How to Overcome a Bad Reputation and Sour Apartment Reviews


Keeping all of your residents happy is the goal of every property manager, but this realistically is impossible. Often residents end up going through negative experiences whether it is by mistakes made by employees, something wrong with their apartment or sometimes just bad management decisions—yours or someone else’s.

Upset residents are quite capable of rapidly spreading the word and tarnishing the reputation of a community. Regardless of the reason, the reputation of your community can go sour when negative customer feedback is posted on an apartment reviews site and it becomes instantly visible in search engine results. A recent trip to a campground in Branson, Missouri inspired me to write this blog. It is a great example a management team that is focused on turning their reputation around and making lemonade out of lemons!  

1.      Sift Through The Mess

Our family started a new Thanksgiving tradition this year. We jumped into our motorhome and headed for Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. The kids were really excited to enjoy the rides and the attractions at the Old Time Christmas festival. I was charged with locating the perfect campground. We had a long list of must-haves, such as an indoor pool, free shuttle to Silver Dollar City, playground, concrete pad, quiet location, water connection, and cable. After an hour of research, I realized we had one option that fit all of our needs. I immediately began reading customer reviews. Everywhere I turned I found a split bag of reviews – very positive to terrible.  TripAdvisor provided 21 reviews—11 excellent and 10 terrible. The detective in me had to get to the bottom of this so I began to dig and read. In a short period of time the light bulb went off and I realized what the problem was. They had a management/owner change! Sound familiar?  Yes, it was pretty clear—the customers loved the original owners, hated the ones in-between, and the new ones are sifting through the mess and mending the wounds. Here are the three individual reviews that summed it all up for me. If I took the time I could probably pinpoint the dates that the management changed—it was that obvious.

  • Original Owners: This campground is clean and a safe place to take your family. The people that work here are friendly and caring. The Sims family and Tracy are great people.
  • In-Between Owners: Don’t plan on coming back and will not be recommending this place to anyone. First off, unfriendly staff from the main office to the cleaning people, pool closed early and the park is dirty. It was nice many years ago but went over the cliff in poor service. We will be finding a new place to stay during our weeks of vacations. Their loss!!! Won’t be coming back!!
  • Current Owners: We were very much surprised with how cute this little cabin was! The layout was great, and the screened in porch with table and chairs out front was really nice in the evenings. AND we even got a free shuttle ride to and from Silver Dollar City, any time of day we wanted. The cabin and campground are clean and welcoming. I even got a kick out of watching the guy in the little golf cart that chases cars down to make sure they are supposed to be there, lol. I tried a little humor with the desk staff, since some of the reviews I read offered very negative remarks about the staff; it was well received. Overall we enjoyed our stay, and would recommend this spot to our friends and family.

Situations like this are unfortunate but not uncommon, especially in property management.  I spent many years working for a fee management company and I found that being open and honest was the best policy during the apartment community transition process. I didn’t attempt to cover a mess up or pretend bad things never happened. I openly addressed issues one-by-one rather than burying them and just claiming “we are the new guys in town”. While we wish bad customer reviews would be erased when the new team takes over—this is just not the case.

After speaking to various staff members at this campground they confirmed what the online reviews reflected, the campers LOVED the original owners, the in-between management was terrible, and the new management must now mend the wounds and create their own positive press. The online reviews reflected the story perfectly!

2.      Clean Up The Mess. It takes time to clean up sour reviews and turn around a bad reputation. Here are a few steps that can help you begin the process. Before you can fix it, you need to know the cause of the problem. Determine the cause of the negative reviews and bad reputation. Announce that a change has been made. Announce any positive changes that you’ve made. The best way to convince people that your community today does not reflect your bad reputation is to clearly contradict the negative with any positive changes that you’ve made.

3. Focus on the customer. The way your customers perceive your business changes depends on the level of customer service you provide. Overcoming a bad reputation requires you to give your full attention to the customer—and sometimes more. This means helping the customer and ensuring he is satisfied even after he leaves. Your unique services will make you stand out from your competition.

4. Reveal the bad and replace it with the good. Ask customers for their opinion about your community and their experience following each transaction.  This can be accomplished through online resident survey tools and other methods. Most important is that you reveal your community’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can more efficiently drive business process improvement. Sometimes customer feedback can be raw and painful to read. Avoid taking it personally—it’s not! If a large majority of customers have the same concerns and complaints, look to make more changes to meet the customer’s expectations. Communicate changes and encourage positive press! Many customers will be compelled to write a good review that will offset the bad ones.

5. Show the customer your appreciation. It doesn’t have to be much. A pleasant note of appreciation is a good way to turn an unsatisfied customer into a happy one or a happy customer into a loyal one.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot of lemonade to be made from sour reviews. They can add credibility to your positive reviews, and perhaps most importantly negative customer feedback can give your community a chance to respond and show how totally awesome you really are!

The next time your community gets slammed with negative customer feedback on a review site, be it legitimate complaints or not, you can’t afford to ignore the negativity and the potential bad reputation it might lead to. Instead, look for ways to offset the negative with the positive.

-Maria Lawson

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