About half of our revenue, and 80% of our interaction with the public is a result of our property management business. Most of the time, most of the people and most of the leases unfold without a hitch. But the reason that people pay property managers is because sometimes there is a problem. Where there are problems there are sometimes disputes.
Usually disputes occur because one side or the other doesn't understand the lease or the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act (VRLTA). Some people don't honor their obligations. For example, a dispute can occur because when a tenant leaves a mess after moving out. Some tenants damage their rental. One landlord wanted us to withhold more money than the landlord was owed. That landlord was angry left us a bad review after we refused to give them the tenant's money.
We don't like turmoil, or disputes or problems. The truth is we love returning deposit money to tenants. We hate charging late fees. We wish we could accept every applicant on every property. But if it was that easy, no one would ever pay a property manager. We are paid because we manage problems, risks, turmoils and disputes.
When there is a dispute, we have to use our experience and knowledge of the lease and Virginia Landlord Tenant Act to resolve the dispute. We don't benefit from resolving disputes, and we try to avoid disputes. But when we have to resolve a dispute someone almost always walks away unhappy.
Unhappy people who are wrong can't seek redress in the court (because they are wrong). Unhappy people who are wrong can't appeal the decision (because they are wrong). But what they can do when they are wrong is post an anonymous disparaging review on Yelp . . . and in our experience they always do.
On the other hand, when a lease ends and a tenant pays his rent on time, gets his deposit returned in full, that tenant almost never takes a moment to leave a positive review.
Most of the bad reviews we've ever gotten were because one-party was angry with us about how a dispute was resolved.
We reject applications.
It's not uncommon for Nesbitt Realty to receive multiple applications for a rental property. No matter how many applications we receive the landlord can only choose one applicant. The applicants that don't get selected sometimes get angry. They think that we somehow benefit from just picking one tenant.
Sometimes they get angry because they want their (non-refundable) fee for the background check returned to them. They don't understand that we don't profit from doing background checks.
Some applicants don't understand that we do a verification of rental history. (That means we check with previous landlords.) If the previous landlord can't (or won't) respond in a timely fashion, then we cannot finish the background check in a timely fashion.
The truth is that we would love to rent to everyone, but that's not how things work in the real world. Some applications, even some good applications, get rejected. A few of our bad reviews were by folks whose applications were rejected.
When we reject an application or choose a better applicant, we get a bad review on Yelp.
The numbers work against us.
Half of Nesbitt Realty's revenue comes from sales and half of our money comes from property management/rentals. Although we work with buyers, sellers, renters and landlords, the overwhelming majority of our interactions with the public are with renters. Renters are least likely to "understand the rules of the road" and most likely to want to use Yelp to vent when they don't get their way.
When we sell someone's home, the sellers are happy and we are finished. When we help someone buy a home, they are happy and we are finished. But a rental is an on-going problem to manage. At the very least, we interact with every single landlord and tenant 12 times per year to collect and disburse rent. In addition we have to manage inspections, maintenance, repairs and rental marketing.
As mentioned above, landlords and tenants have conflicts about repairs, maintenance, property condition, access (for showing the property). Nesbitt Realty has ten times as many tenants as buyers and we have five times as many landlords as seller.
We interact with hundreds and hundreds of renters every single month. Few renters post a review that says, "I paid my rent on time and got my deposit back." But almost every renter that thinks he or she was wronged will post a Yelp review.
Yelp is a bully.
Why do renters post on Yelp? Because Yelp provides the perfect forum to anonymously defame a business.
Yelp is free and it protects the identity of the person that is complaining.
Furthermore, Yelp doesn't verify that Yelper actually did any business with the target of the complaint. In other words (and it has happened), someone can submit a rental application through another brokerage to a property we manage and then after the application has been rejected, they can post several disparaging or defamatory reviews from several anonymous accounts.
"Anti-Yelp sentiment is rampant on the Internet and social media. Sites like YelpFiction.com, Yelp-Sucks.com and YelpLawsuit.com offer Yelp critics both legal advice and a place to vent their frustrations. The “Tell Your Story” page on Yelp-Sucks.com features hundreds of comments from entrepreneurs who say Yelp has negatively affected their businesses. On Facebook, pages like Yelp Extortion and others feature similar stories. Last year, a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the FTC revealed nearly 700 complaints against Yelp over the last four years, with some business owners comparing the website to the Mafia." writes Christopher Zara of the International Business Times.
Many small-business owners complain that Yelp is an extortion or protection-racket. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to Yelp Extortion. If you're interested, do your own research but I can tell you what happened to our business.
Yelp sold Nesbitt Realty an advertising package that cost us around $1000 per month and locked us in for a year. That was a lot of money for our little business, but Yelp promised to bring us lots of business, so we took a chance. The results were much less than expected and financially didn't make any sense for us. We couldn't cancel so we paid out the entire year of advertising and did not renew our advertising.
Then when we stopped paying, Yelp removed all of our good reviews from it's calculation. Yelp hid those reviews as "not recommended". I altered our profile to point out some of the problems described above and Yelp reverted our profile against our wishes.
At that point, I removed all links to Yelp from our site. Although the crappy reviews from disgruntled and/or unreasonable people stacked up, we didn't respond on Yelp. We just ignored them.
Now, we've decided to just take it head-on. If you want to use Yelp as your sole source for reviews, I doubt you'll like us. But if you are so inclined you might want to compare our Yelp reviews to numerous other sites including Zillow, Thumbtack, Trulia, Angie's List, Merchant Circle, Google and more.
Yes, we have a few bad reviews on all of those platforms, but by-and-large we have outstanding reviews from most people most of the time. Are we perfect? No. We are human. But when we make a mistake, we apologize and pay for and clean up our messes. That's the best we can do.
On the other, hand we don't back down to Internet bullies or unreasonable people who attempt to take advantage of our our clients or our duty to the public. Here's what some people are saying about Yelp.
Many small businesses like ours have considered suing Yelp, but Yelp has a legal team paid for by a billion-dollar company. Every penny we spend on this and every second we spend worrying about it is one less second that we have to spend on our business taking care care of customers.
We can burn up a lot of money and time fighting the world, or we can just keep doing good work and let it sort itself out on its own.
If you've had a positive experience with us, we'd very much appreciate you letting others know.