25 Tips For Buying And Selling On Craigslist

After a bunch of you requested a post about this, we’re finally writing a loooong rundown about how we use Craiglist to score affordable secondhand finds as well as to sell things we no longer need. Sherry scratched the surface with a few tips on buying back in this post, but we wanted to share more info that was specific to interacting with sellers/buyers and writing up your listings, so here it goes. Craigslist can definitely be intimidating for first-timers. It doesn’t boast the glossy interface that makes using sites like Facebook feel so welcoming.

Plus, some few-and-far-between but no-less scary crime stories are enough to make anyone wary of it. Even Sherry and I had a slightly unnerving experience in our early days of Craigslisting in New York City. The man who showed up at Sherry’s apartment to buy a TV from her before we moved to Virginia pulled out the money to pay us from his pocket… and the hunting knife that he was also carrying came out along with it accidentally. It was a harmless encounter, but just the presence of that weapon was enough to make us realize that we needed to be smarter about using the site.

Buying On Craigslist

Obviously there’s tons of stuff for sale (or even for free!) on Craigslist everyday. It’s always one of our go-to spots when we’re looking for a piece of furniture because you’re bound to find things that are reasonably priced and decently cared for among the crowd. Here’s just a snapshot of some of the items that we’ve scored thanks to Mr. Craig and his list (you can read more about each purchase here, here, here and here).

So when you’re on the hunt for something, here are our tips:

  • Be patient. Just because the item you’re looking for doesn’t show up today, that doesn’t mean someone won’t be posting it tomorrow. So don’t give up if you come up empty on your first try. We usually like to camp out and check frequently over a few days or weeks (and it might take 20-30 clicks over time to find what we’re looking for, so we just try to keep calm and search on).
  • Search smarter. Sherry is a die-hard fan of the original Craigslist site, but I’ve started using the Craigslist iPhone and iPad app too. There are also apps out there by others (like cPRO) that make it easier to browse and search (especially by putting pictures more front and center). Even when Sherry uses the basic site, she clicks the button to show thumbnail images next to each listing so she doesn’t have to click into each one to see the pics… so that’s a tip for you old school folks.
  • Remember that prices are negotiable. We never put a maximum limit on price when searching because we know things that are listed above our budget can be negotiated into an acceptable range. While simply asking a buyer to accept a lower price is perfectly fine (“would you take $45 instead of $60?”) you can also make a stronger case by referencing similar Craigslist listings for lower prices or even compare it to how much the item retails for originally (“I could buy it new for just $20 more than your listing, so could you come down a little?”). Never hurts to ask.

  • Be synonym happy when you search. If you’re hunting for a buffet for your dining room, be sure to search a whole slew of similar terms because you never know how sellers might describe the item you want. So hunt for buffet, sideboard, console, entry table, and even broader terms like dining set, dining table, or simply “wood furniture.”
  • Be willing to travel. Depending on where you live, you may need to cast a wide search net to have the best shot at finding the right piece. We check the Richmond listings first, but sometimes we expand to Northern Virginia, Charlottesville, DC, and the Norfolk area (all 1 – 2 hours away) since some craigslist values can make the drive worth it.

Once you’ve located the item that you want, here’s how we’d suggest going about making it yours.

  • Start slow. Don’t inundate the buyer with a million questions in your first email. Just a simple “is it still available, if so I’d like to come by tonight with cash” can be enough to get the ball rolling and not scare the seller into thinking you’re too high maintenance for them by asking a bunch of questions.
  • Ask for the info you need. Once you’ve confirmed that the item is still available, don’t hesitate to contact the seller for more information. Just remember to ask specific questions (“could you please provide dimensions?” or “is the color in the photos accurate?”) because you may not get the answers you want by simply asking for “more information.”
  • Sound ready and willing. Most sellers just want this to be easy, so appeal to that sense by telling them that you’re flexible about pick up times, you have the money ready, and you’re eager to get it home. Saying “I can pick it up in two weeks” is a quick way for them to look for another buyer.
  • Be prepared to get it home. Some sellers will offer delivery, but in most cases you need to think about how you’ll transport the item home – even if it means borrowing or renting a vehicle big enough. Ask questions about the size and weight of the item before you arrive and be sure to bring enough manpower to maneuver the piece yourself (don’t assume the seller will be able to lend a hand).
  • Stay safe. We like to buy from people who we’ve talked to on the phone. It means there’s a record that we called them on our house phone/cell phone (which makes someone less likely to do anything creepy), and that way we’ve at least heard their voice, which usually sets us at ease. We also email a relative with their phone number and address to tell them we’re going there (so there’s someone else on the planet who knows where we’re going and when we’re going there) and we also prefer to pick up things outside (just because being outside to do the transaction can feel more “public”).

  • Bring cash. Cash is the one-and-only currency of Craigslist transactions (at least in our world) so hit up the ATM before you head out.
  • Be ready to take a risk. No matter how much info you’re able to get on a piece beforehand, at some point you’ll just have to go for it and make the drive to see it in person. There’s only so much you can learn about a purchase by email, so you may have to decide if it’s really what you want when you see it in person.
  • Feel free to say no thank you. If you arrive and the piece isn’t quite what you expected (or what the seller described) you have ever right to say “nevermind” and leave empty handed (well, except for the cash you saved). The seller may be disappointed or frustrated, so just be prepared to explain why and stand your ground. You can also offer to still take it, but at a lower price.

Selling On Craigslist

Now, as much fun as we have discovering great stuff on Craigslist, the thrill of selling something we no longer need is almost more exciting for me personally. Something about de-cluttering and getting cash in return presses all the right buttons. And it never ceases to amaze me the stuff that people will search for on Craigslist. From bushes and gravel  to granite counters, we’ve gotten rid of tons of stuff on the ol’ CL.

So if you want to get a piece of that action, let’s start with our tips for making a successful listing.

  • Don’t be brief. We personally love listings that are robust. We’re not talking novels, but nothing turns me off more than a clipped, non-descriptive five word listing. Not only do detailed descriptions help buyers understand your item better, writing in complete sentences can help paint the picture that you’re a smart, respectable seller.
  • Play salesman. Remember you’re selling something, so don’t hesitate to remind people that it’s “a gorgeous color” or “in great condition” or whatever other selling point you might have up your sleeve. And be sure to include some of this in your listing title too.
  • But be honest. Don’t oversell your item so much that the buyer is mislead. If your item is worn or damaged somewhere, be upfront about that. We have found that people love and appreciate this honesty (and probably don’t expect mint items on craigslist anyway). If you worry this is undercutting your sale potential, just remember it’s much less trouble to lose a sale at the listing than once you’ve coordinated a pick up time and the buyer has come to pick it up (you might have a disgruntled person on your hands!).
  • Explain yourself. We always like to head off the assumption that we’re selling it because it’s broken / ugly / haunted by explaining our reason for no longer wanting it ourselves. Sometimes it’s a simple “we moved and it doesn’t fit our living room anymore” can help set someone at ease who worries it’s infested with bedbugs or something crazy. Oh and speaking of bedbugs, my apartment in NY had them years ago (worst time ever) but thankfully I now know what to look for while buying something – so there’s more on that here.

  • Price things reasonably. If you’re having trouble determining a sales price, try to find similar items on Craigslist and go a tad lower in order to compete (many times others will overprice something, so cutting your price below that may not be underpricing it, it could just be a fair price that someone will actually take you up on). If the item is available at retail stores, link to that so people can see how much they’re saving by buying it used (you also benefit from the photos and details they feature if you link up). And know that people may negotiate for a lower price, but you don’t have to agree to anything that you don’t want to (sometimes we’re firm, and other times we’re happy to be flexible).
  • Pictures. Pictures. Pictures! We usually don’t even bother looking at listings without pictures, so we wouldn’t dare post one without a picture… or two… or four. These are your best sales asset, so put time into making them good and helpful. Show the whole piece. Show it in situation. Show details. Even show close-ups of where it’s worn or damaged so people won’t have an excuse to cancel the sale when they arrive.
  • Feel free to point out some of your parameters. If you want to, feel free to include conditions like “weekend pick-ups only,” “bring cash,” or “call, don’t email” within your listing. Sherry and I sometimes save these for once we’ve started an email exchange or a phone chat with an interested party though, just so we don’t scare them off with too many rules upfront.

You can click the image below to see some actual listings that we’ve posted as some point. None of them have images since Craiglist removes those shortly after a listing has become inactive, so ignore the fact that they appear to violate that suggestion above.

Once you’ve got your listing up and made it live to the world, here’s our usual plan of action from there:

  • Commit to a fair system. As much as a “Highest Bidder” system might get the best price, we just like to work on a “First Come, First Served” basis. This means whoever is able to schedule the first full-price pick-up has claim to it. We’re not shy about telling people if they ask because it we think it helps conduct the fairest transaction possible (ex: no one thinks we’re dallying in order to hold out for a higher bidder).
  • Choose a safe pick-up location. You guys know we’re protective our address, but it’s not realistic for us to transport every item that we sell to another location for pick up (although sometimes we do that). So when we sell directly from our house, we like to do it in the safest way possible. I don’t provide our address until I’ve scheduled a pick-up time, which means it only goes to the most serious buyers. And whenever possible, we move the item into our carport or outside so the buyer doesn’t enter our home to make the transaction (and it’s out in “public” so no one tries anything funny). This also means they don’t see our alarm system, which helps us feel more secure since no one has “cased” our house while buying something.
  • Don’t go it alone. We only schedule pick-ups when both of us can be present. And we make it clear to buyers that there will be more than one of us here. It’s not like Sherry says “my husband is home, so don’t try anything” but a nice subtle “both my husband and I will be home to help you lift it” mention helps. Hint successfully dropped. This tip goes for when you’re a buyer too – always try to bring someone with you, even if just for safety reasons.

  • Be ready to stand your ground. Sometimes we find buyers trying to take advantage of the fact that they’re with us in person with cash and others are not, so if someone says “how ’bout just $40 instead of $50” it’s really your call. If you’ve got other buyers waiting the wings, feel free to respond with “we agreed to $50, so we’d like to stick to that please” or even “I have others interested for the full price, so we’re afraid we’re firm on it.”
  • Expect cash. If you haven’t made it clear upfront that cash is expected and the person shows up with a check, don’t be shy about telling the person that you’re happy to wait while they go to the bank. Because if you take a check and it bounces, you may be out the money and the item you listed.

Obviously all of these tips are just what works for us, so feel free to tailor them to whatever’s comfortable for you. And we’re always happy to learn new things, so if anyone else has Craigslist tips to share, we’d love to hear them!


  1. says

    Great tips! My husband quit his job to go back to school and he used CL to earn extra money. He would go out to garage sales and pick things up for cheap and sell them for up to three times as much on CL! I think the only rule above that he didn’t follow was having someone with him for each sale. But, most of the stuff he sold was small so he meet people in a grocery store parking lot where there would be lots of witnesses around.

    • says

      Yup, I’ve done parking lots alone plenty of times (though only during daylight hours in a busy parking lot). I bought a lot of stuff for our wedding on Craigslist, like votive candles that had only been used an hour or two. We were putting them inside stuff, so who cares if they’ve been burned a little before?

      Selling on CL these days is probably easier than ebay. After college, I was at home for 8 months before a new job started. I sold a LOT of my parents’ clutter on ebay then. But fees were lower, and there were less reselling businesses on there then. I’m not sure if I’d be so successful now.

      I also sold stuff on Craigslist then, so my mom got all new window treatments with the money I made from selling the old ones. Fast tip here with people in suburbs: if your suburb has specific set house designs (ours had four or five different house styles), put the house style name in your ad. That helped us sell our custom window treatments for top dollar to someone who had the same model house.

  2. says

    I made my first Craigslist purchase a few months ago – a 52 inch antique table with two 20 inch leaves. It’s going to uber cool when I paint/stain it black.

    My biggest fear was negotiating. It’s always intimidated me. So I harnessed everything I’ve learned from Pawn Stars and American Pickers. It worked! (No joke).

    I also left not-so-subtle hints: My husband and his dad will be helping me pick up the table. We shouldn’t need any help since my husband was a linebacker.

  3. april says

    great tips! I love selling on CL and sometimes buying. I LOVE putting free stuff (curb alerts!) on CL. I will say that sometimes I use the 5 word description to sell something that’s not worth much (we are in Massachusetss with lots of colleges and sold a cruddy couch to college students for 25 bux). I just don’t feel like using a lot of words is worth it for a small amount of money. I also like to lump stuff together, kind of like selling a “lot” on ebay…like kids’ toys. We are trying to clear out the playroom for the big guys’ delivery that’s coming up soon, so we are posting a set of 5 Little People toys and things similar to that. It helps to sell by age group or theme (musical instruments, etc.). I would like to know if you’ve ever bought anything (or got it for free) and after you put it in your house it STUNK? We’ve picked up a few wood pieces here and there, mostly for free, and they don’t smell on the side of the road, but once they are inside they have this incredibly horrible wood smell. I sound crazy, I know. hahaha

    • says

      Oh yes, sometimes things are musty so I sit them outside in the sunlight (sun = natural releaser of smells) and wipe them down with white vinegar with all drawers and doors open to air things out. The vinegar doesn’t have a scent when it dries and if you let it bake out in the sun a bit more it shouldn’t be musty at all when it comes in. If it still has a bit of smell, reapply the vinegar (I just use a rag to wipe it down again) and it should definitely be all good!


  4. Kirsten says

    Any advice on how to sell items as a single female who is relatively new to the area and therefore doesn’t really know people here who could go along? If I’m only selling a small item that can be transported to a public place in the daylight, is that generally safe? After a girl from my college was murdered while answering a nanny ad (she thought she was going to meet a young couple and their baby… and it wasn’t), I’m a little wary of using Craigslist and have thought about asking my parents to list stuff for me instead.

    • Kirsten says

      Oops, and I also meant to ask if there are safety considerations in giving out your email address vs. phone number.

    • says

      We just like to hear a person’s voice (are the acting friendly and normal and not weird and asking strange questions). I know people can fake you out with a nice voice on the phone and be serial killers, but at least when you hear people ask questions on the phone you can get a vibe from them instead of trying to get a vibe from email (sometimes email exchanges can be hard to “read” since there’s no tone of voice, etc). Plus a phone record of someone is more trace-able than an email (you can make a fake email address at a library, but most cell and home lines are in someone’s name and we usually call someone a few hours later not right away (so they can’t wait at a payphone, etc). Hope that makes sense!


    • says

      Oh yes, I would meet at a super busy location (outside of a bustling restaurant) during the day. And that’s so terrible about the girl from your college. What a shocking and terrible incident.


    • Liz says

      I posted some tips in a comment but I just had to sell everything, by myself, before moving cross country. most of the items I also couldn’t remove from the house by myself so I did the following:
      I would always pretend someone was going to be there.
      Make sure they had a legit email address and google/Facebook them.
      Forward the email to my boyfriend (who was across the country so couldn’t be there).
      Ask them for ID before they came into my house and text a picture to a friend – I’d wait for them on curb with door locked.
      Call a friend/family member on the phone when they showed up secretly and leave the call running but in my hand.

      Ideally you’d meet them in a public place but the mentioned measures made me feel A LOT safer when I didn’t have a choice.

    • says

      There are also ways to “strip” an e-mail address so you know from where exactly the e-mail is being sent along with other information.

      I have no idea how to do this, but my husband does and it saved us a HUGE CL scam.

      He did it the other day with a random e-mail.. Bank of America spam/scam. It turns out it was being sent from Australia.

      I’d say if you are uncertain and it’s an option, forward the e-mail to a tech savvy friend if you have one handy.

    • says

      Hi Kristen,

      We use a burn e-mail with generic names before when we do stuff. That way someone doesn’t have your personal e-mail/full name. We’re big fans of first name only. Also, if you live in an apartment complex and you see a neighbor often (if you’re not friends with them) it doesn’t hurt to say, “Hey, I’m selling something on craigslist and I don’t really want to be alone. Would you mind hanging out on the porch and having a glass of tea with me while I wait?” Almost everyone understands the CL Paranoia. I’ve gone so far as to call the maintenance man once and he was more than happy to hang out for 10 minutes while the whole thing went down.

  5. Amanda says

    I wish I had seen these tips before my first attempt at buying off of Craigslist. I found a BEAUTIFUL red console for my entryway that fit everything I was looking for (had 3 deep drawers, shelf underneath, sturdy wood). I contacted the seller about buying it, but told her I wouldn’t be able to come until Friday because of work.

    Well, it turns out this seller was trying to sell all of her furniture b/c she was moving (which she did not tell me) and had been burned by no-shows at least two times before. She assumed that I would do the same, and sold the console to a couple that was buying one of her bedroom sets without any kind of warning to me. I was extremely upset because it was an excellent deal and I loved the console, but I realized that if I had been more direct/proactive about the purchase (I only contacted her via email/tex… should have called), she probably wouldn’t have done that.

    Sucks but I’ll do better next time.

  6. says

    Craigslist is an awesome tool and I’ve sold (and purchased) many items throughout the years. Recently, I’ve noticed that scammers are at a high! So when selling I include “I will not respond to emails or text messages – phone calls only!” Yes, scammers had gone so far to text me. It’s such a great way to get rid of items and find great pieces of furniture but you really do have to beware.

  7. says

    Great tips! Many apply for apartment hunting on Craigslist too, which is also kinda scary (I seem to get LOTS of spam when apartment hunting, people asking that I do a credit check first when I click the link in their email, for example).

    My favorite Craiglist deal was when I found a rocking chair next to our dumpster covered in dust. I cleaned it up and it was gorgeous! And then I sold it on CL for $40. I was sad to see it go but didn’t have room for it! :(


  8. Mary says

    Great tips! I’ve sold many items on Craigslist but have purchased only a couple of things.

    I too always give a time frame when two of us are home in the original listing and phone numbers are exchanged after the email contact. I only click into however many emails to get the item sold and delete the rest. No responses to anyone else and of course delete the posting when the item has been sold. I’ve also seen spam links in many emails so the fewer emails that I open the better.

    I’ve had some trouble with the listing kicking out occasionally when the pictures are uploaded even though I’ve compressed them. Then I had to rewrite the listing so now I usually write the listing in Word and then paste it over; it’s also easier for editing and getting a bit of formatting.

    I’m inspired; I think I’ll get some pictures taken and get some items posted today!

  9. Brenda says

    I ignored a post for a chair I was interested in because I wasn’t moving to my new place for a month and couldn’t take it until then. I later regretted it and kept looking for something similar. I found an even better chair (exactly what I wanted), and even though I was still two weeks away from moving, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if they were willing to hold it. Not only did the guy hold it for me for 2 weeks, but after I got there with my mom and her van, he knocked $10 off the price! It was in his garage, and it was obviously just vacuumed. That’s my best CL story so far.

  10. Melissa says

    Awesome tips! In Canada everyone uses http://www.Kijiji.ca for the most part over Craigslist… Surprised it hasn’t made its way to the U.S yet because its a little friendlier looking/ user friendly than craigslist :).

    If you dont mind me asking how much did you sell your granite coutnertops for? Im looking to do the same (just a very small counter) but its hard determining a price because its used and already cut.

    • says

      We actually got $350 for all of it! We were so surprised! It fit the measurements of someone’s kitchen (with some excess and they had the tools to cut it down themselves) so I guess it was a good deal for them and an awesome deal for us to get to unload it!


    • Angella says

      We LOVED using Kijiji when it was in the US (Atlanta), but it was taken over by ebay classifieds and ugh, it stinks trying to sell now.

  11. Em says

    Thanks so much for writing this post. Katherine, one of the victims in the list you linked to, was a great friend of mine. I still love and use Craiglist, but it’s vitally important to be safe and smart about it. Making sure to have more than one person present is by far the best step you can take – thanks for getting the message out to the masses! Your tips are spot-on.

  12. Chrissy says

    Those are great tips! I always meet people in parking lots for smaller items. Especially if my husband is at work. I once met and older lady and she brought her two (large) sons. It made me laugh, I’m glad I’m not the only paranoid one!

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