Let’s say you need tennis balls for your dog
That’s a reasonable thing to go on Amazon for, right? And while this purchase is not what one would call a “high-ticket item,” once you type “tennis balls for dogs” into Amazon you get dozens, if not hundreds, of options. Now begins the process that social scientists call “choice overload,” where you become overwhelmed by all the options and start figuring out the best ways to reduce the list to a more manageable number. The first thing many Amazon customers turn to is reviews. Reviews are so important that virtually every marketing shop under the sun has written a blog post about it and how to get more/better reviews (more on that in a second), but USA Today has actually called them “priceless.” In that article, they note some research that going from zero reviews to one review increases the probability of a customer clicking “Buy” by 65%.
So now here you are, reading different tennis ball reviews -- density, bounce, packaging, etc. -- and you’re in a serious 1-hour or so rabbit hole. Imagine if Da Vinci had Amazon reviews. Would the Mona Lisa ever have been finished?
Ultimately, you are pretty confident in your choice based on reviews and a few other tabs you have open. You spend $29 on a bag of tennis balls for your doggy.
Now let’s say you’re in DFW and need a place to live
You work in downtown Dallas, kind of near the DART, and your friends hang out in the SMU area, but you’re kind of getting serious with a woman in Frisco. That’s a lot of options! What’s the desired proximity to every point you regularly have to access? How can you find the best place for you to rent, because you’re not ready to buy?
A lot of people we’ve met over the past few years will initially turn to reviews. They will open up a Google Map, plot the points such as work, significant other, favorite bar, etc … and then search “Apartments” or “Luxury Apartments” and start looking at Google reviews of options that pop up. Maybe they text a few friends in the process “Hey, heard of such-and-such complex?”
Brief pause: A note on any online review
A few years ago, I had the chance to go to a conference at Glassdoor. If you are unfamiliar with Glassdoor, they became famous -- and eventually got acquired by a bigger company -- because they allowed employees and former employees to rate/score their employer. There was a sense that the site created transparency around “What’s it really like to work at this place?” If you ask someone that while you’re interviewing, what do you think they will say? “It's a great, great culture, great people…” They are looking to fill a role because work needs to be done, so they are selling you on it. But Glassdoor creates transparency, right? Well, kind of.
At this conference, a high-ranking dude at the company said that if you’re a potential employee, he’d recommend tossing out all the 5s (best reviews) and all the 1s (worst). The 1s are probably people who got fired, honestly. The 5s are probably the biggest acolytes in the place (i.e. potential brown-nosers). Instead, find the 4s and 3s and see what people say. Usually some of those reviews will do a list of pros and cons. Those tend to be people with the most realistic perspectives of an employer.
It looks the same with apartment reviews. The 5s are sometimes even people who work for the complex; the 1s are potentially rival complexes. It’s better to look at the thorough reviews in the middle.
Now let’s talk about the math on tennis balls vs. an apartment
In the first example above, you spent $29 on tennis balls for your dog after looking through online reviews, right?
Well, the late-2019 average DFW unit price was $1,160/month. Multiply by 12 and that’s $13,920 for the year.
So, you used a similar process for a $29 purchase and a $13,920 purchase, largely because -- in both cases -- the reviews were immediately available as part of your search?
I don’t know if AP Economics professors you had back in the day would like this approach.
What’s a better approach?
Look, reviews are one input. They are there for a reason, and you should look at them. You should also look at amenities, proximity, and get a feel for the floor plans, trash situation, gym, common areas, etc.
And this is where “true expertise” comes in.
See, instead of using the same online research process for a bag of tennis balls and a place you’ll live for 12 months … holler at us. This is what we do every day; we work with people very similar to you -- same arc of life, often -- and help them find apartments within a price range, within a location range, featuring certain amenities, etc. Because at this point we’ve worked with hundreds to thousands of custom searches, and because we regularly work with apartment complexes too (to know their specific deals at specific times), we are experts in this area.
So you can trust semi-anonymized reviews for a big life decision, or you can trust expertise. Tennis balls for your dog are important, but it’s not a big life decision. Where you live is a big life decision. As such, the decisions need to be made in different ways.