First of all, before you read the reviews, make sure the cottage you’re considering is a cottage you’re quite happy to stay in before reading the reviews. Does it fit your criteria? Imagine yourself and your family or friends relaxing in the photos etc.
Still like the look of the property? OK, let’s check the reviews. These come in two types: reviews or testimonials listed on a property’s website or advert, and reviews posted on independent review sites.
Reviews featured on a property’s website.
You can pretty much guarantee that these will be positive. Occasionally some owners post comments which flag up the unsuitability of the property for particular types of customers, e.g. a comment on an unfenced pond might be there deliberately to deter bookers with young children in tow.
Assuming though, that the reviews uniformly praise the property, here are four things to check.
1. Are they attributable?
OK, don’t expect contact details, but a name and town, such as ‘The Thomas family, Chesterfield’, means that, unless the owner is happy to break the Trades Description Act (which is rare!), then the review is likely to be genuine and appears with that person’s knowledge. So if there are lots of these, then that’s a good sign.
2. Are reviews dated?
The older a review, the less likely it is to be relevant. You don’t know if the property changed hands and the new owners are failing to maintain the standards of the previous owners because they are using very old testimonials. We had an overseas villa that we sold in 2008, but even now, twelve years on, reviews on the website have not been updated. - and the availability calendar is very bare. Treat undated reviews with a degree of suspicion – they could be ancient; accurate at the time but possibly misleading if applied to the property as it is today.
3. If dated, how recent are the reviews?
Smart owners who look after their cottages and guests will have a wealth of good reviews each year which they regularly upload. They don’t need age-old reviews. Such owners know that you want to know just how good your cottage is right now. If reviews are excellent but more than a couple of years old, treat with a measure of caution. It means that either nobody has had anything good to say about the site lately or that owners can’t be bothered to update their site. If the latter is the case – what else can’t they be bothered to do about the property or managing your booking?
4. Is there variation in style between the different reviews?
A harder one to check, but if there is a uniformity in the style of writing and use of language, it’s possible that the reviews all stem from the same hand. Of course, no one will ever admit to writing all his or her own reviews, but sadly it does happen. Uniformity of language, style or structure suggests that this might just be the case. Diversity of style suggests reviews are genuine.
Reviews on independent travel websites
Independent reviews are great. Sadly, and generally through no fault of the site itself, they can be open to abuse. For example, past polls found that 61% of people no longer fully trusted reviews on Trip Advisor.
Be aware that people may use these sites to post reviews that are simply not true. Sometimes the intention is to create a portfolio of glowing reviews written by those with a vested interest in the property concerned. Sometimes the review is a malicious tract written by a competitor hoping to undermine a nearby property. Occasionally they are written§ § someone attempting to blackmail an owner into giving them a refund to stop them posting a damning but wholly fictitious review of their property. The problem is, that it is hard to separate truth from fiction. But, here are four more tips to help you to do just that.
As with the first section – a review carries greater weight if it is attributable, - Personally, I distrust all anonymous reviews, good or bad!
2. From what position is the reviewer writing?
Have they actually stayed at the property? Look for evidence of this, especially if the nature of the review means they will have to have stayed there to experience whatever it is they are writing about. Check the terms of the site to see if this is a compulsory requirement. Ideally, a review should display the date a person stayed at the property.
3. Aged complaints?
If the review is an old one, then depending on the nature of the complaint, there is a good chance that the owner will have long since addressed what they condemned. You can always call the owner to check!
4. What is the ratio between good and bad?
What if you encounter a damming review amidst a sea of praise? Before you strike the property from your shortlist, remember, nobody is perfect. Just occasionally, things go wrong and even the best and most caring of owners can find themselves bearing the brunt of someone’s frustration. So, if there are just one or two negative reviews amongst a sea of praise – consider what they are saying and whether sufficient time has passed to address the criticisms expressed. Do take into account the fact that almost every other guest ever since appears to have had quite the opposite experience. This approach helps to nullify postings from those trying to blackmail owners or attack their competitors.
5.Time of Year
An interesting phenomenon: By August a popular holiday cottage may have been so full from Easter onwards that the owner will have been unable to do much more than cleaning and light maintenance. While this shouldn’t be an issue, it does mean that reviews in late summer tend to be harsher than those earlier in the year. For example, if that farmhouse pine table as coffee-cup rings on it, a lack of matching wine glasses or marks and scratches on walls and paintwork - guests paying peak rates may slip in the occasional critical remark. These things will more than likely be addressed in the autumn as soon as the owner has space between bookings to do the work required. Critical comments relating to the condition of a cottage in the spring should perhaps be taken a little more seriously!
6. Are there owner replies?
Always worth reading. If nothing else it’ll give you an insight into the personality of the owner. A constructive and unemotional response, sometimes even conceding a point, is likely to mean that the owner is indeed caring and committed. An emotional rant in response to a poor review suggests that the review itself may contain more than a grain of truth.
Use these guidelines which will help you to determine the likely validity of the reviews. Do take notice of feedback, but don’t dismiss a property only because it has had one bad review spoiling an otherwise perfect track record. It usually means the owner is likely to be honest and will probably have addressed the complaint - especially if subsequent reviews don’t mention the problem. You can always call to ask.