24 Craigslist tips, tricks, and resources

Yesterday The Consumerist pointed to a couple of Curbly posts about how to buy stuff on Craigslist [one, two]. These articles have some good tips, but I think there's more to say.

My Craigslist Experience

Cragislist is one of the seven wonders of the internet. You can use it to find a job, buy a car, get a date for Saturday night, and sell that old couch. The site is free to use for almost everything. It's community-policed, which means spam is taken down as users flag it. Kris and I made extensive use of Craigslist when we bought our new house. Over the past three years we've purchased:

  • 67″ x 36″ antique mirror with beveled edge: $45
  • Another mirror, battered but okay: $20 and a long wait in traffic
  • Solid cherry Dania shaker desk: $175 and buyer's remorse
  • A housekeeper to perform a final, thorough cleaning when we moved out of our previous house: $75
  • A futon bed/couch in excellent condition: $100
  • “Cool, stout wooden chair” for my smoking porch: $25
  • A 30 x 60 folding table: $30
  • Two shelving units stolen from Borders by disgruntled employees: $20
  • Free-standing metal cabinet that matches those in our kitchen, delivered: $75
  • Newer double bed with metal frame: $50
  • Doctor's balance scale: $30
  • Box of 40+ wine glasses: $20
  • An old rototiller: $50 (which I sold two years later for $30)

We've also swapped some stuff, too.

  • A dozen raspberry starts and a cubic yard (or more) of fresh manure, all delivered: six rose bushes from our garden
  • A 6mp digital camera: my Nintendo Gamecube
  • A personal computer: my Magic Online account
  • I traded a Wii game I didn't like for one that I did

Every year I list our neighborhood garage sale on Craigslist. When our business needed to hire a truck driver, I listed the job on Craigslist. I use it to keep tabs on community activities and events.

Here's an example of an actual Craigslist transaction: For two months, Kris watched for a mattress and bed frame. Beds came and went, but never exactly what she wanted. One afternoon her ideal bed finally appeared. She contacted the seller immediately and arranged for us to pick up the bed, which we did that night. I borrowed the van from work, we grabbed some cash from the ATM, and we drove to the seller's house. We inspected the bed, and it met with our approval. The seller was friendly — he helped us load the bed into the van. We chatted a little. And then we were on our way. During this transaction, we did several things to make things smoother.

General Tips For Using Craigslist

  • Spend some time learning the site. Familiarize yourself with the interface (it's fairly straight-forward). Pick a category to watch for a week so that you can get a feel for how things work.
  • It's cool that you can subscribe to your favorite categories. This can get overwhelming, though. Do you really want to sift through a thousand lame free items every day? Of course not. But you might be keen on learning about every free piano that comes along, for example. Or maybe you want to see every job posting searching for a writer. You can subscribe to a feed of any Craigslist search. This is amazingly powerful. (It's also a dangerous time-sink.)
  • Always be polite. People are grateful to deal with kind, helpful strangers. When a woman came to take 500 square feet of free sod we'd dug from our lawn, I spent an hour in the rain helping to load her trailer. Though the sod had been listed as free, she sent me $50 in restaurant gift certificates to thank me for helping her.
  • Don't feel pressured. If you drive out to the seller's location and find that the item is not as described, or that you've changed your mind, don't feel obligated to buy. If a buyer arrives and tries to change the terms of the deal, call it off.

Tips For Buying on Craigslist

  • The most important thing to remember when looking for things on Craigslist is that you must be both patient and impulsive. This may seem like a paradox, but it's true. First, you must know what it is you want. And then you must be patient, waiting for that thing to be listed. When you finally see the item available, send e-mail immediately or you may lose your chance. (An e-mail expressing interest is not a commitment to buy, but it puts you at the head of the line in most sellers' minds.)
  • Be ready to purchase the item when you meet the seller. If you drive to look at a desk, be ready to pay for it and to haul it away. Sellers generally want to get rid of their stuff now. We've been able to buy stuff even when we weren't the first to arrive with cash, but were the first to arrive with cash and a van.
  • Some people sell unwanted gift cards, generally for about 80-90% of their face value. For example, if you know that you're making a trip to the hardware store for a home improvement project, check Craigslist first to see if there aren't any gift cards that you might be able to use. Important: verify the balance on the gift card before purchasing it. Many cards contain printed instructions on how to verify the balance, but you might want to meet the seller at the store.
  • Negotiate. Offer the seller less than the asking price, especially if the listing is old. (This won't work for a brand-new listing.)
  • Use cash and exact change when possible. Some sellers will take a check or give you change, but don't count on it. Arrange the form of payment before you meet the seller.

Tips For Selling on Craigslist

  • Offer detailed descriptions. Provide essential information. Give the size, the color, the style, or any other relevant information a buyer might need to make a decision.
  • Be honest. You're not going to fool anyone. If you say something is “like new” and a potential buyer shows up to discover it's well-worn, you're not going to make the sale and you're going to have a cranky customer on your hands. Tell the truth.
  • You don't need to post a photograph, but you're going be more successful with certain items if you do. I spent two months searching for the perfect desk on Craigslist. There was a strange disconnect between the text people used to describe their desks and the actual desk as shown in a picture. I wasn't about to bite on a post that didn't include an image. But if you're posting an ad for a used Nintendo Wii game, a photo isn't required.
  • Ask a reasonable price. If you're not sure what's reasonable, watch Craigslist for a week or two to see what similar items fetch. If you price your item too low you'll sell it but you will have left money on the table. If you price your item too high you'll never get a response.
  • You will get many responses, but few will follow through. That's just how Craigslist works. Don't let it bother you. Be grateful for the few that do follow through.
  • Don't let buyers talk you into alternate forms of payment. If you're asking $250, don't accept a trade for something you don't need. I've made this mistake twice, and one time it really bit me. (I traded for a computer that didn't work — long, stupid story.)
  • Take down your ad once you've sold the item.
  • From my experience, collectibles do poorly on Craigslist. It's the wrong audience. I watch for comic books because I'm a collector. People have unrealistic expectations of what comics are worth and what the demand for them is. I would never try to sell comics on Craigslist. That's what eBay is for.

Other Craigslist Resources

Here are additional resources to help you get the most out of Craigslist:

Craigslist is a cheap and fun way to get stuff you need, or to get rid of stuff you no longer want. But be careful. Don't spend more than you should — it's easy to get carried away!

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DC Economist
DC Economist
13 years ago

JD, let me add a great CL experience. An old college friend and I were moving into a new apartment, and he was new to the city, and I had not much furniture. I was checking Craigslist everyday, when one day we spot this ad for a townhome that needs to get rid of all of its furniture. Free! They just didn’ want to move it. We go there, and its all stuff that’s 1 year old from IKEA, a pretty nice furniture store. I tell the owner, basically “DIBS” and started flaggin what we would take. We got girlfriends… Read more »

Stephen
Stephen
13 years ago

If you use a newsreader to keep up with blogs, you can also create an RSS feed of any craigslist search. When a new post matches your search, you’ll be updated. No need to keep checking back.

I’m house shopping this way.

Dan
Dan
13 years ago

Very useful article – thanks!

Mac
Mac
13 years ago

Get rich slowly by buying stolen items on Craigslist. Hmmmm, not what I’ve come to expect from this site. Me thinks you should return said stolen items to any Borders. How is buying something that you know to be stolen the right thing to do? Just my opinion, you do what you feel is right.

Jason Ennor
Jason Ennor
13 years ago

I’ve been using google base in addition to craigslist. I don’t think the audience (that craigslist has) is there yet but the interface is much improved, as is the method for posting listings.

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

Get rich slowly by buying stolen items on Craigslist

Ouch. Good point. All I can offer are rationalizations: this occurred three years ago; I have no idea which Borders the shelves were taken from; and I no longer have the shelves. And, and, and I didn’t know they’d been stolen til we already loaded them in the van. (The women who sold them to us were grousing about how much they hated to work for Borders.) None of this excuses this, of course. It’s all just rationalizations.

Mea culpa.

Wes
Wes
13 years ago

I recently used CL to justify buying a nice, big, expensive LCD TV. I sold my 7 year old 32″ RCA for $250 and convinced myself that the true cost of the new LCD was the net after the sale!

I have more detail about how I got my 42″ LCD for $679… with caveats! : )

http://moneycuts.com/31/bestbuy-bargain-42-lcd

Wes

Allie
Allie
13 years ago

I would like to add something to the above. If you are listing something on Craigslist, check your email at least once a day and RESPOND to people who write to you. I was trying to adopt two dwarf hamsters. I wrote to everyone who listed them in my area. A week later when I had heard from no one, I bought two at the pet store. Two days after that (a total of NINE DAYS after I responded to the ad) someone finally wrote back, I had to tell them I’d already gotten some somewhere else. 24 hours is… Read more »

Nick
Nick
13 years ago

Instead of signing up for a Craigslist RSS feed I set up text message alert at 4INFO. When an item shows up I know about it even if I’m not at my computer:

http://4info.net/editAlert.do?dispatch=add&editAlertServiceId=6&feed=craigslist

decluttermother
decluttermother
13 years ago

Craigslist sure does beat driving around searching for garage sales and thrift stores for home furnishings.

Roger
Roger
13 years ago

Did I mention we sold out house via Craigslist, FSBO? I love craigslist, though they really, really, really (really) need to beat down the spammers. People include “keywords” which have nothing to do with their sale. Guess what, guys, the dude looking for the Acura could care less about you selling your Minivan that you included every car make in the ad–and your ad now has a much more likely chance of being flagged down (I religiously flag those). Y ou can quickly separate the clueless from the motivated, which is nice. When you see two identical items priced more… Read more »

tim
tim
13 years ago

I’ve sold lots of stuff on CL and love the medium. The biggest mistake I have seen is people trying to list items for more than the market wants to accomodate, because the seller is trying to make up costs for the item for whatever reason. No matter how much you paid for something (especially electronics and computers that depreciated quickly with new technologies), you aren’t going to get near what you paid for simply because if it is too close to new price, people would buy it new. I also agree with checking emails daily. One of the most… Read more »

dizzydiva
dizzydiva
13 years ago

Another alternative to Craigslist is
http://expo.live.com/

However, I prefer Craigslist. And I do agree that many people are asking way too much for their used items.

debbie
debbie
13 years ago

you’re proud to own stolen bookcases from borders?

Jamie
Jamie
13 years ago

I agree with your tips – great job!
I have a free Google Map at my site http://www.aMillionPlaces.com that will help people see where each CL site is in the U.S.
I also have some reports that will help people identify and compare the demographics between the various urban areas covered by each Craigslist site.

DrumBoy
DrumBoy
12 years ago

I’ve bought a few things on CL, including a low-miled vehicle (98 Jeep GC 5.9). I think as with buying anything used, know what you’re buying beforehand. Do some research on the sellers price to see if it’s reasonable in your area, if the price seems too low for something that’s in a more valuable state it’s MIGHT be shady. Use your better judgment and not the temptation of the bargain.

ReikiDreamer
ReikiDreamer
12 years ago

I’ve found in our experience in selling a vehicle. We get tons of calls and everyone is interested and then nobody shows up! They are calling us offering us all kinds of deals and cash and then nothing. Anyone know how to overcome this? We’re really good honest people, are truck is in great shape, the photos show it and we have it listed below blue book for a quick sale and still no takers? I’m open to anyone with help and suggestions to e-mail me. I’m puzzled, I’ve run adds before and never had this happen!

Mac McClain
Mac McClain
12 years ago

What about tools? http://www.craigstoolbox.com. See images under listings, use Craigslist like you do now. The only difference is images in the search results. Enjoy!

Annalise
Annalise
11 years ago

The major problem with buying things off of Craigslist is that you never know if they are stolen property or not. I just had a musical instrument that was stolen from me five years ago pop up on Craigslist in a for sale listing. I called the cops, the cops met with the person who had bought the item (it had already been sold by that time) and confiscated the instrument once they matched the serial numbers. That person was out the $500 that he paid the person who put up the listing. If you trade in goods that turn… Read more »

whatever
whatever
5 years ago
Reply to  Annalise

Riiiight, that makes a lot of sense… not.
If the cops can find the person who BOUGHT the item, why can’t they find the person who SOLD it?
Obviously, they’re the more culpable party and the ones who should be out the $500.

John
John
11 years ago

Re: Allie (8), Tim (15)

I agree that it’s important to reply to all of the emails you get from craigslist. I got tired of the email-tag and haggling over prices, so I put up a website help order the transaction and let people build up a persistent trading reputation: squaresandwich.com

Hope it helps!

Nihaar
Nihaar
10 years ago

JD,

Another great resource to add to your list is http://www.mapthatpad.com/

I recently came across it via a friend and its a pretty useful app to help with your apartment/housing searches on craigslist.

Rob
Rob
10 years ago

Also really helpful with the apartment search on Craigslist: http://www.padmapper.com

It plots craigslist’s apartment listings on a fullscreen map and lets you filter by all the usual things, and then build a favorites list. Much easier to use than Craigslist itself.

Jason
Jason
10 years ago

Another great tip is making your ad look better. CL’s old style leaves much to be desired. There are a few sites out there that let you make nice looking ads. I use a free one, http://www.slipdex.com. Allows photo upload, have dozens of templates, ad performance tracking, all free, no ads on your ads! haha

Jason

Anthony K
Anthony K
10 years ago

I just purchased a NEW DELL VOSTROS w/ a monitor in the box for below the asking price. I recommend to everyone to always negotiate a lower asking price for even NEW items. Sometimes the price the seller is asking for might be resonable but because not many people inquired on that item during the time the post was up and the time you inquired, you might get a steal, like me. Just trust your buyers instinct.

Tom
Tom
10 years ago

Just posted an article about searching all the craigslist sites at once with a tool called crazedlist @ http://www.tkdigital.com/finding-work/search-all-craigslist-sites-at-once/ . Take a look

-Tom

Paul
Paul
10 years ago

I find that it’s too difficult sorting through craigslist rental listings, and they don’t provide enough information.

I recently used http://www.therentables.com they seem to have a lot of ads that are on craigslist too, but a lot better organized.

nate
nate
10 years ago

http://www.craiglook.com is an awesome resource! it gives craigslist more of an ebay feel with pictures on the side.

Matt
Matt
10 years ago

http://www.foundoncl.com is a great resource to share what kinds of things you have found on craigslist. You can also see what kinds of deals other people are finding there too.
Great Article!

Blah Blah
Blah Blah
10 years ago

Half the folks on CL have no clue what the item they’re selling is worth, and ask for way too much. EG: selling a CRT monitor for $40 when folks are giving them away for free. For electronics…never buy from anyone who can’t boot up and prove that the item they’re selling works. Some folks will say “it worked when I last used it, but XYZ messed up and I can’t get it to work, but if you replace XYZ it will work fine.” Don’t trust them. Others will say “well, I don’t have the AC adapter to get it… Read more »

JJ
JJ
8 years ago

Selling tip: use a bit of html (but not too much). I tell our users to create an ad on our site first and then drop the eFlyer code into a new Craiglist ad. Voila… your ad looks very professional. Here is a how-to I created on the process: http://blog.marketpad.com/580/what-on-earth-is-an-eflyer/

Cheers,

JJ

short term loans
short term loans
7 years ago

i saw something about this on tv the other night, you have covered it in more detail though thanks

Kurt Frankenberg
Kurt Frankenberg
6 years ago

My wife is the “Craiglist Queen” on the BUY side… helping us track down furniture, appliances, even a nice Subaru Outback for a very affordable price. On the SELLING side, my teenaged son and I did very well by using Craiglist to sell our services repairing window screens and screen doors. On my blog at Shoestring101 (dot com) we detail the journey of starting with an investment of $62.66, using part-time effort (I am divorced and get my 14-year old three weekends a month), we used Craigslist and a few other cheap or free advertising methods to net $1195.33 profit… Read more »

b. Haley
b. Haley
5 years ago

OK so we (wife and I) have used CL for years now. Ater we bought our little house on the river we decided to furnish it entirely by purchasing all the things we needed on CL. It took a few months but all furniture, appliances, special decorating items came from CL. We saved thousands of dollars, literally, and have had so many people comment on how cute it turned out. The items we bought were nearly new and at a fraction of the cost of buying new at a retail store. Plus we found a “third car” for the house… Read more »

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