If there’s one place I get the best deals, it’s Craigslist. When I’m looking for new toy, I always check there first. In most cases, you can get stuff for half of what they cost new. Not only that, it’s also a great place to get rid of your junk. After creating an ultra efficient fridge to house my beer, I was able to unload my old kegerators for $1000 – pretty close to what I paid for them. These were just a couple of the items I’ve sold. Over the past few months, I’ve made over $2000 selling stuff I wasn’t using anymore.
While I’ve had some great success with Craigslist, I’ve spoken with many people who didn’t get the same results. My neighbor for example, was trying to sell an old SUV. Wanting to be helpful, I told him to list it on Craigslist. A week or two later, I saw he still had the truck. “Having any luck with the sale?” I asked him. “No, I got a ton of people who wasted my time over email, and the ones that showed up were just tire kickers.” He gave up and sold the truck on eBay for less than what I thought he could have gotten.
Over my next few interactions on Craigslist, I started to see why he had trouble. I’ve been a Craigslister for a while and have developed a few rules for conducting business. Whenever I run into issues, it’s usually because I didn’t abide by one of these rules.
Whether you’re new Craigslist, or have been using it for a while, these rules should help you make excellent deals efficiently.
If you’re listing an item on Craigslist, you have to filter the responses.
I recently listed a stereo receiver, and was having trouble with the sale. The price probably wasn’t good enough, and most of the responses I got were from time wasters. I usually filter out these emails, but not having many takers, I started responding to this guy called John. John kept emailing me with questions about whether I had the stereo, then about the condition of the stereo, then about the features of the stereo, then he called to talk even more about the stereo. Then, when the time came to meet up, he was a no show. I realized I had wasted my time by not following my rule on filtering responses.
When you list an item, you will quickly learn there are all kinds of people floating around in the Craigslist marketplace. Some of these people are just serial time wasters, and you can filter them out by recognizing which email patterns to ignore. These people like to email you messages like, “do you still have the item?” They might also start to negotiate via email, “you had it for $800, would you sell it for $500?” These are signs of poor Craigslist etiquette and an indication that they’re just going to waste your time. Just filter out any of those emails.
Don’t try to give the item to the first buyer to email you. First and foremost you should go with the person who presents themselves as the best potential buyer. Good buyers reveal themselves by indicating that they want to buy, are available, and provide all necessary contact information. Of course some good buyers might be new to Craigslist, and that’s why I lay down guidelines at the end of every ad.
If this post is still up, then I still have the item.
I will sell to the first person who shows up with cash.
Please respond with your contact information and when you are available to see the item.
If someone can’t follow these basic guidelines, then you probably don’t want to deal with them. Serial time wasters will ignore any instructions and stick to the email patterns they are spamming people with all day long. This makes it easy to filter them out. And don’t forget to follow your own guidelines, take down the ad when an item is sold – you don’t want be a time waster either.
If you want to buy an item on Craigslist, don’t beat around the bush.
As mentioned above, tepid responses like “do you still have this item?” or trying to negotiate off the bat are not going to put you in a good position. If a listed item is a good deal, then the seller is likely to have several potential buyers within a day. Always keep in mind that you have competition and don’t want your first impression to be annoying. Instead, make sure you present yourself as a competent and eager buyer. Typically I will say something like:
I am very interested in your item. I can pay cash, and am available to come check it out any time today. You can reach me by email or on my cell phone 555-555-5555.
You want include all pertinent information and make things as easy on the seller as possible. It’s OK to also ask some questions about the product. Just try not to be a pain in the butt, and whatever you do, don’t ask them if they still have the item. If they don’t, then it doesn’t really matter anyway, does it?
The only time I try and see if they are willing to budge on the price up front is when an item has been listed for a long time and clearly has no other takers. In this case, you still want to establish that you are a credible buyer first, then ask them if the price is negotiable.
Also, if a deal is too good to be true – an Acura NSX in perfect condition for $3k – then it probably is a scam. These are usually pretty obvious, and I’ve mostly seen this with cars. Never wire people money or agree to dodgy transactions.
If you’re selling an item, make sure the price is right.
If you list an item for sale, and only get bad responses, then you probably just don’t have an attractive deal. My stereo listing fell into this category. Put yourself into the buyer’s shoes – like you, they are on Craigslist because they are looking for a good deal. Sure, you might be able to get a few more dollars by leaving an item listed forever and chatting with folks like John who want you to read the specifications off the internet for them. Or you can just list it for a few bucks cheaper.
I might not have a job, but my time is still money, and the faster something sells the better the deal is for me. I usually see what comparable items are selling for on Craigslist and Ebay, then set a competitive price accordingly. By setting a lower price upfront, I can attract more buyers faster. This puts you in a stronger position for negotiation, because you can always go to the next buyer. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give up a couple dollars when someone shows up at my door and wants to negotiate reasonably. Most people just want some concession to feel like they won.
Generally, I’m only looking to sell something for a price I would be willing to pay for it. When operating like this, exchanges are quick and painless.
All sales are final.
This is like a garage sale – all sales are final. Test the item as much as possible, and inspect thoroughly before you even bring up price. The condition of the item can have a huge bearing on your offer.
The RSX I bought was listed for $6,500. It was a good deal on paper, so I got some cash and met with the seller – a kid who was moving across country. When I inspected the car and took it for a drive, I quickly realized it was in worse shape than I thought.
I was still interested, but now there was much more risk involved on my end. I explained my position and told the kid I could only offer $5,000 cash. We didn’t reach a deal that day, but after sleeping on it, he called me back and asked if the offer was still good. I ended up getting the car for the $5,000 which was less than the trade-in value. It’s the car I drive to this day.
I made a thorough inspection on the RSX, but lost some money on another deal. It was a Weber grill, and also in worse condition than I had expected. The seller had no way for me to test it either. I really wanted the grill though and paid a higher price than I should have without a proper test. When I got it home, I realized there were even more issues than expected. I sold the grill at a $30 loss.
When listing on Craigslist, post good pictures and provide accurate descriptions.
I always include 2-3 pictures with my posts. They don’t have to be fancy or edited – just make sure you have good light and show all sides. I usually snap pictures with my phone.
Think of any and all keywords that someone might search when looking for your item. Include them in the title or body of the post, and make sure they’re spelled correctly. If no one can search for your item, it’s not going to sell. I once tried to sell an old cooktop stove from a kitchen update. I rushed the ad and listed it as a used “cocktop.” I didn’t get any buyers, but I did get some interesting emails…
Include any info you’d want to know about the specs or condition of the product. You’ll know you screwed this up if you get a lot of the same questions from buyers asking you for more pictures, or dimensions, etc. The easier you make it for a buyer to know you have the item they want, the easier the sale will be for you.
On the other hand, if you are a buyer, poor listings can be an opportunity. Sellers who are too lazy to post pictures or accurate descriptions will not get as much interest. And by being creative with searches, you might be able to find items that aren’t getting good visibility. I’ve found some of my best deals from people who spelled the name of their item wrong.
Be patient when looking for items on Craigslist.
This isn’t a big box store and most items are not always in stock. I was in the market for my RSX for months before I found the right listing. Savor the hunt as you survey the market, and when the right deal comes along, be ready to pounce. We bought our Prius for $5000 on the same day it was listed.
When I was renovating the kitchen in my first home, I wanted a granite counter-top. They sell on Craigslist but if you look on any given day, your chances of finding one that fits your particular dimensions are as good catching Donald Duck with his pants on. I nearly gave up and was about to make a deal with a local granite supplier when I found a listing for a counter top that was coming out of a high-end remodel. It was a solid 1 1/4″ slab with an oversized sink and garbage disposal attached. The sink was exactly in the right spot. I only had to cut a hole for my cooktop (see, I spelled that right) to fit in. Instead of paying $3,000 for a new one, I got an even fancier one for $250 – well worth the wait.
Take advantage of seasonal demands.
I was clearing out my garage over the summer and making good progress selling most items, but didn’t get much action on a smoke machine. Nobody was looking for one of these things mid-summer, so I took the listing down and waited. I re-posted the ad a week before Halloween and instantly got a response. Some kids wanted it for their Halloween party.
Many items such as skis, kayaks, mountain bikes, snowblowers all have seasonal highs and lows. Unlike the stock market, these cycles are predictable, and by having some foresight and patience you can pull off great deals.
One of the best seasonal deals I made was on a kayak. I bought a nice yellow Hobie tandem kayak in the fall, right as the kayak season ended, for only $500. We used it over the next two years before we upgraded to another kayak, again in the fall. Rather than trying to sell right away, I let it sit in my garage until early summer the next year. Then, when everyone was thinking of getting out on the water, I listed the kayak and quickly sold it for $700.
Negotiate, but understand your position first.
I said above that I quickly sold the kayak for $700, but the negotiations did not go so smoothly. I had listed the kayak for $750 and gotten a lot of replies. I agreed to meet a guy who said he could take it immediately and pay cash, but he was coming from 2 hours away. When he got to my place he tried to low ball me with an offer at $450. I told him to go home. He didn’t leave and after more pacing, he upped his price to $600. Once again I told him there was no deal and started to close my garage door. After wasting my time for 20 minutes, he asked me for the best I can do. I let him have it for $700.
This guy just wanted to come out swinging, but only made mistakes. First, he knew the price was good to begin with and that I had several other buyers waiting. He only managed to annoy me with low ball offers. Second, having driven from 2 hours away, he would have had 4.5 hours invested in a failed deal – much more than the 20 minutes I had. All I had to do was shut my garage door and call the next person – a proposition he was making more tempting by the minute.
You can and should try to negotiate for a better deal, just don’t be greedy/annoying. If you’re making a long trip to make a deal, be sure you’re relatively happy with the price up front. If not you might want to negotiate before driving, but keep in mind, a seller is a lot more likely to give a discount if you are in front of them holding cash.
If you do it well, you can rent most things for free.
The beauty of Craigslist is that it’s free – there are no fees on any transactions. If you find the correct market value of a used product, there should be little/no loss to buy and sell. Aside from the cost of maintaining the item, it can essentially be rented for free. I’ve sold dozens of items including furniture, kayaks, tools, and a hot tub for the same price as I bought them, even after a few years of use.
Don’t poop where you transact.
You’re not dealing with a corporate superstore here, these people are your neighbors. Just like at a garage sale, you pay cash, there are no returns, and everyone should walk away happy. I’ve had instances where I made deals with the same people multiple times. There would’ve been no benefit for me to leave them feeling sour just so I could squeeze a few extra bucks out of them on our first deal.
When I was selling my moped, I could tell the kid buying it was really excited and wanted the bike. He wasn’t hiding his enthusiasm well, leaving me with an advantage. If he had tried to low ball me, I might have made him pay up. But he made a reasonable offer, and because I liked the kid, I went easy on him. In the end, everyone walked away happy with the deal – that’s what this game is about.
You make crazy deals on Craigslist by making fair trades within your community. If you’re a competent, easy-to-deal-with Craigslister, you should be able to buy and sell items for the same price with ease. You can even make money on deals by taking advantage of poorly marketed items and seasonal demands. By making the experience enjoyable for yourself and the people you transact with, you will help the community grow. This translates to more good deals and less waste for everyone.