Five Reasons for Mystery Shopping Your Apartment Properties

This article contains content from articles previously published by Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions.

All companies believe in measuring and monitoring a property’s performance through the monthly financials. Doesn’t the same concept apply to the sales and leasing efforts of the on-site staff? Shouldn’t you know for sure how your rental prospects are treated? And shouldn’t you know how your on-site team presents your community?

Mystery shopping has been a staple practice of the apartment industry for more than 20 years and is a valuable tool for evaluating and training on-site leasing personnel. It is the practice of sending a specially trained individual “undercover” to an apartment community posing as a qualified and willing rental prospect. The shopper participates in the leasing presentation and then completes a written report evaluating the leasing professional’s sales skills and compliance to company and fair housing policies, as well as an assessment of the community.

Without shopping, you may not be aware of lackluster leasing efforts or poor resident relations at one of your apartment communities, costing you money in lost leases, lower rent offers, and lost renewals.

With that much at stake, it is critical that you monitor leasing and resident relation activity to identify those on-site team members who may need encouragement, training, reprimand, or dismissal (if necessary).

Aside from money (and it’s hard to avoid that reason), here are five reasons why many of our customers use mystery shopping as a management and training tool.

1. Obligation to Owners/Investors to Maintain High Standards

All companies have the responsibility to owner/investors to maintain competent on-site leasing professionals. It’s all about accountability! An accurate and comprehensive shop provides documentation of leasing excellence on all of the communities a firm manages. In other words, the shopping report is proof that the company is committed to providing a strong sales and leasing effort.

2. Document Ongoing Portfolio-Wide Leasing Excellence

More and more management companies are under a high degree of scrutiny from investors, asset managers, and advisory groups. They must show they can and are performing. Again the shopping reports verify a dedicated and competent leasing staff.

3. Monitor Performance and Training Efforts

Mystery shopping allows a company or property to measure ongoing performance. Not just “how are we doing?” but “how well are we improving?” The measure of any training program is the measurable results of the personnel who are shopped. In other words, does the shopping result in better leasing skills and effectiveness? Using shopping reports along with additional training and positive recognition, many companies have vastly increased their closing ratios and have put more people into apartments!

4. Troubleshooting and Identifying Potential Challenges

A mystery shop can uncover problems and challenges on site such as curb appeal concerns, office environment issues (i.e., staff attitudes), as well as poor sales and personal skills. A shop can identify staff members who might actually be creating sizable losses in revenue due to their poor leasing and overall indifference toward prospects.

5. Training and Feedback

Perhaps the best way to look at a mystery shop is that it is the quintessential training tool. An on-site professional can go to seminars for years, read all kinds of sales books, and discuss the subject forever. But until he or she gets into the heat of the battle and receives a complete written evaluation of his or her “real” presentation, you don’t really know the level of sales ability.

Each shop a person reads is like a mini-leasing seminar. And if one’s company already has an effective training program, shopping will further enhance that ongoing training. If a company does not have the luxury of a trainer, then the shop will become one of the most important training tools! Good employees respond to their shops by addressing their weaknesses and improving their presentations.

It’s clear that mystery shops are a reasonable tool to help measure, monitor, and control potential revenue loss. There is just too much potential downside if you do not monitor the activity of your on-site personnel throughout our portfolio. Yet, more importantly, there is so much to be gained from shopping the on-site personnel. So much more that can positively impact the economics of a property.

Are you employing mystery shops on your properties? If so, how have they benefited you? If you’re considering employing mystery shops, what’s holding you back? Share in the comments below.


President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

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