Does Vesta Preferred prefer self-help on Yelp?

by Joe Zekas on 1/29/13

Yesterday’s post about Vesta Preferred’s misleading advice to renters elicited some anonymous testimonials for Greg Pekarsky, one of the firm’s principals, in our comments.

Pekarsky has been the subject of anonymous testimonials on Yelp since the dawn of his career at Homescout Realty. Some of those testimonials are clearly fraudulent, while the rest just lack the ring of truth.

On September 17, 2009, Yelper Jasmine C wrote a glowing 5-star review for Homescout Realty’s Pekarsky:

Work with Greg Pekarsky.

Greg helped me find the perfect apartment; not only did it fit my budget , it came with everything I asked for: heat included, less than 2 blocks from the L, pool, et cetera.

Homescout is great. Their listings are far superior and the agent I worked with was respectful and fantastic to deal with. Go with Homescout!

A month later, on October 17, Jasmine C trashed her purported new landlord, ICM Properties, with a 1-star review:

I’m hoping for your sake that you are reading these reviews BEFORE signing a lease. I did not have that luxury.

Rats, heater dying in the dead of winter, plumbing problems, and learning the hard way that lack of a security deposit is NOT a good thing. It just means the people before you did whatever the hell they wanted with the apartment. It shows.

Did ICM ever have apartments with a pool? It would be news to me. Was Jasmine C honest in either review?

Skip ahead, past a dozen reeking reviews from Pekarsky’s days at Homescout, to his tenure at Vesta Preferred and you come to Dan L’s 5-star production:

We bought our first house through Greg and Vesta Preferred. We couldn’t have asked for a better agent. Greg worked showed us over 50 homes before we found one we liked. He is also quite the negotiator. Greg knocked 20% off the asking price and stayed with us through the entire short sale ordeal (over 9 months). We recommend Greg to all of our friends and when the time comes, we will gladly use him again.

Thanks!

Dan L, whose hometown is Chicago, is quite the guy. He’s out with his girlfriend one day, a wife the next, then buys an engagement ring. He has kids who make a one-review cameo, never to be seen or hinted at again. Based in the Chicago area, Dan bounces around the country without explanation. He’s shopping at a Whole Foods in Orange, CT and visiting a chiropractor there while apparently living in Seattle. Although he has no disclosed connection to New Haven, CT, he reviews a dentist there:

I’ve been going to see Dr. Landa for almost a decade. He is a remarkable dentist who uses the latest techniques and technology and pays much attention to details. I highly recommend him for everything from a check-up to major work.

During the time that Pekarsky was at Homescout, we suggested that Homescout had unleashed legions of shills on Yelp. Homescout now has 48 reviews and 280 (!) filtered reviews at Yelp.

You can read the rest of the Yelp reviews for Vesta Preferred and judge for yourself whether any of them are credible. I don’t think any are. Ditto for the many reviews of Vesta Preferred agents at Zillow – some of which are repeated verbatim from Yelp, years after the original Yelp reviews.

It’s an ugly thing if the reviews are as phony as they appear to be, but Vesta Preferred puts an even uglier spin on them with this assertion on its About us page:

We are trusted by many and are the highest regarded company on Yelp.

When I read that I can’t help thinking that I’m being asked to trust someone because he’s a chronic liar.

If you appreciate the light we’re shedding on Chicago’s rental services, show your support by liking our Craigslist Apartment Cleanup page at Facebook.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Pelle January 29, 2013 at 7:48 AM

The pettiness and overall weirdness of this whole thing is getting comical at this point.

But rather than go back and forth with you, I’m genuinely curious about something: If you suspect that Dan L. is in fact not a real person and that his review(s) are fabricated, would it not be easy to simply send the individual a message via yelp (while you’re e-stalking him) and ask him yourself? If you have such dedication to truth, it seems like you would actually want to simply go to the source. Of course, this assumes that you actually have any interest in painting a balanced, truthful picture of the entire situation. Which obviously, you do not.

I have to admit though, I did get a chuckle out of the thought that a person would write in excess of sixty reviews on yelp simply to disguise the fact that he is in fact a shill for Gregory Pekarsky. Even you have to be aware how patently absurd this sounds.

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Fred January 29, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Joe isn’t claiming Dan L is a shill for Gregory Pekarsky, he is is claiming that Dan L is a shill for Yelp. Sometimes businesses pay people to post phony positive reviews about their business. Joe is saying Gregory Pekarsky likely paid Dan L to post a phony positive review, just like the dentist and a grocery in CT did.

Dan L didn’t “write in excess of sixty reviews on yelp simply to disguise the fact that he is in fact a shill for Gregory Pekarsky.” He (likely) wrote sixty reviews on Yelp for money.

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Joe Zekas January 29, 2013 at 8:46 AM

Pelle,

I should contact a fraud artist and ask if he’s telling the truth? Get a grip on reality. Even you have to be aware that Dan L is also shilling for a dentist in New Haven, a pediatrician in Glencoe, a jewelry store, etc. etc.

I sat face to face with the boys who ran Homescout and listened to them lie to me repeatedly with a straight face. Been there, done that with way too many of these creeps over the years.

If you’re interested in a balanced picture, tell us about all the one-time Yelpers who create an account solely to heap praise on an apartment finder they’ve likely never seen – unless they work there.

How in the hell can you defend fraud – which is exactly what you’re doing?

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Pelle January 29, 2013 at 9:22 AM

Sigh…

It’s much easier to demonize someone than to actually make an honest attempt to get the truth, isn’t it? How is someone writing a positive review of a business that they purportedly had a positive experience with “shilling”? If it’s so obvious this “creep” is some sort of dishonest scum and not simply a person who wrote a brief review, why not at least have the decency to follow up on your claims and confirm them by seeking out an interview with him? I think we both know why you have no interest in doing that, and it has nothing to do with him being a shill.

Knowing a decent amount of people who use Yelp, and also having come into contact with business owners (specifically an auto repairman) who have requested that I write reviews of their business if I was satisfied with the service provided (something I ultimately elected not to do), I really don’t see how it’s that out of the question that some of these rental services would be doing the exact same thing.

How exactly do you think this qualifies as such evil and dishonest behavior? They, like any other small business owner, benefit from positive word of mouth.

I don’t see anything wrong with perhaps thinking that a yelp reviewer should mention that they were asked to write the review in response to a positive experience, but I’m just not seeing how that is a problem. This sort of thing is not new, and certainly not unique to sites such as yelp.

The fact that some of these individuals may only have one review also seems pretty easy to explain in my opinion.
Is it truly that hard to comprehend that someone who was previously unaware of yelp would be asked to talk about their experience with a business and then simply not write another review? Really?

Just for reference, take a look at Prudential Rubloff Properties on yelp, they have a review from Cheryl S. who also has ONE total review. Not to mention, this review is and unsurprising glowing 5 stars. You see no reason to write a hatchet piece about them, why is that?

You’re so blinded by your own bias and obvious agenda that you don’t bother to sit back for a moment and realize that many of these questions you ask have relatively simple answers.

All that being said, I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this if you applied the same standards to some of your own clients. But of course, we know that will never happen.

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Joe Zekas January 29, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Pelle,

The reviews are fraudulent. Period. You don’t see what’s wrong with that?

If you’re so concerned about honesty, tell us who you are and meet with me.

I apply absolutely the same standards to my clients. The difference is that I know that my clients have integrity. If I suspect a phony review, I contact the client directly and know that the situation will be addressed and corrected.

Prudential Rubloff is a very large firm – with a total of 4 reviews on Yelp as a company, and a small number of reviews for individual agents. You won’t find, as you will for Vesta Preferred, scores of reeking reviews that are filtered out by Yelp.

You’re proving to be just another troll out to spread misinformation, and I’m cutting you off from this point forward. Future comments from you will go directly to the spam filter, where they belong.

I’m not going to allow YoChicago to become another venue where rental services spread their lies.

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Kevin January 29, 2013 at 1:43 PM

Joe

You should look into how Vesta has people in other countries mass posting thousands of garbage adds a week on Craigslist. They have all sorts of shady methods over there for spamming up Craigslist. Keep up the good work Joe!

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Joe Zekas January 29, 2013 at 1:49 PM

Thanks, Kevin. I have been looking closely at their Craigslist ads.

A heads-up for people looking at apartments on Craigslist – if you see an ad that has most of the copy embedded in a single JPG image, and that doesn’t include the address and name of a property, it’s likely to be a rental service ad. Vesta Preferred’s ads are almost all JPG images, which are a way of bypassing Craigslist’s spam filters.

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Mark February 9, 2013 at 5:40 PM

Just came across this in the link below: It’s a picture of the Realtor you are bashing with a picture of the very client you accused of being a paid yelp shill. Notice the keys for the home they’re closing on. I assume you’re now going to say that this is also part of an elaborate conspiracy?

Wait, let me guess, Dan L. actually went ahead and purchased a home through the Realtor to make a couple bucks for a fake positive review on yelp? Please explain this, I can’t wait to hear your explanation.

http://www.vestapreferred.com/blog/leasing/unleashing-the-power-of-online-reviews/

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Joe Zekas February 9, 2013 at 6:28 PM

Mark,

Curious that you “just came across” that photo which just happened to appear after my post.

I read Pekarsky’s blog post as all of a piece with the patently phony Dan L reviews on Yelp. The people in the photo have no real names, and we have no idea who they are.

Pekarsky is the one who has some explaining to do. A fair reading of the situation is that he’s simply compounded the dishonesty with that post and photo.

Please explain how all of Dan L’s reviews can be read together as describing the experiences of an actual person?

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Mark February 10, 2013 at 9:56 AM

I’m not following why I wouldn’t think the reviews are from an actual person? It seems pretty obvious at this point, to be honest. You also blatantly ignored and failed to address any of my questions. What a shocker.

At this point I don’t even think you actually believe the yarn you’re spinning, let alone any fair minded reader (of which, judging by the lack of comments on most of these threads, you have precious few). It’s also more than a little humorous that you can suggest with a straight face that this is all part of some sort of massive conspiracy pulled off by a couple of individuals who probably have no idea your site even exists.

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Joe Zekas February 10, 2013 at 11:18 AM

Mark,

Why do you need to lie about or misinterpret what I wrote? Or are you simply unable to understand it?

Your so-called questions were too ridiculous to address.

I stand by what I’ve written. Will Dan L and Greg Pekarsky meet with me and stand by what they’ve written? Will you meet with me and do that?

You can respond by email to yojoe at yochicago dot com. I think readers will understand why your further lame attempts to confuse them belong in the trash bin with the efforts from the other rental service trolls.

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Buster February 13, 2013 at 5:57 AM

I have to admit…I’m not one to look at apartment rental ads. I haven’t since the days when you had to grab a Reader as soon as it came out to circle the best ones. But today’s online apartment ads sounds like a mess! And this attempt at writing a phony blog post with a photo of the phony reviewer are cracking me up. The lengths people will go to! And the deceit couldn’t be more obvious. Funny indeed how “Mark” stumbled upon the blog post.

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Buster February 13, 2013 at 6:05 AM

Funny that Dan and Rita L are first time homebuyers in Chicago…but also seem like very active buyers in Tuscon too!

Yelp (chicago)
We bought our first house through Greg and Vesta Preferred. We couldn’t have asked for a better agent. Greg worked showed us over 50 homes before we found one we liked. He is also quite the negotiator. Greg knocked 20% off the asking price and stayed with us through the entire short sale ordeal (over 9 months). We recommend Greg to all of our friends and when the time comes, we will gladly use him again.
Thanks!
(Dan from Dan and Rita L)

Netproperties.com (tuscon)
“Net Properties / Dan Leonard have been incredibly valuable in every phase of my property purchases and sales. I have been amazed at how diligent and efficient he has been throughout the multiple transactions I have used him for. I am out of state and it’s been like having eyes and ears in Tucson, always keeping me updated on whatever transaction phase we are in. Totally trustworthy, I can’t recommend anyone more highly.”
Best Regards,
Dan and Rita L.

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Joe Zekas February 13, 2013 at 8:16 AM

Buster,

I can’t find that netproperties review from Dan L. Do you have a link?

ADDED: Additional research discloses that there is, in fact, a Dan L and that he did, in fact, buy a home with Greg as his agent according to public records and the MLS. The closing picture on Greg’s blog is apparently real.

I spoke with the seller’s agent who has an entirely different understanding of the transaction than Dan L reports in his review. She chuckled at the notion that Greg negotiated a 20% discount. In her view “the buyer eventually came up to the price the bank was willing to accept. Buyers’ agents don’t get to negotiate anything in a short sale.”

Dan L’s original home town is apparently Orange, CT – near New Haven – which makes the dentist review somewhat less suspect.

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Jamie February 13, 2013 at 1:29 PM

Joe,

Not trying to be antagonistic, but after the original article and all of your subsequent derogatory posts in the comments section here, one would think that an apology to Mr. Pekarsky is in order, no?

I’d like to point out I’m only referring to this specific issue, your beef with rental services in general being entirely separate.

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Joe Zekas February 13, 2013 at 2:06 PM

Will Mr Pekarsky correct the misleading impression left by Dan L’s reviews? Stop running illegal ads? Stop spamming Craigslist?

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Jamie February 13, 2013 at 2:17 PM

I suppose you’d have to ask him those questions yourself?

Though I do find it odd that after hurling baseless insults such as “fraud artist” at this Dan individual and also implying that Pekarsky somehow put him up to it, you’re unwilling to admit being even slightly in the wrong here.

Spamming craigslist has nothing to do with the article you wrote above, and I don’t see how anyone aside from this Dan individual can control what he writes in a review. I’m not sure how you attribute the fault for that to Pekarsky.

Seems to me apologizing for this specific article, in which it turns out your accusations were almost entirely false, is the right thing to do. Apparently, you disagree.

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Joe Zekas February 13, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Jamie,

I’ve presented – without prompting – facts that put my original post in a somewhat different light.

Dan L’s reviews still don’t add up to the experiences of a real person, and his review of Pekarsky doesn’t square with what a disinterested Realtor told me about her (likely more accurate) view of the transaction. The review may describe a real transaction with a real person, but it leaves what I believe to be a false impression about Pekarsky’s role in it. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that Pekarsky had no role in creating that false impression.

And then we have Jasmine C and a string of other suspicious reviews.

For the record, I did put in a call to Pekarsky and was told by the person who answered the phone that he didn’t wish to speak to me.

ADDED 4 p.m. 2/13: Also for the record, the following comment was in our moderation queue on this post several days ago. The author called himself Dan L and posted from an IP # that traced to New York with an unresolvable email address. I placed a call to the redacted number, which was / is not in service:

Call me right now you scumbag! [redacted #].

Not everyone in the world is a hatemonger like yourself. If I like a business, I want people to know. Who do you think you are writing this filth about me on a public forum.

Greg, thanks for letting me know about this.

Wonder why I’m not getting good vibes?

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Pete February 13, 2013 at 11:14 PM

Yelp is chock-full of fake reviews for all kinds of businesses. Some are obvious and others not so much. That is why Yelp is only useful if you consider the reviews in their entirety and not give so much weight to any one particular review. Good establishments have mostly good reviews and bad ones have mostly bad reviews. When it comes down to it, the fake reviews are merely noise, but they will not be enough to overcome the mostly real reviews that are usually found for most establishments.

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SheridanB February 15, 2013 at 3:15 PM

Yelp (like, say, Tripadvisor) is so addictive to read.

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