Don’t Blow Your Mystery Shopper Cover

Our apartment mystery shops are intended to be anonymous.  The leasing professional you shop should never think of you as anyone other than a real prospect.  We sometimes hear from shoppers that their biggest fear is of being “spotted” as a shopper.  What can you do to decrease the chance of tipping off the team member that you may be a mystery shopper?

  • If you are shopping a target agent, don’t ask for them by name on the phone (right away).  If you have not reached your target after a few calls, our team may advise you to ask for them by first name only.  If a prospect is referred to a community by a friend, they likely would not give the first and last name of the individual they recommend.
  • Try not to sound certain at the beginning of the call that you plan to visit the community in person.  Allow the leasing professional to lead the call, determine your needs and build value.  YOU know that an in person visit will usually follow, but don’t jump to it too soon.
  • If you are shopping a target agent and they are not available when you arrived onsite, don’t give the impression that the world had just ended.  Behave as you would in a real leasing situation.  It is entirely reasonable that a prospect would prefer to meet with the same person they spoke with on the phone, but they would not insist on doing so.  If the target is not available even after you agree to wait a reasonable amount of time, continue with whomever is available.  Appearing too upset at being passed off to someone else is often a red flag of a shopper.
  • As the visit progresses, remember to stay “in character” as a prospect.  What features would you want to look closely at?  What questions would you ask?  Behave as you would if you were truly considering that community for your home.

Even after taking every precaution, sometimes a shopper’s cover is blown.  What should you do if you feel like you’ve been spotted onsite?

  • Don’t let your imagination get carried away.  We do thousands of apartment mystery shops every month, and it is pretty rare for a shopper’s identity to be compromised onsite.  Don’t assume the worst!
  • Do not EVER admit you are a shopper.  Even if the leasing agent asks you directly, do not own up to it.  Just continue your story as if you were a prospect.
  • Do not identify yourself as a shopper in a follow up contact.  If you speak with the leasing agent in a phone follow up, don’t say you were a shopper.  Don’t “unsubscribe” from email contacts or say that you would prefer not to be contacted.

Keep in mind that most leasing agents have no idea that the person they are speaking with is not a real prospect.  If you are concerned after a phone call or visit, please let our team know.  If the call was recorded, we can review it and advise you on how to proceed.  If you feel you were spotted onsite, we will let you know the next steps, depending on the circumstances.  Don’t let a case of nerves or awkwardness cause you to second guess yourself as an apartment mystery shopper.

I Object!

When conducting an onsite mystery shop for EPMS, shoppers are usually asked to raise an “objection” to something during the onsite presentation. For many of our clients, this is one of the most important questions in our report. Prospective residents have an idea in mind of what they are looking for in a home. They may feel that a community or a specific apartment is “missing something” that is important to them. Leasing consultants are trained to address such objections in a way that is respectful of the prospect’s wishes, but still confirms that the community would be a good fit. When done correctly, overcoming objections is an art form!

Objection Overruled! What is NOT a good objection to raise during a shop?

  • We aren’t trying to trip up the leasing agent. Don’t knowingly raise an objection that is beyond their control. If a community is all electric, don’t insist on gas appliances. Don’t object to something that would raise a fair housing concern, such as there being too many children living there. If the community does not have three-bedroom apartments, don’t say that a two bedroom is not large enough for you.
  • If a leasing consultant makes a reasonable attempt to address your objection and build value in the community, don’t give the impression that it is still a “deal breaker.” Remember that shoppers are not actually going to lease there, so don’t go overboard in appearing displeased.
  • Don’t state your objection in a negative tone as if what you’re asking for should be on everyone’s wish list and you should not even have to ask.
  • Don’t state in your discussion onsite or in your report that they “should have” more flowers out front or a laundry room in every building, etc. – in other words something the leasing agent has no control over.

Objection Sustained! What are some reasonable and believable objections to raise?

  • You may use a personal interest as a way of raising an objection. Do you need a place to dock your laptop or set up your sewing machine? The leasing agent may suggest a nook or corner of the apartment that would work well for that purpose. Do you have a large or awkward piece of furniture that you are concerned may not fit? She may suggest ways to arrange your furniture to maximize the space. Or he may be able to suggest where in the apartment he has seen other residents put their Christmas tree.
  • Listen for an attempt to create rapport with you, while addressing your objection. Perhaps you said you were concerned that the noise from the pool would be too loud. She may say that she once thought so as well but when she saw everyone having fun out there, she found that it made her go to the pool a lot more often.
  • If a situation arises the leasing professional cannot overcome, such as your request to move your personal appliances into the apartment, they may have to overcome that objection by offering something completely different. As an example, if you were hoping to bring your washer/dryer with you and there are no connections in the home, you might be offered a location right by a laundry facility, or told how new and awesome their onsite machines are, or maybe offered a few credits to use their laundry

Above all, remember that you should give the impression that what they do have to offer could work for you. Allow the leasing consultant to talk through your objections in a way that builds value in the apartment and the community. Give the appearance that you are able to be pleased and give credit for a reasonable attempt to accommodate your requests. You don’t have to really live there, but if they are trying to find a way to help solve for your problem that’s the ultimate goal.

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.

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 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 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.

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.

Hook, Line and Sinker – Catching Your Target Onsite

Every shop has its challenges, but a shop with a specific target person can be even more difficult. Once you’ve finally reached your target by phone, you’re halfway there. To successfully complete the shop, however, you’ll also need to meet with this person for the onsite visit. So how do you work to ensure you meet with that person when you arrive? Here are a few tips to help make sure you hook ‘em onsite:

1. Set an Appointment During the Call

Unless the specific shop instructions state otherwise, your first line of defense is to agree on an appointment time with the target during the call. You’ll need to wait until you’ve been invited to visit and then you can work on narrowing down a time. A great way to do this is to respond to the invitation to visit by saying something like, “Sure! When would be the best time for me to come in and meet with you?” Be careful not to press too hard on the call about meeting with them or you might give yourself away as a shopper. If they don’t invite you to visit and it looks like the call is coming to a close, you can ask how you can go about taking a look at something.

2. Call Ahead

If you end up scheduling your visit for a different day than the call, you should call ahead briefly on the day of the visit to make sure they are in the office. You can use an excuse such as wanting to confirm the address or say that you will be a few minutes late or early. When you call, you can ask to speak to your target, stating you have an appointment with them for that day. If you are told they are not in the office that day, you can say you were calling because you need to reschedule and say that you can call back. This will give you an opportunity to call again to reach the target and reschedule.

3. Ask for Them When You Arrive

You may be greeted by someone other than your target when you arrive for your visit. Make sure to let that person know you had spoken to the target person and that you have a scheduled appointment with him or her. This way they will not assume you are a walk-in prospect and attempt to help you instead.

4. Appear Open to Waiting

Sometimes you’ll follow all the steps above and be told that your target is not back from a tour or lunch or is on a call. In these cases, the key is to appear easygoing and open to waiting. Let them know you don’t mind to wait for his or her return. In the event someone else insists on helping you even after you offer to wait, go ahead with them so you don’t jeopardize your identity as a shopper.  (Of course, you’ll want to review the shop’s special instructions to make sure there are no other client directives on how to handle the visit.)

If you do end up having to meet with someone else, be sure to note in your report that you were passed off, noting the reason you were given. Then, make sure to score the onsite portion of the report for the person who ended up providing the tour.

Be Prepared for Success!

If you’re new to mystery shopping, you might feel a little nervous getting started; there’s a lot to remember! When you ensure that you are properly prepared, you’re sure to complete a successful shop. Here are several tips to make sure you have everything you need for smooth sailing.

Before you even pick up your first shop, you can lay the groundwork. You will probably want to create a couple of extra email addresses through Google, Yahoo or another free site. You’ll be asked for your email address when you shop and some apartment management companies need you to use a new address if you’ve shopped one of their properties before. Be sure the address handle you create doesn’t give you away as a shopper!

You should designate a notebook (or file on your computer, if you prefer) to keep track of your shop assignments. You can include the shop number, name and address of the community, name of the target and any special instructions to keep in mind. Another good idea is to jot down the name, phone number and email address you plan to use as well as the specifications of what you’re looking for. That way you won’t get confused if you’re working more than one shop at a time or if you have to wait for a call back.

Take time to spend a few minutes looking over the community website before you begin calling. This way you can get an idea of the prices and apartment sizes available so you’ll know what to say when you’re asked about your price range. Remember, you’re not really looking to live there, so your price range is whatever fits the community profile. Be prepared to be flexible with your desired apartment size in case they don’t have any available in the size you ask about.

Finally, it is imperative that you read over all of the special instructions for the shop. Once you’ve shopped for a while, you may feel like you’re already familiar with the instructions, but some shops have unique requirements that must be followed in order to be paid.

Following these tips will help you to avoid the awkward situation of pricing yourself out of the community or asking for a type of apartment they don’t have. Plus, if you’re making calls once you’re fully prepared, you’ll feel more comfortable and the conversation will flow smoothly.

Tips for Meeting Your Deadline

One of the challenges you face as an apartment mystery shopper is managing to complete your shop and shop report by the deadline on top of everything else you have to manage in your day. Here, we’ll discuss some tips and tricks you can use to help you stay on track and get your shops completed on time as well as what to do if you’re running behind. After all, the more reliable you prove yourself to be, the more often you will have access to better and more profitable shops and the more money you can make!

  1. Know What’s Going On: The first, most important piece of advice is not to overload yourself! Take some time to evaluate your schedule before picking up shops. Do you already have several other shops you’re working on? Are you scheduled for additional hours at your other job? Are your kids going to be out of school for an extended break? If you look at your overall schedule and see that your plate is already full, it may be best to be conservative about how many assignments you pick up at one time.
  2. Don’t Delay: Once you’ve confirmed you have the time in your schedule to give your attention to shops, make sure to get started right away! Read the special instructions for the shop so you are familiar with what’s expected and then begin making calls the same day. Be sure to make between 3 and 5 calls per day and work to space those calls out across the day so you have a better chance of reaching the person you need to reach. For some shops, especially those with a specific target agent, you may have to make calls for a couple of days, so the sooner you can get started, the better.
  3. Fill in As You Go: When you complete the phone call, unless you’re visiting right away, go ahead and fill in the phone portion of the report. This way the information is fresh in your mind and you’ll already have a great head-start! (If the call was recorded, be sure to listen to the call as you complete the report to make sure it’s accurate.) When you get home from the visit, get the backup documentation scanned and uploaded first thing so it doesn’t get lost and you don’t forget.
  4. Tie Up Loose Ends: Find a quiet time during your day to finish up the visit portion of the report. Maybe at the end of the day when the kids have gone to bed or first thing in the morning as you sip that cup of coffee – anytime you’re able to focus best. The more reports you write, the better you will be at composing a concise summary that still provides all the important details. Remember to save each page before moving on to the next and also update the shop checklist to mark each section complete as you work your way through.
  5. Keep in Touch: When you find yourself struggling to meet the deadline either because you haven’t reached the target, you needed to reschedule the meeting, or you just have too much on your plate, make sure to update the shop through the white envelope icon to let the EPMS person assigned to your shop know. This way they can move the date when appropriate or help get the shop removed if it’s more than you can handle at the time.