5 Tips for Shopping on Craigslist

People always tell me, "Wow, you find such great deals on Craigslist! How do you do it?" And it's true, I'm a master Craigslist shopper. I've bought dressers, a dining set, patio furniture, end tables and lots of other awesome stuff through Craigslist. I thought that instead of selfishly keeping all of this wisdom and insight to myself, I should share it with you so that you too can fill your home with beautiful recycled things! Check out five tips for shopping on Craigslist below.

1. Shop for the right things
And by "right things" I mean non-upholstered furniture and home decor. Just kidding, it's not that limited. Craigslist can be great for baby registry-type stuff (strollers, pack 'n plays, exersaucers, etc.), cars, televisions, and more. But I find it MOST useful for furniture purchases, for a couple of reasons: 
a) furniture is low risk - unlike a car or electronics purchase, it's unlikely that there are "hidden" issues with that dresser or desk. 
b) there's a lot of furniture in this world to go around, so there's a lot of inventory and prices are going to be more competitive.

The reason I mentioned "non-upholstered" is really because I'm just grossed out about the idea of sitting on fabric that someone else's butt or bodily body-ness has been on before. So, I would never buy a used mattress, couch, or even rug. However, I might consider a cute accent chair that has the potential to be reupholstered. But, if that kind of stuff doesn't bother you, then Craigslist is your oyster! 

When you start to get into other products, make sure you do your due diligence. For instance, you probably don't want to buy a car seat on Craigslist unless you're certain it hasn't expired (yes, these things have expiration dates), you're certain it's never been in an accident, and you're certain it hasn't been recalled. I've never bought a car on Craigslist, but I have sold one on there, that's also a little shady. You need to test drive a car you're planning to buy but now you have to get into a car with a stranger and drive it around listening for weird noises and stopping abruptly to check the brakes? Hello, awkward! Make sure you bring someone along with you just for safety purposes. Actually, that's just sound advice in general, always bring a friend with you when purchasing. 

2. Narrow your search criteria
This is a BIG one. It's probably the most important tip of all. Great search inquiries yield great results. So here's what you're going to want to do, get. specific. 

Maybe you like to browse "shop" and maybe you're furnishing a whole new apartment so you need a lot of stuff, I still recommend that you search by the individual piece, and here's how:
a) Go to the "For Sale Section" if you're specifically searching for furniture you could select only that category as well.
b) Filter your search by selecting "Owner" and "Has Image"
c) Set a max price that you'd like to spend
d) Enter the name/category of the item you're looking for

This image above is a quick example. I'm looking for a dresser for our guest bedroom and I'd like to pay less than $50 for it. Hmmm... actually that $35 dollar one in the top right corner is pretty nice, I might have to get that tonight.

Don't be too limiting or specific in your search terms. For instance, when looking for a dresser I'll do a quick search with the word "dresser" and then another one for "chest of drawer." I'm also looking for some new side tables for my front porch, so I'll often search "Tables" instead of searching for side tables, end tables, and night stands. When I was looking for a love seat for the same front porch I bumped my max up to $100 and would use the search terms "wicker" "rattan" or "patio" to help narrow the field. 

Another quick search tip, which is helpful if you don't have a truck or big vehicle. Search by neighborhood. If there's something just a few blocks away from you, even if it's big, you might be able to secure it to the top of your vehicle with rope for the short trip or have a friend help you transport it with a dolly. Here's a quick search I did for all furniture priced under $50 in my old neighborhood "Manayunk"

3. Move quickly
When you see something you like and you think the deal is good. Send an email or call right away. Use the handy "Reply" option at the top of the post as seen in the image below. With that write something along the lines of, "I'm interested in the dresser posted on Craigslist. Can you provide the dimensions? I'd be willing to pick it up this evening if it's still available." 
Well-priced items in good condition sell quickly, so you want to be one of the first to raise your hand and express interest. In that first email, ask all the questions needed that will help you make your decision. Do you need dimensions, do you need to know about any particular features (is it solid wood or laminate?) Ask these questions early to eliminate a lot of back and forth via email. 

Now, if you see a deal that you think is a little more than you had originally wanted to spend (like my porch love seat and coffee table was listed for $100. That initial email is the place to throw out a counter-offer, I think I said something like, "I'm interested in the coffee table and love seat listed, would you be willing to take $80 for it? I can pick it up tonight at 8 p.m." The seller got back to me right away and said, "Yes, I will take $80. My address is..."

4. Look carefully
When you go to pick up the item, you still have an opportunity to back out of the deal, but that should only really happen if something is seriously wrong and wasn't disclosed. (FYI obviously the rules are different if we're talking about a car purchase.) If you're buying electronics or a child's toy that requires power/batteries you have every right to test it out and make sure it is functioning properly. If you notice a ding/scratch/etc. that wasn't noted in the original post, you could offer a little less money to compensate for that, but don't be a dick and try to play hard ball at this point.  

5. Follow basic Craigslist etiquette
Be responsive to emails or phone calls. If you're no longer interested don't just ignore the email, respond to the person so they can move onto the next interested buyer. BRING EXACT CASH. The seller is not going to have change for you so bring exact cash for the transaction, and don't even think about bringing personal checks or other forms of payment. I mentioned before that you shouldn't pick up items alone, but this is especially true if you are buying a large item. Bring an extra set of helping hands with you to transport it because sometimes the seller is unable or unwilling to help you get it to your vehicle. 

Do you have any other tips for shopping on Craigslist? 

I'm thinking of also doing a post about selling on Craigslist...would that be helpful to some of you? 


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