How to Win at Craigslist

Once, I was felled by Craigslist.

I was moving, and in a rush to sell everything, I accepted the first offer I got for several items and turned down other offers, thinking the items were as good as sold. Then buyers failed to show up. A man who had been persistent about purchasing my Ikea nightstand freaked out when he saw it was birch and not beech (or was it beech and not birch?). Worst of all, I was leaving town immediately and had no time to try again. I gritted my teeth and smiled as my new neighbor exclaimed what a lucky day it was to move in, her laundry basket piled high with my old dishes. That day I swore, with Craig as my witness, that I would never be made a fool by Craigslist again!

Since then, I’ve had many Craigslist successes: I purchased a used TV, acquired an apartment’s worth of moving boxes for free, and bought furniture that, a year later, I sold at a profit (on Craigslist, of course). It’s remarkably easy to negotiate on the ‘list. Here are some tips for making the most of it on both sides of the transaction:

If you’re selling:

1. Price above what you are willing to accept. Do your homework: research prices for the item you want to sell and comparable items (Priceonomics is great for this). Figure out the price that both you and the market are willing to accept. Then price slightly above it. If your buyers are like me, they will negotiate, and pricing higher gives you some space to drop your price and look generous. And if they don’t negotiate, there’s an extra beer with your name on it.

2. Don’t write “or best offer” on your ad. If I see “OBO,” I’m like

JACKPOT! I will offer you less than your selling price. Same goes for anything like, “MOVING, MUST SELL!!!” You are putting all the negotiating power in the hands of the buyer. If that’s in your ad, expect me to show up and offer you $30 for all your stuff, Storage Wars style.

3. Be clear about what you want. If you simply must get a certain price for that stuffed zebra, be patient. Be willing to walk away from offers, and post again if you don’t get the responses you want. If you are unwilling to negotiate, be gentle but firm about it.

4. Meet in a public place, or have another person in your apartment when potential buyers show up. Your mom will thank you/me.

If you’re buying:

1. Be reliable. Craigslist buyers are notoriously inconsistent. If you return emails/calls when you say you will and show up at the appointed place and time, congratulations: You are already in better shape than your competition.

2. Figure out what you’re asking for. Yes, you want this vintage sewing machine, but how are you going to get it home? Transportation can be a good negotiation point, and I have successfully convinced sellers to deliver large items at no additional cost. Also consider bulk discounting: If someone is moving, they likely have other items for sale, and this could be a win-win situation. You may arrive to buy a sewing machine and then decide you also want a stuffed zebra. While individual items may sell for $20 each, the owner might agree to sell them as a bundle for $30.

3. Offer cash. Everyone prefers the convenience and reliability of cash over the potential difficulties of checks, Paypal, and credit cards. It also gives you some negotiating leeway if you say, “I only brought $30, and I will take the stuffed zebra off your hands right now for this amount.”

4. My favorite, ask for a discount. You’d be surprised how often you can get a lower price with an email that says, “Hi, I’m interested in the stuffed zebra. I can pick it up this week and pay you [price – $10] in cash.” It’s up to you if you negotiate over email or in person—I’ve had success with both—but it’s certainly worth asking to see if you can reduce the (already pretty arbitrary) price.

Finally, for both buyers and sellers: practice! Each transaction is an opportunity to improve. Go forth and sell/acquire, winners! And leave your best Craigslist tips and stories in the comments.


Rebecca Rindler bought something on Craigslist this week for $10 less than the asking price.


14 Comments / Post A Comment

Sincerely, Jane (#1,588)

I feel like we are kindred spirits. My technique:

A) Compliment the seller’s taste. I just LOVE that nightstand they bought new 4 years ago!


B) It’s out of my budget/price range. =*( *tiny violins playing*

C) I was actually looking to spend more like [half of listing price] on a nightstand. Let me know if you’re flexible!

D) I can pick up any day, with cash, give references, call me, etc. I am ULTRA reliable!

Go forth and conquer the used furniture of the world!

lizard (#2,615)

@Sincerely, Jane lol i aint giving no one references to pick up a nightstand on a street somewhere

kbn22 (#1,414)

For years, I wondered why you couldn’t set up a saved search on Craigslist, which could alert you whenever your desired item came up. And then, lo and behold, someone finally set up a website for just this purpose: It’s not suuuper-reliable (ie, it misses things sometimes, and often emails you a couple days after the item has been listed), but it’s better than nothing if you’re looking for something specific and don’t have time to run a new search every day ad infinitum. I had been searching for an affordable card catalog for years, but no luck. I set up a search, and about a month later, found one for $300 (with the original high school library labels even!).

sheistolerable (#2,382)

@kbn22 Oh my goodness. As I look for a cheap apartment in Boston, this is going to change my life! Thank you!

kbn22 (#1,414)

@sheistolerable Happy to help! Keep in mind that it isn’t always up to the minute (I got a digest today that contained listings from 3 hours ago, 6 hours ago, and…Feb 15.). So if apartments in Boston are snapped up as fast as they do in other big cities, you’ll want to stay on top of it too. But list-alert can’t hurt! And it may come in verrrry handy when you’re furnishing your new place.

@kbn22 You can also do this on Craigslist with the wonders of RSS! Get the search you want, then scroll down the the bottom and click on RSS on the right. Copy and paste that URL and add it as a new feed to your reader. I use Google Reader and it works great; can’t verify for others. (If you have a gmail account you have a google reader. You just click subscribe and paste in the URL and voila. You can then organize with folders, etc.)

I have CL alerts set for a few things as well as “free stuff in [my neighborhood].” You do need to check your Reader (unless there’s some way for it to alert you when something new shows up, but I hate getting more email so I like just browsing every day). Easy and up-to-date.

KP (#3,342)

This may be the best one on this list:
“1. Be reliable. Craigslist buyers are notoriously inconsistent. If you return emails/calls when you say you will and show up at the appointed place and time, congratulations: You are already in better shape than your competition.”

Please please please just show up when you say you will. It’s insanely frustrating taking time out of your life to sell something and the buyer not show up or call or email.

lizard (#2,615)

if its something small enough meet at a library! i was selling an old laptop and we met a library. he turned it on, looked at it and bought it. super easy. he was just using the parts anyway. make sure you scrub all your personal info from phones or electronics!!

EM (#1,012)

Show up first! If you are the person who is like “Can I come pick it up next Tuesday?” you will not get my used climbing gear.

Also if you send me a sketchy all lower case email like “hey is that iphone still available i can meet u at a skytrain station can bring cash email me your number” I will assume you are a murderer and not respond.

sintaxis (#2,363)

@Michelle Ugh, those emails are the worst. My old roommate and I were refinishing a basement once so we went on craigslist to get some free carpet and padding. He sent an email that was literally just “is the carpet still available”, whereas I took the time to write a real email. Guess who got a response!

acid burn (#113)

@Michelle My policy is that I will never hold anything for anyone, because I have literally had people call me saying “I AM WALKING TO MY CAR RIGHT NOW TO DRIVE TO YOUR HOUSE” who never, ever, ever showed. The first one to show up gets it, the end.

Note: none of these tips work on

Also, if you’re trying to buy a Jeep on Craigslist in Washington DC, please stop calling my wife, she doesn’t have a Jeep.

nonvolleyball (#305)

if anyone’s interested in tips for buying/selling cars through Craigslist, let me know–I’ve sold two cars to strangers (one through Craigslist & another through a similar site) & I have Learned Things. but I’m not gonna type it up if no one cares. :) (also you could email me by turning my username into a gmail address…I don’t think the Billfold emails you about comments & I may forget to check back on this.)

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