Online apartment ratings services: Are they any good?

apartment buildingsAs more and more homeowners find themselves facing foreclosure and having to move into rental apartments, on-line apartment ratings services increasingly become a handy tool for trying to find out about a unit for rent and more about a neighborhood, perhaps, that is unfamiliar territory. was founded nearly a decade ago and claims to be "the largest online rating community for rental housing, reaching approximately 30% of apartment hunters nationwide."

There are, of course, others. But the real question is, like any other tool, do you know how to use it effectively?

Let's walk through some basics that, if adhered to, should make your experience with any online apartment ratings service a more useful and pleasant one.

For one thing, like any online service that offers public commentary, one has to take it with a grain, or even small chunk, of salt. A negative assessment of a rental building or particular landlord or management company could be the result of a vendetta by a tenant who had a bad experience and elects to get some revenge by writing a negative review.

In fact, some experts recommend that you study an apartment ratings service website carefully to see what the ratio is of positive to negative reviews: too many negatives may indicate that people tend to use the site to get back at their former or current landlords; too many positive reviews, on the other hand, might mean that the "independent" reviews are actually being written by the landlord's friends or, maybe, the landlord him or herself.

Instead of focusing on reviews that talk about how nice or not nice individuals might be who are associated with the rental unit. ... things that you probably can't verify objectively, zero in, instead, on review comments about things you can confirm. If a review derides a rental building for bad plumbing or health code violations, you should be able to get independent information from public records on file with city, county or state offices.

Using these online tools can make looking for and finding a suitable rental apartment (especially should the need arise on quick notice because of a dramatic change in your own life circumstances) much, much easier, provided you understand early on the true limitations of any of these ventures and work those limitations to your advantage.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think- The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle."

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