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!

Comments

  1. Tessa says

    I am so so excited! I just got my Amazon shipping notification for your book, it’s going to be here tomorrow! I really wanted to come to a book signing but I am in Michigan and the closest one to me was in Chicago. Maybe you will get to come here at some point and I can get it signed :)

  2. says

    A couple of my rules:

    When buying:

    Always tell them upfront what you want to pay (I hate it when people come, there is nothing wrong with the item or different than online and they want to negotiate). I wasted my day for you to come offer $200 less than I was asking.

    Look for “moving” in the post. If people are moving they are usually REALLY willing to drop the price if you come get it ASAP. We’ve gotten a lot of great stuff for 1/2 of asking price since they needed it gone before they moved.

    99% of our house is furnished from craigslist and we’re really cheap!

  3. says

    My big trick for Kijiji shopping (here in Canada) is to check out the seller’s house on Google Street View before heading over. I have a pretty general rule of thumb that if their house/car is nicer than mine, I’m probably pretty safe and am probably getting a good item. You know, because I’m judgmental like that.

    • Julia says

      I find the wealthier people/those in “nicer” homes are less understanding of my safety concerns (like not following them into their house for a small item), tend to overestimate the value of their items (their sense of self is more tied up in their “stuff” as evidence by the nice car/house), and are less pleasant to deal with both as seller and buyer.

      My rule of thumb is that the further into the suburbs/subdivisions I venture, the less safe I am and the lower quality the item will be for its price.

  4. jen says

    loved this! glad you guys are safe. Everything here is pretty much what I’ve learned too, the number one rule of buying for me is don’t annoy the seller, don’t just ask “is it available?” because that seems to annoy them.. I just say “I’d like your X, I can come by Y with cash.” I have become quite zen about just trolling for what I want.. if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’ve “lost” quite a few things I thought I wanted but I have 3 treasures in my house that I laugh because they couldn’t have been better. I often prefer to get something on CL because it is unique and full of character. It is truly amazing what people will take for free, too. Helps with decluttering and saves me time. I am a big fan of the curb alert on trash day. I guess some people might consider it dangerous? No different than putting signs up I guess.

  5. Colleen says

    My partner and I LOVE Craigslist! We buy and sell stuff there all the time. Occasionally I also give away stuff for free that I would have thrown out otherwise; the few minutes’ work helps keep stuff out of the dumpster.

    You definitely need to take a Zen approach–the right item will come along eventually. The right buyer will usually come along eventually if your price is reasonable.

    One thing that seems to help is being centrally located. We live in the heart of the city while my parents live in the suburbs, and we have a much easier time selling or giving stuff away than they do, just because our location is more accessible to more people.

    If you can offer more than one location to meet (say, your home or your workplace) or can offer delivery that seems to help. We have a truck, so offering to deliver often gets us a premium price or faster purchase. There are a lot of folks out there who don’t have transportation or have physical limitations, so if you can help them out they’re willing to pay for it.

    Be honest and don’t make any promises you can’t keep. In addition to household items, my husband likes to buy, fix, and re-sell cars on Craigslist. He’s always completely upfront with buyers about what they’re getting, if there is any work needed, etc. but on occasion a buyer has still gotten mad and tried to get a refund. One even threatened small-claims court (he had zero case, though, and never actually followed through). For stuff like that it’s good to know the laws in your area about used cars, etc. so you’re always on the right side. Get documentation like a little purchase agreement that both parties sign saying that you’re making the purchase as-is, etc.

    And definitely think about safety! We meet away from our home (and the seller’s home) if we can, but otherwise we try to be together and make it clear that we’ll both be there. We usually bring the item outside or into our front porch. Sometimes if the emailer uses their real name I will look them up on Facebook just to feel a little more comfortable with who I’m meeting (not that it’s any guarantee). My husband uses a fake email address and a Google Voice phone number for Craigslisting.

    My favorite Craigslist story: I bought a cheap exercise machine from a guy in a nearby apartment building. I didn’t end up liking it much and eventually sold it about a year later. The buyer lived near me and requested delivery. When I pulled up in front of her address… it was the same apartment building! And I even sold it for $10 more than I paid for it. :)

  6. Elizabeth says

    Great post! I don’t often use Craigslist, I use Kijiji more. I found 4 parsons dining chairs for $100 last winter!

  7. Kate says

    I set up RSS feeds in my Google Reader if I’m really on the hunt for something. It’s easy to check, and you know when new items have been added.

  8. Esther says

    when I click on the “more on that here”, where John says he knows what to look for when buying furniture for bed bugs, it goes to your post on the $6 kitchen cabinets for the office?
    No need to post my comment just wanted to let you guys know in case its a mistake :)

    • says

      Yep, that’s correct. The $6 office cabinets talks about how we checked them for bed bugs. But if you want my NY story, just click the link earlier in that sentence.

      -John

    • Esther says

      I just did! What a horror story! So glad you survived to tell the tale! will definitely be checking out for those little signs in the future

  9. Abby says

    The “thumbnail trick” is not working for me. I tried hovering my mouse over the “pic” or “img” link, and I also tried clicking those links specifically rather than the link to the whole post…but I don’t see any thumbnails. What am I missing?

  10. Liz says

    I sold all my furniture on CL before two cross country moves and some of the most important things I looked for in a buyer and did as a seller:
    1. Have a legitimate email address.
    – As a girl when someone emailed me from pimpsnhos28@yahoo.com (fake but you get the idea), I would disregard that from the person who emailed me from a school district email account. As a seller, first.lastname@xyz.com inspires slightly more confidence than the above example.(you can Google, Facebook the person, etc.).
    2. Be thorough in your description but not too wordy! -Nobody wants to read 4 paragraphs. Bullet points are your friend to stress points.
    3. Use multiple terms when selling.
    – I.E. when selling a tv make sure to put tv, television, plasma, big screen, hdtv all worked into the ad to make sure it shows in plenty of search results.
    4. If you HAVE to be alone ask for ID of the buyer/seller and text the picture to a friend.
    – And have a friend on the phone and casually hold your phone. This was my situation when selling furniture and a car and you know anyone that balks is up to no good.

  11. Melissa says

    I’m curious to know your thoughts on this recent experience we had…

    We recently sold a television (box style) on Craigslist and we listed it at 32 inches and sold it for $40. When the buyer arrived, he said, “this is 32 inches?” and I said, “you’re welcome to measure it– let me get the tape.” And he said, “No, that looks about right.” He paid us and went on his way. Two days later he emailed us and said that it wasn’ 32 in…because we had measured it incorrectly and he wanted a refund OR he would sell it and then give us what he got for it. We searched on craigslist and found that we had actually sold the TV at its actual size for lower than what comparable ads were for so we said, “We’re so sorry, but all sales are final.” We also mentioned the other ads.

    I was super worried because of a few things:
    A) He had our address
    B) He had our email (which has our names in it)
    C) Since he knows our name, he can find us on the internet, etc.

    So, the moral that we learned is never meet at the house, use a non-name email address for craigslist. What would you guys have done in this situation?

    • says

      Good question and probably a fair concern to have because you just never know. I probably would’ve have done something similar to you. We had one instance where a guy who showed up tried to tell us that it wasn’t in the condition he expected. So I told him he wasn’t obligated to take it, but if he did then the sale was final. He ended up deciding to go for it and we never heard any complaints after that. But had our buyer (or yours) been overly upset or angry in his emails back to us, I probably would’ve offered to take it back and refund his money. It’s not worth the stress, especially if I could sell it to another person for a similar price.

      -John

  12. Sarah Kate says

    These are all great tips! I have such a love/hate relationship with CL! I’ve sold many items but I always seem to have bad luck with no-shows, non-responders, and low-ball offers. Just this morning I got a response that simply said “give me a call” with a name and phone number. No mention of the item or if he wanted it, etc. Ugh. Honestly, if I get a lot of offers, I filter by which responder sounds the most interested and has the fewest spelling mistakes, ha!

    • says

      We get those too. If it’s my only response then I’ll entertain it, but otherwise I often defer to people who are bit more communicative in their messages. :)

      -John

  13. says

    LOVE CL! I’d say about 80% of our stuff comes from there. Most recently we upgraded to a larger dining room table w/ leaves so that we can seat our relatives at the holidays. We had a 4 seater, and now that our twins are almost 3, we needed more chairs! So I sold our old set for $125, and bought a new gorgeous table w/ 2 chairs for $50 and a not so nice table w/ 6 nice chairs for $75. Now I’ll sell the not so nice table for $25 and we actually made a few bucks AND have a much better seating arrangement!

  14. Courtney says

    Thank you for this post; I’m in the process of my first sell on CL and so far so good. I’ve been going through your archives from the beginning (yes, I’m one of those types!) and I’m so curious how you word posts for your in-the-ground-still plants. I have a yard full of overgrown nandinas and box woods, but have to clue how to arrange a dig-it-yourself post. Suggestions?

    • says

      I don’t have an exact listing to reference, but we were sure to mention that type of plant and that it was free if you dug it out yourself – I think we said something like “if you provide the labor to successfully transplant the bush – it’s yours for free!” or some other way to note that it’s not our fault if the plant doesn’t survive. We did ask for people to contact us so that it wasn’t just a “show up whenever” situation. That way you can also direct them as to where the plants are and be sure they don’t take anything you don’t want them to!

      -John