How to: Buy on Craigslist

To many of you, Craigslist is old hat. But you’d be surprised how many questions I receive about Craigslist. This post isn’t just how to buy an item on Craigslist, but how to be a responsible buyer.

A little background: I don’t remember when exactly I started buying and selling things on Craigslist, but I can tell you that almost every month we sell a few things that we just don’t need any more. In July, we sold a jogging stroller, a double stroller, a baby carrier, and a rototiller, making $330 on stuff we no longer use. Can you tell we cleaned out the garage? When there’s something we need–a lamp breaks, a toy for the kids I’ve had my eye on, less wobbly dining chairs that won’t fall over on our children–the first place we look is Craigslist.

Little Tykes Car Craigslist

Things bought on Craigslist: a Little Tykes car modeled by P on her first birthday, exactly one year ago.

In fact, we’re starting to look for a replacement vehicle for The Blue Car (J named the cars. We also have The Green Car, which will be driven into the ground) and it’s the first place we went when wanting to see what the models we’re considering cost.

Tip #1: Search Frequently.

A couple of months ago I decided I’d like to buy a juicer. I knew I’d use it often and likely travel with it, so I wanted something very sturdy with a minimum number of parts to break. Once I identified the ideal juicer, I searched Craigslist every evening before I shut down the computer. On the Craigslist homepage for my city, I typed in “Breville” on one search and “Juicer” on another. I was looking for the Breville Juice Fountain Elite, specifically, and also wanted to see all juicers listed.

 

Stroller on Craigslist

Wonderful folding stroller we keep in the car, also from Craigslist. This picture cracks me up.

Tip #2: Traveling soon? Search at (or near) your destination!

I found the exact juicer I was looking for about a 45 minute drive from where I live, but it was missing one (replaceable) part and had been well used. They wanted $270 for it. I know that it used to retail for $399, but the price has dropped to $299 on a brand new juicer, so this was definitely not a good deal.

When I was in West Virginia recently, I searched Craigslist and found exactly what I was looking for brand new, in the box. Never used. Not once. But the asking price was $250.

And when we were traveling to my in-laws house two months ago, we found the exact kid’s bike trailer we’d been looking for about two hours from (and on the way to) their house. It was much less expensive than they run used here, and nicer than any I’d seen listed near Pittsburgh. And it meant that we could use it as a double stroller AND take the kids on bike rides while visiting. We drove all night, picked it up at about 8:30am, played at a playground, ate breakfast, and continued on our way.

 

Stove from Craigslist

Our black and stainless gas stove? Yep, that’s from Craigslist, too. It’s a little covered in this picture, as I was prepping for a bulk cooking session.

Tip #3: ALWAYS Negotiate. Kindly, of course. And by email, not in person. 

This doesn’t come naturally to me and can sometimes feel very awkward, but the more I do it, the more comfortable it becomes.

Unless you arrive to find the item is in much worse shape than the pictures showed, conclude your negotiations BEFORE you show up to buy. Ask any questions you have via email, ask for extra photos, serial numbers, anything you need before you offer a price. In the email when I ask my questions, I’ll often ask if the price is negotiable or offer an amount then if I know I have a set amount to spend.

And negotiate a little lower than you would normally if it’s been listed for over a month. I had set aside $150 to buy a juicer. I wasn’t going to pay any more for a kitchen appliance that is definitely not a need. This juicer had been listed back on June 6 and it was mid-July. So I emailed, simply stating that my budget was exactly $150 to spend on a juicer. He counter offered, so I let him know that I honestly was giving him the maximum I could afford to spend, and that I’d be paying in cash and was available at any time over the next three days. And he accepted $150!

Tip #4: Be Prompt

Not just showing up to pick up your item when you say you will, but also checking your email when you are in the middle of a negotiation or still hashing out logistics. Now is not the time to decide you are going to have a media-free day!

Tip #5: Offer a phone number, and ask for one in return.

Although the GoogleMaps directions may look straightforward, I have been lost more times than I care to count. And a couple of times I’ve actually been *gasp* running early. Once I was running late and forgot to call (actually, I think I left their phone number at home), and the seller was able to call me. It’s good to have a phone number in cases like these. It also provides both you and your buyer with a little peace of mind that neither of you have anything to hide, and that’s helpful when you need to trust someone you’ve never met.

Tip #6: Bring exactly the agreed-upon amount. In cash.

We pay in cash, exclusively. I don’t accept checks, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to try to pay with one. I’ve not bought anything like a car from Craigslist, but I have bought my high-efficiency washer and dryer, Jason bought a very nice commuting bike, and there have been other large purchases we’ve made. And we’ve paid for those large purchases in cash.

Remember that your bank card usually has a maximum daily withdrawal amount. Jason and I typically subvert this by withdrawing using both of our cards, because we can never seem to make it to the bank before it closes.

**********

I generally find people selling things on Craigslist to be kind, honest, and fair. And I get to buy something I need or want at a steep discount without stepping into a big box store. Win!

Do you have any additional tips that I’ve left out? What has been your experience as a buyer on Craigslist? Mostly good or mostly sub-par? 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks, Jason, these are two good points. I did forget those two things. Bad punctuation or grammar just makes a buyer look like a spammer.

    And you’re right–I think helping you purge your stuff last year helped me learn the “tell ’em how you’ll use it” technique. We all form attachments to things, and it can be so hard to let go, even when I know I should. I almost shed a tear after I sold the Ergo carrier!

  2. Posted by Jason on August 24, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Some items on Craigslist are more sought after than others and a seller may be inundated with reply’s. If you really want an item or are offering a price lower than the seller has listed, it helps you stand out among the crowd when your email is friendly, well written (spelling, grammar, complete sentences, etc.), and includes your phone number with the earliest times you are available to pickup. This information may persuade the seller to respond to you first, even if you are not the first or highest offer.

    Christi also makes it a habit of telling the seller how the will be put to good use or how it will make our lives better/easier, which is so effective that I’ve adopted this technique. Many people (myself included) have difficulty letting go of things, and knowing that its going to a good home makes them feel better about the sale, and most importantly, more likely to choose you over another buyer.

  3. Did I know this?? That’s awesome! And a story I apparently need to hear again.

  4. Posted by JP on August 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I find everything on Craigslist! (Including my husband of six wonderful years, come to that! 😉

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