How to Buy Things on Craigslist: A Tutorial

After my post yesterday about craigslist, I’ve had a few people ask questions about how I find such great things on craigslist. So I’m assembling a list of guidelines I use.

1. Don’t expect to find exactly what you’re looking for the first time you peruse CL. You’ll never find it.  Unless of course on a whim you decide to look on the CL page for another city two hours away, and then you’ll find EXACTLY what you are looking for. Funny how that works. (This actually happened to me…we drove two hours to get the hutch/buffet…the best part? Both pieces didn’t fit in the car. So we had to drive two hours again the next day! True story.)

2. Keep an open mind. If you decide you’re in the market for, let’s say, a queen sized bed frame, don’t go look on the pottery barn web site, and then expect to find the same frame on CL.  It’s not going to happen.

3. Check back regularly. Make looking for your bedframe a part of your daily web routine.  Sooner or later, you’ll find something.

4. Do your research. So you’ve found a queen bed frame you really want.  My first step is usually just to email the poster and ask “is the piece available?”.  You can tell a lot about the seller by how they respond.

  • If they respond within an hour, they’re usually pretty eager to sell.
  • Take a look at their email address…if it’s partygirl45@yahoo.com, you are probably looking at a young twenty something girl who has moved around a lot.  The bed has probably been taken apart and put back together many times so it may not be in tip top condition.  If you hear back from george_smith@crest.edu, you can probably guess it’s from a more established home, and the piece is likely in better condition than partygirl’s frame.
  • Take a look at how long the piece has been on CL.  If they posted four days ago, they are probably willing to negotiate a little. If they posted 5 minutes ago, they probably aren’t going to do much negotiating at this point.
  • I also usually ask a few questions: What are the dimensions? Why are you selling? Are there any problems with the piece?, etc.  The more forthcoming the seller is, the better. Every used piece of furniture has a few dings and nicks, so if the seller, says “Perfect condition!” I start to wonder what they’re really hiding.
  • Lastly, check out what the other queen bedframes are selling for in your area.  If the listing you’re looking at is posted at $400, and all the other ones are in the $25-$125 range, it’s probably not worth it! Sometimes people on CL are DELUSIONAL about what they think their stuff is worth!

5. Decide whether or not to negotiate.  If you’re really desperate for a piece, offer full price.  I nearly lost out on our guest bedroom suite because I lowballed.  The seller didn’t even write me back after my initial offer, so I wrote her back from another email address and offered her full price (sneaky, I know), and she wrote right back and we had a deal! If you’re willing to let go of the piece though, it’s to your advantage to negotiate!

6. It’s okay to walk away. So you loved the queen bed in the picture, but when you go see it in person, you’re just not impressed.  It’s okay to walk away. Until you give the seller cash, you don’t have a deal.

7. If it’s fiber board, it’s not worth it. A lot of furniture these days, sadly, isn’t made of real wood, it’s made of that fiberboard, laminate junk. Do not pay more than a couple of bucks for this…it won’t hold any value and will probably fall apart in a year or two.  Real wood, on the other hand, you can paint, you can stain, you can break up and use for firewood if you hate it in 10 years. Or you can resell it on craigslist!

8. Look past the facade. You love the shape of the queen bedframe you found, but it’s brown and you really want a bright red one. Don’t be afraid to get your hands a little dirty! Sand it down and paint it!  You’d never do that to the one you bought at Pottery Barn, but since you found this one for $25 on CL, go for it!  Be willing to look at a piece in a picture, work up the courage to buy it, and see what it can become!

9. Shop in nice neighborhoods.  A lot of cities on CL are now divided up into different parts or neighborhoods.  Go scope out the stuff on the nicer neighborhood boards.  You may have to drive a little further, but chances are, they’ll have nicer stuff!

10. Don’t be afraid! It can be kind of weird the first time you make a purchase, negotiating via email, getting a stranger’s address, and handing over money to take their castoffs, but like cake batter, it’s a bit addicting.  Like I said, it’s a hobby of mine now.  Even when I don’t think I need anything, I like to scroll through the postings; you never know when you might find that really unique chair or bookcase or weird sculpture of a dog butler for $10 that becomes your family’s favorite piece!

P.S.: As for dogs…a lot of times families who have to get rid of dogs for one reason or another (moving, allergies, etc.), but can’t find a friend or family member to take in their four-legged friends, will post on craigslist.  They can’t fathom taking Rover to the shelter, and want to see what sort of family he’s going to be given to, so craigslist is a great choice. You also get a chance to ask Rover’s previous family why they’re getting rid of him, what he likes/ doesn’t like, whether he’s good with kids/ other dogs, etc.  It’s really a good deal for everyone! So if you’re in the market for a dog/ cat/ bird/ tortoise, be sure to check it out!!!