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

    Ohhhhh how I love the Craiglist!!! I will say though safety is a HUGE issue, we had a Cragislist Killer in our area a few years ago (weird sidenote, I was at the same line dancing club as him the night he left the poor girl for dead YIKES) Luckily she lived and he is now in jail….but still scary!

  2. Jenn says

    Thanks for the tip on the thumbnail image, I didn’t know that was an option! Will save me time, fo’ sure.
    My husband and I also join forces on selling on CL – I do the e-mailing and then he talks to the buyer/takes their money on our front porch. A good tip if you’re selling something outside is to make sure you have an outlet if you’re selling something that needs power to check if it works. The only time a CL buyer had to come into our house was for something like that. AWK :)

  3. Stefanie says

    I love craigslist! The only thing that I would add to your “Be synonym happy when you search” paragraph is to also be antonym happy. For example, if you are looking for chairs and you know that you don’t want the chair to be a gaming chair or a bean bag chair, you can search like this

    “chair -bag -bean -game -gaming”

    I recently purchased these:


    and my search looked like this:

    “chairs -microsuede -bag -bean -plastic -soccer -fold -deck -table -patio -balcony -dinning -beach -outdoor -poolside -lazy -futon -dinner -adirondack -scooter -microfiber -Director -Ikea -Plaid -kid -kids -Papasan -oak -butterfly -game -gaming -slip -bar -Recliner -rocker -IRON -Poang -massage -wicker -cherry -ladder -wooden -rocking -glass -wood -dining -lazyboy -child -computer -desk -office -leather”

    This can help really narrow down your search on craigslist so that you are only looking at the items that are particular to what you really want. The only down side to this type of searching is if the poster writes very little in their post. A bean bag chair could just be “chair.”

  4. Gloria says

    My new favorite way to hunt for something on craigslist is by using RSS feeds– either directly from the site (in the bottom right corner of each search)and adding it to Google Reader or by using Feed My Inbox for emailed alerts. Great post!

  5. SMarie says

    I’ve been trying to sell our mid century dining set for almost 2 months i’ve dropped the price a number of times. How do you deal with all the scam emails that act like they’re interested in the item?

    • says

      We just say “call us if you’re interested” with our number after the first email. If they do and they’re a real person it’s all good. And if it’s a scam, they won’t call.


  6. says

    My husband and I sold (what felt like) most of our possessions on Craigslist before moving to Paraguay to be Peace Corps Volunteers (where we are now). It was a great outlet!

    The hardest thing for me was securing an offer and pick up time. They’d say, “How about $50” and I’d respond with “Yes, when can you pick it up?” and in the meantime someone else would email with another offer. Didn’t want to lead anyone on, but wanted to sell everything as quickly as possible!

    Now that I think about it, phone calls would have been easier for instant arrangements when I was often encouraging emails.

  7. says

    One other suggestion for searching out Craigslist items: a service called ifttt (if this then that). It has a slick interface that allows you to link up certain accounts (email, Twitter, Facebook – whatever you want) and get notifications when things happen (severe weather, Zombie outbreaks, or an awesome buffet showing up on Craigslist). You choose the trigger and the notification style, then ifttt does the work for you! (Note: I do not work for ifttt, nor are they aware of my endorsement, but I’ve used this service in the past and enjoyed it. If you are at least a mid-level Craigslister, you’ll be able to set this up without a problem and get automated updates when you can’t sit down at your computer to bargain hunt.)

  8. Donna says

    I find for smaller items, many people prefer to meet in a public place rather than at home. Usually, this is fine. However, please check out the place they want to meet.

    I once did not show up for an arranged meeting because it was pitch black and the parking lot lights were off. I would rather err on the side of caution than end up in a dangerous situation.

  9. says

    Great tips!! I love Craigslist apps, I have one on my smartphone called “Craigslist Notifications.” It saves me a lot of search time because I can set up a search and the app will notify me when an item comes up with that search term in its title or description. I also FULLY agree with the “Be Synonym Happy” point. Case in point: a while back I was searching for a bookcase. I came up with a big ol’ list of different ways people listed (and came up with different search results with each): bookcase, book case, bookshelf, book shelf, bookshelves, book shelves. Plus a few more combos I can’t think of right now.

    Fantastic post!!

  10. Ashley Edge says

    Hey this was GREAT! I’m obsessed with CL :) Since you guys are so busy you should have google alerts do your searches for you! All you do is set your query for example:

    “Cowhide” site: maine.craigslist.com

    This is an exact query that I’m having google search for me in Maine. Then google will send you an email when something is posted on CL with your description “cowhide”! You have to try it! have fun :)

  11. says

    Great tips! And just in time for us since we just got a new couch and need to get rid of the old ones. Is there a special thing on Craigslist for curb drops? I remember you mentioning it. Also – have you ever thought of using the square? or the paypal credit card thing? I know it takes a small fee, but I wonder if that would be just as clean as cash.

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