I Love Being an Ellis Apartment Mystery Shopper!

My journey to becoming an Ellis apartment mystery shopper started when I decided I wanted to be a ‘stay at home mom’ when my kids were little. At first, I got a job at their elementary school as a teacher’s assistant. Later, I decided to find another way to make money and still be available at home. That’s when I found Mystery Shopping accidentally. Someone mentioned that they had done a few shops, I asked how to get started, and off I went.

I went to Volition.com (unfortunately the site no longer exists), which had lists of all the shopping companies. Since I had no idea what I would like to do, I took almost every type of shop that was offered. I must have registered for a hundred companies. After a while, I found that I especially liked doing apartment mystery shops, and Ellis was the company that seemed to have the most shops, the nicest and most helpful staff, and paid the most.

I found that I enjoyed visiting communities, talking with leasing agents, and pretending that I was really looking for an apartment. After a while, I learned what a great presentation was, and what was not so great. Most of the times, the evaluations were very good. The leasing agents did everything right. And occasionally, something in the presentations was lacking. I was and still am glad to be part of a team that’s involved in helping leasing professionals hone their leasing skills while also celebrating their successes.

Ellis also has phone only shops, which I find extremely easy to do. And I don’t have to leave my comfy place! I am proud to say that I have completed more than 5,000 phone shops. Also, unbelievably, I have completed more than 1,000 in-person apartment mystery shops!

Amid all of this, the unexpected happened: Coronavirus. For some time I stopped all mystery shopping on-site and did only phone presentations and virtual tour shops. I learned how to record the videos of the virtual tours, compress them, and send them in with the report. After a year or so, Self-Guided Tour shops were the new thing.

Now we are almost back to normal, and hopefully it will stay that way. There is an almost unending flow of shops that Ellis puts online for shoppers to assign. I like that I can choose to have a busy mystery shopping schedule or can take it easy for a while.

When I contact the EPMS team through the envelop icon on my shop dashboard, they are always helpful, professional, friendly, and understanding. Even when I have had to cancel a shop (which is not often) they are always kind.

My most important advice to new shoppers is to always follow the client’s shop instructions exactly. There is a lot of typing required in most of the reports and it is important to double check your spelling and grammar. I have loved when I have gotten positive feedback from the editors, who have said that they looked forward to getting my shops because there wasn’t much left for them to do. That is a great ‘pat on the back’ for sure!

I have worked as a contract apartment mystery shopper with Ellis for 22 years. I have made a few friendly connections and I appreciate when schedulers reach out to me when they have a special type of shop.

Ellis is a great company and has a team who cares about their shopper. I plan to continue with my apartment mystery shopping for Ellis for many years to come. I encourage you to do so as well!

Contributed by Sherry W

Need a Side Hustle?

You don’t have to be a financial expert to look around and see that prices are rising on just about everything!  This may mean that the time is right to consider a Side Hustle to earn extra money. A bit of extra income can be a hedge against inflation, a help in paying off debt, or a way to fund a great vacation!  Not all side hustles are created equal!  What are some factors to consider?

  • Do you enjoy it?  Side hustles are generally done on “personal time” outside of normal working hours.  If you are going to give up your precious time off, make sure it is something you will enjoy.  If you don’t enjoy an activity when you’re not being paid for it, you probably won’t enjoy it as a side hustle.
  • What are the costs to set up your side hustle?  Does it require expensive equipment?  Advertising?  Registration fees?  How many jobs will it take you to recoup your start up fees?
  • Will it stand the test of time?  Some side hustles may be tied to a specific season.  Holidays or the start of a school year may offer unique opportunities, but if you are looking for continuous income, you may want something you can do year-round.

For all these reasons, Apartment Mystery Shopping for EPMS an ideal side hustle!

  • EPMS Apartment Mystery Shopping is enjoyable!  We all drive by apartment communities every day.  It is fun to peek inside at the amenities and see the floor plans and features of the apartments.  There may be a beautiful furnished model apartment offering ideas for your home décor.  Perhaps you’ll even find a community you shop to be a perfect fit for you.  Some of our shoppers have been paid to shop a community that becomes their new home.
  • EPMS Apartment Shopping is free!  There are no registration costs to shop for EPMS.  You don’t have to make a purchase and await reimbursement.  You won’t be applying for an apartment, nor paying any fee onsite.  There is no out of pocket expense required to shop for EPMS.
  • EPMS has been shopping apartment communities year-round for almost 40 years!  EPMS is a pioneer in the apartment mystery shopping industry.  We have been performing onsite shops for nearly 40 years.  We shop year-round!  If you find yourself with some extra free time, you may want to take on several shops.  As a shopper, you are free to accept shops that fit within your schedule.  Some shops must be done on specific dates or days of the week, but you will always know those requirements before you commit to the shop.  There is no pressure to accept a shop that won’t work for you!

Challenging economic times call for creative solutions!  Making a bit of extra money by developing a side hustle can be one of those solutions.  EPMS Apartment Mystery shopping is an enjoyable, affordable means of boosting your income in your free time. 

To apply as an EPMS shopper, please visit:

It’s 5 o’Clock Somewhere – Timezone Awareness

The mystery shopping landscape has experienced some pretty big changes over the past couple of years, particularly the addition of virtual shopping. Once everyone got the handle on the new technology, virtual shopping became a game-changer for service providers and consumers alike. It’s also given mystery shoppers the opportunity to perform shops from home at locations all over the country.

One challenge shoppers can face when completing virtual (or telephone) shops for communities in a different part of the country is the difference in time zone. Many shops have specific instructions around the days and times you can call/visit and most communities are not open past 5 or 6 in the evening. This can become a problem if you forget to make calls according to the community’s time zone instead of your own. When you’re in California and you’re completing a virtual shop at a community in Virginia, there’s a significant time difference – the community is closing when it’s only 2 or 3 PM California time! The same is true on the flip side – even though it may be 10 AM on the East Coast, it’s only 7 AM on the West Coast. You’ll also need to keep this in mind when scheduling virtual tours so that you make sure to sign in at the right time.

It can be hard to remember what time it is when you’re doing multiple shops all over the place, so having a tool handy can be very helpful. Consider bookmarking a Timezone Map site for quick reference when you’re working on shops in other parts of the country. You can also use your phone/Alexa/Google what time it is in a particular city. Doing this will help you ensure you complete the shops in a time frame that will meet the contract specifications and ensure you are paid for the shop.

You Sure About That? Ensuring the Accuracy of Your Report

Submitting an accurate and informative report is crucial to ensure you have access to the most (and best) shops available. When shop reports are consistently inaccurate or incomplete, clients can choose not to allow a particular shopper to continue with their properties, which lowers the number of shops available to you. Beyond this, EPMS can lower the number of shops you are allowed to pick up at one time if reports are unreliable. Don’t freak out, though; we do have a team of editors who look over the report once more before sending it to the client in case anything was missed. So how can you make sure you’re submitting the best, most accurate reports? Here are some tips:

1. Look Over the Report Form Before Starting the Shop

You can open and look over the blank report form before you even start working on the shop! This will give you a good idea of the information you’ll be expected to provide so you’ll know what to look out for. You can find this when you log in, open your shop, and click the “Fill Out the Online Report” section. Don’t worry; you can look at the report and then back out of it without completing it without causing any issues. Just be sure not to mark that section complete until you’ve actually completed the report.

2. Listen to Your Recorded Call!

This is a big one – make sure to listen back to your recorded phone call (if the shop has a recorded call) as you complete the telephone section of the report. In this section, it’s very easy for the client to spot discrepancies since they are also able to listen to the call recording. Make sure your yes/no answers and comments match what actually happened in the call.

3. Jot Down Notes Right Away

As soon as a shop is finished and you leave the property, try to pull over somewhere to jot down notes about the onsite visit while they’re still fresh in your mind. Note: DO NOT jot down notes while you’re still in the property’s parking lot and definitely not during the shop as this can give you away as a shopper! Once you get home, the sooner you can complete the onsite portion of the report, the better. The more time that passes, the less info you’ll retain, especially if you’re working on more than one shop at a time!

When you make a habit of submitting great, accurate reports with just the right amount of information in the comment section, EPMS will notice! This will reflect positively on your profile and you’ll be one of the shoppers we reach out to when we have special or extra high-paying shops.

Are You the Next Spielberg? Tips for a Successful Video Shop

Video apartment mystery shops can be fun, once you get the hang of them! Not only that, but the video shops tend to have even better pay than the regular onsite shops. If you haven’t heard, you now have the option to use your phone to capture the recording, which means you’ll get an extra bonus on top of whatever the shop pay is! With these shops, your main goal is to get the leasing agent in the video frame at least 75% of the time. Here are some important video tips that will create a successful shop, each time!

Always Charge Your Equipment

You would be surprised how quickly a battery can drain during a video mystery shop. Sometimes a tour may go on longer than you expected, so it’s a good idea to make sure the equipment or your phone is fully charged as you head into the shop. If you run out of battery and are not able to capture all of the visit on video, the shop would need to be cancelled.

Check Your Memory Space

If you’re using EPMS equipment, this means making sure the SD card is in the device prior to going on the shop. These SD cards can generally hold the video for several shops, so you can use the same equipment to complete any video shops you have assigned at the time. If you’re using your phone, make sure you have enough available memory for a 30 to 45 minute video recording. This may mean deleting old, unneeded photos, videos or apps.

Be Sure to Check Your Camera Angle

Before heading out for a day of video shopping, shoot a quick test video for yourself so you can make sure the camera is positioned properly. If you’re using the EPMS button camera, make sure the camera isn’t pointed at the ceiling. The client will need a clear view of the agent and the surrounding area. If you’re using your phone, practice to find the best way to hold it so that you are inconspicuous, but still getting the best view. If you didn’t see it before, you can refer to our previous blog about the phone app, Mystery Media Pro.

Isn’t It Illegal to Secretly Film Someone?

In this case, the answer is no. Video shops can only be ordered for communities where all of the employees have signed a waiver giving consent to be filmed.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice – Offering Constructive Criticism

You already know the point of apartment mystery shopping is to offer feedback on your apartment shopping experience. Most of the time, you’ll have a good experience with good service. However, once in a while, the experience will be…less than desirable. It is in these instances that you need to be especially thoughtful about how you deliver your feedback. Clients want to know the facts, but they expect to receive that information with courteous, professional language.

For starters, remember that you’re not really looking for an apartment – you’re only pretending! This will go a long way to help you remain neutral and not rely on emotions to evaluate the shop. Sure, the apartment you’re looking at may be way out of the price range you would spend in real life or maybe it doesn’t look at all like the type of apartment you would choose. Keep in mind that your primary objective is to rate the service performance of the agent, not rank the actual apartment in terms of which looks nicest or has the best price. This way, you won’t feel indignant if the apartment is “too expensive” or “not new enough”.

When you complete a shop and the agent isn’t very friendly or helpful, do your best to stick to the facts instead of fixating on one specific behavior or statement. It’s okay describe your experience in terms of how you felt (i.e. “I felt like I was interrupting”, “I was not offered any refreshments”, or “I did not feel like the agent was motivated to help me”), but try to avoid making assumptions about the agent’s intentions or reasons for behavior. To state, “I was not greeted when I entered the office and waited several minutes until I was noticed” versus, “The agents were all very rude and completely ignored me when I came in because they were too busy chatting” is a more professional, non-emotional way of telling the story. Keep this in mind when listing areas for improvement, as well. For example, try saying, “She could have taken more time to ask about my needs before ending the call” instead of “Next time she could try to actually do her job and find out what I wanted”.

One other area where it is important to exercise tact is when you are describing the actual community. If a particular community is older and possibly in need of updates, but is otherwise tidy and well-kept, avoid making derogatory statements like, “The community was old and outdated”. Instead, try being more specific, like “The community grounds were free of trash and the landscaping was well maintained. The buildings looked like they could use a fresh coat of paint.”

All in all, remember that this is a business interaction. You are essentially working for the apartment management companies on a contract basis, so when you write a report, think of it as writing an email to your boss. You can share your concerns, but do so in a polite, professional manner. Doing this will help you to be a 5-star shopper!

Open Sesame – What to Do When You Can’t Log In

The time has come; you have some space in your schedule and are ready to earn extra cash doing some apartment mystery shopping! You click on the EPMS website to log in and find the shops you want, but – ACCESS DENIED! You can’t log in! Now what? Your first step should be figuring out why. There are several reasons you may not be able to get logged in, so let’s take a look at what they are and how you can solve the problem:

1. You Forgot Your Password or Entered the Wrong One

This one is usually easy to address just by clicking “Forgot Your User ID or Password”. From there, you can enter the email address you used to set up your EPMS account and then a reset link will be emailed to you. From there, you can create a new password to get logged in. If that doesn’t work, you can always contact us at support@epmsonline.com and we can help you take care of that password reset manually.

2. Your Account Was Inactivated

When you complete a shop, you are required to report on whether or not you receive follow-up from the person you shopped, either email, telephone or written note. The system will reach out to ask you to provide the follow-up details if you haven’t already. (If you did not receive any, you will still need to go into the shop and mark “No” for each type of follow-up.) If the answers to follow-up are not received within the time limit, the system will automatically inactivate your account, causing you to be unable to log in. In those cases, you can contact your follow-up person or scheduler for help. You can also email us at support@epmsonline.com and we can reactivate your account. However, you’ll still need to go and take care of the follow-up info to prevent the account from being automatically inactivated again.

3. Your Account Still Needs to Be Activated

If you only recently set up your account, you may have missed a step or two required to activate your account. Typically, this involves checking the boxes acknowledging you understand you are an independent contractor. When you log in, make sure you complete the links at the top of the shopper homepage to activate the account and remember:

  • Enter your complete profile details – leaving parts of this blank will automatically disqualify you from some shops.
  • Enter your direct deposit details as this is the only method we use for payment.
  • View the “Best Shopper Practices” and the video equipment reference to ensure you’re fully prepared.

Once you have completed those steps, your account will automatically activate. Please note – this may still be the issue with your account, even if you opened it a long time ago, but never shopped before.

If none of these work and you still can’t get logged in, please email any one of us and we can help.

Want the MOST Money? Ask the Expert How!

If you’re new to shopping (or even if you aren’t), we want to help you fine-tune your shopping game and maximize your income. We took some time to interview one of our veteran shoppers, Phillip, to get advice on how he makes the absolute most of the time he spends shopping to walk away with the biggest paycheck possible.

Phillip is a shopper who likes to travel and he makes sure to plan ahead. He’ll log in and look for shops that are available along his planned route and then pick up the ones he’s interested in. Once he’s decided on all of the shops he’s planning to complete on his trip, he checks to see which of them may be eligible for a route bonus. If you didn’t already know, EPMS will add an additional $5 bonus to shops when you’re choosing 3 or more and the following conditions are true:

  1. All of the shops are at least 20 miles away from your home address.
  2. There is not already an existing bonus of more than $15 on the shop.
  3. You reach out to a scheduler to ask for the bonus before accepting the shop.

Next, Phillip says he decides what order the shops need to be completed in based on his travel plans. He begins making calls for target shops right away, even if he will need to plan the visit on another day so that he can plan the rest of the shops around those more difficult target shops. (Of course, you’ll want to check the specific instructions for your shops to make sure they do not require a visit on the same day as the call.)

Once the calls are made and the visits begin, Phillip told us he completes the onsite visit and when it’s finished, he leaves the community parking lot and pulls into a nearby parking lot (out of sight of the community, of course!) so that he can take out his laptop and type in some quick notes while the information is still fresh in his mind. He also take that time to upload his backup documentation so he can keep everything organized. At the end of the shopping day, Phillip will go back and, using the notes he made as well as any recordings that accompany the shop, complete the report and get it submitted ASAP.

Any shops completed and accepted by EPMS by the 7th of any month will be paid on that same month’s deposit on the 22nd (unless that date falls on a weekend or holiday – then it would be the next business day). Therefore, the more shops you can get completed by that date, the bigger your check will be for that month. Knowing this information will help you plan around your expected income and make the most of your time!

Great News! You Can Now Video Shop with Your Phone

Have you heard the news? You can now complete onsite recorded video shops using your own smartphone! No longer do you have to wait for us to ship equipment, then figure out how to modify a shirt, and then package it all up and send it back. There is now an app you can purchase called Mystery Media Pro. You have a couple of purchase options; it can be purchased for a monthly fee of $9.99 or a one-time fee of $34.99. The cost of the app is not directly reimbursed by EPMS, but you will receive an additional $10 bonus for using your own equipment on every video shop you complete. That means you’ll have more than made up for the cost after completing 4 video shops!

Essentially the app is designed for you to be able to hold your phone (in airplane mode) and video record the interaction. People are used to seeing folks carrying their phones all the time, so it won’t seem suspect. However, you’ll want to be sure to disable the “auto-lock” feature on your phone because the recording will stop if your phone goes into lock screen mode. More than anything, you’ll want to take some time to practice with this feature to figure out the best way for you to hold the phone to capture the recording while still appearing natural.

You can find out more and get some great help and suggestions when you visit the app creator’s Tip Sheet. Once you’ve practiced and you feel ready to try it on a shop, you can assign yourself a video recorded shop when you log in to the EPMS site and click “I Want to See Shop Contracts Near Me”. If you aren’t able to assign video shops because your account has not yet been marked eligible, just respond to any email offering video shopping jobs to let the scheduler know you’ve downloaded and will the app and your account can be updated to reflect that you have your own equipment and then get ready to make the BIG BUCKS!

Don’t Be Shy – Take All You Want!

As things are beginning to return to some kind of “normal”, more and more apartment mystery shops are becoming available. There are so many, in fact, that we could use your help getting them secured with a reliable shopper – you! We still have opportunities for you to work from home if you’re not quite ready to get out in public yet and we also have tons of higher paying in person shops ripe for the picking. All you have to do is get in there and grab what you want! There are a couple of ways you can go about claiming shops for your own:

Respond to the solicitation emails sent out by our scheduling team or by our automated system.

Our system will regularly send emails that may interest you based on where you live. In addition, our dedicated scheduling team will look over shops and curate other lists based on shop urgency, premium shop pay or convenient geographic location to where you live or other areas you’ve indicated an interest shopping in. Anytime you receive those emails, you can respond directly to them and one of our scheduling clerks will get to work on assigning any shops you are eligible to complete.

Log in to your shopper account and self-assign the shops.

When you log in to your shopper account, you’ll find a menu of options. To search for a shop, click “I Want to See Shop Contracts Near Me”. This will take you to another page and you’ll notice at the top, there are two tabs – “In Person Visit Required” and “Telephone/Virtual”. The In Person Visit Required” tab will allow you to enter a zip code and find nearby shops. You can set the distance from that zip code you want to search and there are several ways to filter the results, based on distance, pay or shop type (target or anyone). The other tab, Telephone/Virtual, will show you shops you qualify for that do not require you to leave your house at all! This helps make sure you find a shop that is just right for you.

Some other things to keep in mind when assigning shops:

What if I get an email about shops, but then I don’t see them when I log in to self-assign?

Sometimes you may receive an email with us offering shops, but then you’ll log in to assign and find they’re not there! There are a couple of reasons this may be the case. First, it’s possible the shop was already picked up by someone else. In this case, the shop will either not show up at all (assuming a backup shopper is assigned as well) or it will show up with a “B” on the icon, meaning you can assign yourself as the backup shopper. The other reason is that you do not qualify for that shop for some reason. Most management companies have rules regarding how long you have to wait before you can shop a particular location again. Some also regulate how many of their properties a shopper is allowed to complete within a 30 day period. Also, certain shop types have some additional requirements to qualify, such as having completed a certain number of in person shops or having submitted your drivers license info (for video shops).

What if I don’t see many shops or I don’t qualify for the one I really want?

You can always reach out to someone on our scheduling team for extra help. Let them know what shop in particular you were hoping to pick up and they can take a closer look. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances or a shop is particularly urgent and the client will allow us to relax the the rules to get it completed.

I’m thinking of traveling and spending some time in another city or state. Can I still shop?

Yes you can! Remember when we talked about entering your zip code to find shops nearby on the shopper login page? Well, all you need to do is enter the zip code for where you’ll be and you’ll be able to see everything available in that area. This is also helpful if you’re planning a road trip and may want to do some shops along the way to make sure that bank account doesn’t run dry!

Remember, our team is always available to help and we’re happy to do what we can to help you find the most and best shops to suit your specific needs.