November 23, 2013

Beware of fake reviews!

I have written this post in exasperation.

Moral of this story: Beware of sites with only positive reviews

My family booked a house on VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) in New Orleans for 7 of us to have a wonderful 3-generation family reunion in June of this year. My brother, his wife and my 4-year old niece were coming from the Cayman Islands and my husband and I were driving with mum and dad from a few days in Nashville and Memphis to the what was to be the culmination of our music road trip.

At the time of writing I am still battling with VRBO to have negative review published. (Review is now published, but scroll to the bottom to see what the owner emailed us)

Bourbon St New Orleans

Just a cyclist on Bourbon Street

Here’s what went down:

After weeks of online research for a suitable 3 bedroom house with a pool and a bbq area that was close to town, we settled on this particular property. All the reviews were fantastic. All 4 or 5 stars. Not a single negative thing, except a throwaway comment that they thought it was quite far but when they got the house, it was just what they hoped for.

We clicked BOOK!

Canal Street

The trams on Canal Street

Later we realised that the address was “hidden” on the site and therefore not showing on a city map, so we were reliant solely on the reviews to figure out how far away from the French Quarter we’d be. (Remember, we’re from New Zealand, we don’t know New Orleans very well!)

VRBO filthy house

Seriously, how long would it take to clean this door?!

But with a 7-seater car we figured the 10-minute drive that was described would be ok for what we were getting.

Dad was in charge of paying the deposit and there was either some problem with the site taking credit cards or dad stuffed it up (!). Either way, a bank cheque was mailed to the owner for our deposit, the first night’s accommodation of US$295.

Two days before we were to depart NZ I realised we still had no actual address. I emailed the owner and was sent a street name and number. No suburb or ZIP code. I followed him up and said we’d need that info for the GPS and my brother for the taxi driver. He replied Arabi. (Anyone who knows New Orleans will have red flags flapping by now, it’s beyond the Lower Ninth Ward).

Scroll forward and Richie and his family arrived before us on our long drive from Memphis. They had passed Katrina houses with X’s still on the walls and a homeless man sleeping on our street under a tree. The taxi driver told him in 10 years he’d never driven visitors here. He left them saying to lock the doors at night. Oh and that’s after I had found it on Google Earth before we left home which showed a run down shed! (The owner said no, no, no, his property is behind it)

So Richie texts while we’re on the road saying he doesn’t think we’d want to stay here for 4 nights. He had phoned the owner to say we’ve arrived and is met with, “how are you paying the balance”, and “I’ll be over shortly to pick up the cash”.

Fortunately he look photos inside of the wires hanging out of the wall, the hole in the door, the mould on the windows contributing to the musty smell and then we discovered the pool was shared by 3 properties and there was no gas bottle with the barbecue.

Beignets New Orleans

We just wanted to eat beignets!

How many red flags have you counted?

We decided to escape and forfeit dad’s deposit and headed for a hotel within walking distance from the French Quarter.

Trying to post my negative review on VRBO:

I posted a review to warn others about the state of this place, but VRBO declined to publish it stating it contained “rumour and hearsay”. When I asked which part was such, they said the part about the taxi driver having never dropped anyone here. I took that line out and resubmitted it. It was declined again as I now need to provide proof that we stayed (duh!), got a refund (again duh!) or emails from the owner to prove our booking.

VRBO damaged house

Not a biggie, but the whole feel was dodgy at this point

I forwarded the latter of our email exchanges (including finally getting the actual address which should be reason enough to be suspicious) along with the photos of the damage to substantiate my review. It was declined again as they needed to be able to “match my photos with that on the site”. Can you sense a theme here!

Fortunately I had a couple more photos that show a patterned duvet and the kitchen, so I sent more photos. It was declined again as I now needed to provide proof of our payment even though the email thread with the owner verifies he received it.

I sent the proof of a bank cheque and asked for this saga to be escalated to management. Two phone calls later from John at HQ in Texas and I got permission to have the review posted – but not before he told me that VRBO is an advertising site and they are loathe to upset their customers by posting reviews like this. WHAT??!!

The review is now up, but before it went live they obviously emailed the owner, who in turn emailed my dad calling him a douche. He and mum had to look up what that meant.

SO! Here’s my research on review guidelines so you can be wary of all those positive reviews with nary a negative one in sight:

VRBO Guidelines. Incidentally “rumour and hearsay” is not listed as a reason to decline a review. Evidence of stay must be provided.

Air BnB Guidelines. A review can be submitted after booking confirmation. Some further research however does show that people who have posted negative reviews have had them reviewed.

TripAdvisor Guidelines. In my experience of posting Tripadvisor reviews, it seems I can post anything (without profanity or breaking other obvious rules). And as you do see lots of negative reviews here, I’m inclined to trust this site the most.

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What’s been your experience of posting negative reviews?

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About Megan Singleton

Megan

Megan Singleton is a travel writer, blogger and radio correspondent. She's been gallivanting around the world telling stories for the last 16 years and has her suitcase always half packed (or half un-packed!) Follow along on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want to keep up with the journey!

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