews.

    This is the problem with reviewing people, which always leads into the real estate agent review process. The goal is not to get the most accurate reviews, it’s to get the most/best reviews. Adoption will never be close to 100%, so consumers won’t see the full market picture, they’ll see the best marketer’s picture.

    It’s still a game worth playing. Supposedly, 80% of consumers trust online reviews. I doubt the trust of a review is enough to choose an agent by itself, but it can provide backup support.

    • “80% of consumers trust online reviews.”

      Even my step dad (in his 60’s) doesn’t trust reviews, so I’m skeptical of this number. But if true, it’s not going to last — because reviews ARE gamed/fake on every major review site. The masses will eventually figure out what everyone in the tech industry knows to be true already.

      “I doubt the trust of a review is enough to choose an agent by itself, but it can provide backup support.”

      100% agree. It’s simply some social proof to make someone feel at ease (that they are not the first person to get scammed/duped).

      • That’s what I keep pointing out when I see this stat repeated at conferences. What people say in interviews is often very different from how they actually act.

        • Yep. I’ve learned to not believe what people say they do, and only put weight on what they actually do.

  • Sep Niakan

    I agree that reviews are not always easy to believe, but I think intelligent users will read the content and read between the lines to figure out where the reviewee’s (is that a word? lol) strengths and weaknesses may lie. Also, if someone has a number of negative reviews, it may signal an issue that is bigger than those few reviews. And, the bottom line is, would you instinctively gravitate toward someone with 50 reviews mostly 5 stars or someone with no reviews at all or just a couple of reviews? I, personally, would rather take a chance that I am being gamed and will go with the person/product with 50 reviews….Does that make me a sucker? 🙂

    • All things equal, I’d probably go with the 50 review person too. But knowing ONE of my highly trusted friends trusts person X…outweighs anything 25 or even 50 reviews say.

      • Sep Niakan

        True. Frankly, I would say that Yelp’s system works the best since they are pretty strict on what reviews they allow through and also because you can see which of your Yelp friends reviewed the place and the history of the reviewer’s reviews. I also very much agree with you that getting critical mass of reviews is ridiculously difficult which is why only the very big players seem to be getting anywhere with it. I want to trust Amazon but it has become very difficult to find the real reviews in between the fake ones. It would be a better service to the consumer if they could have some sort of “friend” network in the site. As for collecting reviews for the smaller sites, I wonder if giving away some sort of monthly prize or Starbucks gift card would do the trick and if it would pay off financially and if there is a way to connect the reviews with Facebook profiles easily so people can see what their own Facebook friends have to say

        • I honestly never look at reviews for anything. It’s too much noise. I basically only pay attention to things my trusted network tells me about. I guess part of that is also I’m quite a minimalist..I rarely buy anything at all.

  • Auction Watch

    I’ve personally been wondering about this topic for quite some time. Can’t agree more on the fact that the reviews will often only be done by people who are extremely happy, or extremely angry. But, this may be the value of it..
    2 points specifically. 1, if the post is positive then this can be an indication of the value of the Agent or Property. The more positives, the more likely they indeed are good. 2, if the posts are extremely negative, then people should pay attention to the response from the agent or property owner to ensure the reviewer isn’t jilted or a troll (or even worse, a competitor). Both positive and negative avenues deliver value to the customer I think.

  • Mark Lemon

    Opinions about reviews can be argued both ways, but from an e-commerce perspective, I can tell you that everything else being equal, more positive reviews wins. Does this translate to realtors? Maybe not, but I wouldn’t be willing to take that chance. I encourage all my Realtor clients to work on getting positive reviews, especially on Zillow, FB and Google. Anecdotally, it works.

    • Yep, agree on the ecommerce side of things. But the cost / risk of making a bad choice there is very low. I lose $20 because I bought a pan that cracked a week in. So what?

      That’s very different than if you botch your taxes, or a home purchase. There’s a much much bigger risk associated with that.

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