How To Properly Use Craigslist

Last week I did a lot of buying and selling on craigslist. I was trying to get a bunch of cheap snowboarding gear, and I thought that I could find some deals on craigslist. I was also a little short on cash, so I thought it was a good time to sell some things of my own while I was at it. Throughout the process, I learned a lot about how to properly use craigslist – mostly through my interactions with craigslist newbies who were far less experienced with the goods and services selling site. So here are a few of the basic tips and tricks to use craigslist properly.

Craigslist Etiquette

First and foremost, if you put something up on craigslist, expect to get interest about your item. I had one guy put up what looked like a wonderful deal for me, but when I contacted him he said, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting interest so soon, I’m busy for the next 3-4 days”. Unfortunately for him, I probably would have bought his equipment right away, but I found an even better deal in the meantime and purchased that instead. Secondly, don’t be rude to others. When he finally emailed me and asked when I wanted to meet, I told him that I had already purchased other gear. His reply was to simply say “impatient much?”. So as a rule of thumb, don’t put your stuff up on craigslist until you are ready to sell. If you are still not sure if you even want to sell it, don’t put it up, because all you are doing is wasting time for everyone.

In terms of travelling to meet someone, it is generally up to the buyer to meet the seller. If you don’t feel comfortable having strangers come to your house, feel free to pick a neutral place to meet. Buyers are, of course, allowed to request to meet somewhere else as well, but because the item of interest is in the hands of the seller, they typically get priority. So no, I am not going to load a heavy object into my vehicle, drive for 40 minutes to meet you, and then hope that you will actually purchase it. You can come to me, at a time that is convenient for me, and I will sell you my item at a a price that I deem is fair.

Finally, return contact in the same form as it is initiated. I had one guy that I was trying to get a hold of, so I sent him an email, which I didn’t get a response, and then I phoned him and left a message, to which I didn’t get a response. Eventually I got a text message in return. Not only was the seller lucky that I was using a cell phone, otherwise the text would’ve been wasted, but if I am emailing you and calling you, after you put your information on craigslist, then it is polite to respond while I am calling you, or if you are unable to answer, then to phone me back (as I left my name and number on the voice mail).

Craigslist Selling Tips

The absolutely most important thing you can do to increase the chances of selling your item and getting a fair price for it, is to provide pictures. When I was looking for things to buy, I would often just scroll through craigslist and scan through the pictures. I am using Chrome which has an extension that shows me all of the craigslist photos without having to click through – there’s a similar option for FireFox users as well). It was only when I would search for very specific keywords that I would find items that did not have a picture. Not including pictures lowers the chance that your ad will be seen, and lowers the chance that quality buyers will contact you. You may get emails and phone calls that inquire about the item, but if it isn’t what they are looking for, then its wasted time on both ends. A picture will make this less likely to happen. They don’t have to be great photos – I took mine with a cellphone and they worked out well enough – craigslist hosts the pictures, so you are going to get a low quality photo in the end anyways. Protip: put high quality images on a site like photobucket or imgur if your item requires high detailed shots to sell, and link to them through the ad.

A second important selling tip would be to be prompt. If you put up a bunch of stuff on craigslist for sale, then expect responses to your ad, and attempt to reply to them as quickly as possible. I had so many sellers flake out on me after I sent off an email or two. They might reply to the first one, but then ignore all future attempts at contact, or they would simply never respond to the email in the first place. If you don’t want to get emails at all, and will only deal over the phone, remove the email option from your ad.

Finally, if you happen to have multiple buyers interested, then thank your lucky stars and feel free to sell it to the first one that provides the cash. Do not attempt to have a bargaining war, as buyers will simply move on or get frustrated, and make sure you contact everyone who is interested after the item sold. I had one guy agree to meet me at a certain time and location, but never showed, so I assume he sold the item and just never told me.

Craigslist Purchasing Tips

I did eventually end up with what I wanted from my craigslist purchases, but there were many times which I almost got to be a buyer but was simply too late. I got a number of emails from people who were willing to sell me their gear – except someone else got there first. So be willing to act quickly if you want to jump on a good deal. The stuff I ended up getting turned out to be great, but in order to get it I had to contact the guy numerous times over email to work out details (price, meeting time, etc) as he kept wanting to raise the price on me as he said there were multiple interested buyers, but I finally told him that I would give him cash in hand within 40 minutes if he sold it to me right then and there. So I took off from work for my lunch break, grabbed cash, met the gentleman, and made the deal. This wouldn’t have happened if I couldn’t have acted quickly, and I am sure that the deal would have been gone if I had waited until the next day like we had originally planned.

Send out a lot of feelers, and ask a lot of questions. One deal looked too good to be true, but when I asked a bunch of questions I found out that the equipment was 10-15 years old and would be effectively worthless. Even the photos looked good, but it was only after doing some research and asking some questions that I came to that conclusion, and was able to save myself from making a terrible deal. I also wrote a lot of emails to sellers that didn’t provide enough information, so that I could see if I could find the “diamond in the rough”. My eventual purchase was from one of these feelers, as the ad didn’t have a lot of information and didn’t include any pictures.

Craigslist Negotiating Tips

Craigslist is one of those last places in our society where you can learn how to negotiate on prices. Sears doesn’t take kindly to you offering below market value, but everyone on craigslist expects to at least receive an offer for less than the seller is asking. So what can you do to ensure that you both are getting a fair price?

If you are selling, then first search craigslist for what other people are selling the same or similar items for. This should give you a benchmark for how much you should expect to get for your item. If you feel like all those prices are far too low for your item, it is most likely that you should just hold onto it. You may feel like the item has more value because you are emotionally attached to it, so just put it aside and find something else to sell.

Second, make sure your initial price is both reasonable yet slightly above what your bottom line is for selling the item. Recognize that if you put “or best offer” (OBO), you will get a lot of really low offers. Setting your price in this way allows you to have plenty of interest (as the price is fair), but also gives you room to bargain. Everyone wants a deal, so even if you know off 5 or 10 dollars, they will feel like they did a good job negotiating, and will be more likely to purchase the item.

If you are buying, then realize that you can probably get at least 10% off of the asking price. Even if the seller says “firm”, once you are at their doorstep, with cash in hand, they will most likely want to sell you the item for less than they are asking simply because then it is out of their hair and they have cash in hand. If you are sending out a lot of “feeler” emails like mentioned earlier, then don’t be afraid to start to negotiate in that initial communication. One seller that I contacted quickly dropped his price when I pointed out comparison items for lower prices, and mentioned that I would be far more interested at a different price point.

However, if you ask for a discount and the seller says no, either be willing to walk away or pay the full price. In some situations, you may already feel like you are getting a deal, so don’t be afraid to simply pay the asking price. It’s less hassle for both of you, and if the seller is happy asking for that amount, and you are happy paying for it, then by all means don’t try to nickel and dime them just to save a buck or two.

Have you sold many things on craigslist? What mistakes have you made? What tips can you share?

Written by Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.

12 Responses to How To Properly Use Craigslist

  1. Jessica07 says:

    Wow! This was really helpful, thanks.

  2. Harold says:

    These are all very good tips.

    One I can add as a seller is to sell to the first person who offers you the money. I was selling my car and had interest from a number of people. One woman came and looked at the car twice and seemed really interested. She called and wanted to take it for one more test drive. So I waited. In the meantime a ‘new’ buyer came to me and offered to buy for the full asking price. I should have written up a contract there and then but decided to wait for the promised extra test drive. Turns out the woman wasted more of my time and then walked away. Don’t let your like or dislike or impression of potential buyers or their situation get in the way. Take the money or sign the contract with the first person who is willing to make a firm deal. I ended up selling for less than my original asking price because of the run-around this woman gave me.

    On the other hand, I got a very good buy on a canoe I was looking for. I’d been checking craigslist for a kevlar canoe for months earlier this year. I saw one advertised by a guy in Portland, Oregon (I’m in Victoria). It was just what I wanted. His high resolution photos showed a boat in very good shape. (He’d never used it.) He was offering a good price because he wanted it out of his garage. It was worth it to drive down to Portland to pick it up (this included a ferry ride). I didn’t even think of asking him for a lower price as it was an outstanding offer to begin with. I think he was happy it went to a good home.

    That’s another tip, if you’re looking for an unusual item or one that doesn’t turn up often, it can be worth widening your search area.

    • Tom Drake says:

      Good points Harold. I just had a similar issue selling concert tickets. Some guy said he’d get ready to come over and call me in an hour. He called 3 hours later to say he changed his mind, I had turned down a couple other calls, and this was the day of the concert!

    • Steph says:

      I had 2 interested buyers in a listing I made. I agreed to sell it to the first person who contacted me and even made arrangements to bring it to him. We tried to meet up but could not locate him (it was at a technical school with quite a few areas..). After 1/2 hour of driving around we left. He called us back to ask where we were and that he had given us clear instructions…umm not.. I have another buyer interested in 2 of my listings (1 of which was the one above) and is willing to come to me instead of me having to go to him. Is this ok to do even though I emailed the other buyer to let him know he could have it?? Any contract law issues? I feel we did our due diligence (and beyond) to make the sale to the original buyer (we even asked people working at the school for directions etc…). thanks for your advice!

    • Kumar says:

      I don’t want to sound sexist, but I generally will avoid selling to women unless they buy up front with no hassles. They have to be the flakiest, most indecisive when it comes to purchasing stuff on Craigs.

  3. Nathan says:

    @Harold: I’m thinking of selling my car on Craigslist as well. Do you have any tips on how to do this well? How did you price your car? Aside from the woman, it sounds like you got mostly what you were looking for.

  4. Ross C. says:

    Excellent tips! I made a similiar site on the benefits that can come from Craigslist, both as a buyer and seller. The site is http://www.how-to-craigslist.com.

  5. Lynn says:

    I really want to know if my message to a seller is going through. The seller won’t respond to my response, I’m not sure if my e-mail is going through. How can I find out?

  6. Carin Olalde says:

    It’s hard to seek out educated folks on this matter, but you sound like you already know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

  7. Gina says:

    This was very helpful and thought through – good job:) I have a tip to add for both sellers and buyers. If you need help pricing your items, and make sure you get your moneys worth, I would recommend signing up for a new startup called Statricks. This site provides you with price reports and fair market values for almost all used goods, so you know what the going price is and not undersell your stuff – or overpay when buying!
    http://www.statricks.com/craigslist-used-pricing-tool.html?lrRef=FYHr0

  8. craig says:

    I was agreeing with everything that was being written, until I got to the trick “if the seller says “firm”, once you are at their doorstep, with cash in hand, they will most likely want to sell you the item for less than they are asking simply because then it is out of their hair and they have cash in hand.”

    This is one of my biggest peeves about craiglist transactions, where you’ve agreed to a price only for the buyer to show up and try to pay for less than what was agreed upon. If you want to negotiate a lower price, then do it earlier before you agreed to a price.

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