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.


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