How to buy on Craigslist: The Ultimate Guide

>> 6.16.2010

Finding great deals on Craigslist is as simple as four easy steps... just kidding. I know this post is a bit lengthy, but I felt it was about time to get all of my tricks out there. I actually put a lot of work into getting the great deals that I find (see thisthis, this, this, this, and this) and I wanted to pass along the info on how I do it.
**The following is more geared towards finding home furniture and decor, but many of the tricks can be used in your other searches.

1. Find great stuff.

-Narrow your search.
  • Searching by “all for sale/ wanted” works for some keywords, but I find that car ads usually clutter my screen unless I narrow my search by “furniture by owner,” “antiques,” “household,” or “general.” **Note: brand keywords usually work under "all."
  • Sometimes I’ll simply search by an area of town. Remember, nice neighborhood usually equals nice stuff (also remember that people don’t always list their areas).
  • Use web search tools like Craigslook to search with thumbnails (I’ve used this before, but I do find it a bit difficult to narrow at times).
-Use smart keywords (but remember that people aren’t always very descriptive).
  • brand names: West Elm, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Pier One, World Market, Ballard Designs, Williams and Sonoma, CB2, Design Within Reach, Crate and Barrel, Anthropologie **Note: Watch out for tricky wording like “Pottery Barn STYLE” (unless that’s what you’re looking for). **
  • I'm so sad I didn't need these West Elm tables! They were a steal I wouldn't have even seen if it weren't for a "West Elm" search that I did under "all for sale/ wanted."
  • descriptive words: colors, numbers (pair, complete set), style (modern, vintage, shabby chic, contemporary), material (solid wood, marble, ceramic, glass), finish (brushed nickel, antiqued, polished chrome), trends (tufted, upholstered, nail head), must sell, must go, moving, new, expensive, unique, custom, condition (good, excellent)
Always remember that the seller won't think the way that you do.
Campaign furniture is really trendy right now (just look at the last issue of Lonny!), but good luck finding one by searching "campaign!" Instead, try doing a "solid wood dresser" search. I found the one above for $40 on my local Craigslist by doing this (and, no I didn't buy it).

-When you like what you see, ask if the seller has any other listings.

-Do a bit of hard work. The more you search, the better chance you'll have at finding great stuff. Here are a few great times to check the list:
  • late at night/ early in the morning This is the best way to get first dibs on great deals because many people tend to post before they go to bed or work.
  • weekends People tend to clean out their homes on the weekends.
  • mid-week This is a great time to negotiate on prices. By Tuesday, sellers are desperate to get rid of their garage sale leftovers and will give you great deals.

2. Get a great deal.

-Know the lingo
  • OBO = "or best offer" aka "PLEASE just make an offer!"
  • must sell; needs to go = "Seriously, just pick this thing up! I'll practically give it to you!"
  • cash/ carry only = you need to pay in cash and pick up everything yourself; this seller has been around the block
  • price is firm = unless you want to pay the price, don't bother with these people... they're no fun
He said, "$100 each OBO." I said, "$115 for both." He came back with $125. Sold.

-Email or call with a question. You always want a little wiggle room with the price and a way to get out of the purchase. Try approaching people like this:
  • “Hi, I’m interested in _____, but I’m not sure if it will fit in my space. Could you please let me know what the dimensions are?”
-Show your interest.
Have you ever missed out on an item because it was already sold? Emailed someone and not received a reply? Lost out on a sale to other buyers? They might have thought that you were either a scammer or not serious about the purchase. Make sure to use strong wording when replying to ads:
  • “Hi, I’m interested in _____. I can come to look at it/ pick it up as early as _____. Let me know!
-Offer less. There are a few polite, but firm ways that I do this:
  • “I think I’ll probably need to repaint it anyways. Will you take ____ for it?”
  • “Is that your absolute best price?
  • “The most I can do is _____. Is there any way that you can work with me on the price?”
I said that I would probably replace the shades and she lowered the price... and gave me the shades.

I often offer less once I’m at their house to look at the item. When the seller knows that they’re inches away from a sale, they’re always willing to drop the price a little bit. It never hurts to (politely) ask!

**Remember; NEVER pay more than half of retail! In most cases, you’d probably be able to buy it yourself at that price.
 -Don't forget to: Ask yourself if your find is really a great deal for you.
  • Remember; you don't need twelve sofas or two chandeliers for your closet (or maybe you do... and I'm jealous). Think of a good deal as: something that you were going to spend more on OR an upgrade on something you weren't so hot about.
3. Safety first

Meeting a stranger over the internet is serious stuff. I feel comfortable with most of my Craigslist buys because of a few of my rules:
  • 1. Only meet during daylight.
  • 2. Bring a friend along.
  • 3. Do a background check. This is actually easier than you might think! Just take the email address that they use to reply to your email with and do one of two things:
      • A. If their name is attached, plug it into Facebook. If I see that they have friends and a real live I tend to feel more comfortable about meeting them.
      • B. Google the user name. They’ll probably use the same one for any message boards that they’re involved in.
4. Know when to move on.

-Your find is more than you bargained for.
 Slapping a new coat of paint on a table is one thing, but buying 16 knobs for an unfinished dresser will really add up.
Nate said all of the work wasn't worth it... it was... I swear!

-You go to pick it up and the home reeks of smoke, is filled with fleas, etc.
Be polite and say that it’s bigger than you realized then get out of there! Many sellers will post that they live in a smoke free/ pet free environment. If you’re worried about the conditions, just ask.

Did I cover everything? What are your biggest Craigslist tips?


Jen June 16, 2010 at 10:53 AM  

I really like your last tip about asking if the item is from a smoke-free home. I made the mistake of driving an hour to buy a bell kit for my son who is going into percussion. Once I got there I discovered that the house was filled with smoke and the bell kit reaked. I bought it anyway because I had already driven an hour for it.

Kate@TwentySixToLife June 16, 2010 at 12:42 PM  

Great tips! And now I'm off to scour craigslist ...

Mrs. Chic June 16, 2010 at 12:49 PM  

your have so many great tips, I love CL { craiglist } I always make the mistake of not asking to pay less, when i know its a steal!

Kelly@TearingUpHouses June 16, 2010 at 1:02 PM  

I think these are great tips!

The only one that I have to disagree with is offering less once you actually make it to the seller's home. Unless the piece is in a different condition than represented I think it's a bit disrespectful to offer less once someone has taken time out of their day to meet with you. Especially considering that most things listed are at giveaway prices -- but that's just my two cents!


Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog June 16, 2010 at 1:15 PM  

@Kelly~ I think it would be rude to agree on a price then change at the last minute, but I usually only offer less when I ask to "come look at it." Most of the time it's not the best idea to agree to pay something before seeing it in person because people usually exaggerate on the condition and post a higher price than they're willing to settle on anyways.

Flavia @ Estilo Home June 16, 2010 at 1:19 PM  

Great guide! I am definitely saving this and hopefully using your tips one day soon. I have yet to buy anything from CL!

me. and. b. June 16, 2010 at 1:38 PM  

Awesome Tips, Kasey!
Another one is if I'm looking for a super steal, I got to the very bottom of posts (oldest dates) to scour deals. Typically if something has been posted for a while, they are willing to lower the price!


Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog June 16, 2010 at 2:03 PM  

@Katie~ Great point! I was always afraid of getting a "sorry, sold" message back, but I've done that recently. It's actually how I was able to get the $200 x-benches down to $125.

LizzieBeth June 16, 2010 at 3:31 PM  

Great tips, Kasey! I am going to bookmark this post for the future!


Devon June 16, 2010 at 5:01 PM  

The one thing I would add, and this may be different in other cities...I live in Seattle, where Craigslist is SO POPULAR that everyone is on it. That includes creepy furniture dealers. So when I know I'm looking for furniture, I make sure to use the dropdown menu to select "furniture - by owner." Granted, I would rather deal with people reselling than furniture dealers and so have no experience with them...but they just don't seem like what Craigslist is for. I hope that makes sense!

Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog June 16, 2010 at 7:11 PM  

@Devon~ I always do that as well! It's the main reason why Craigslook doesn't work for me- because all of the dealers get mixed in with the results.

Trish June 16, 2010 at 9:11 PM  

I am so glad you posted this.....I haven't thought of checking the seller's email on Facebook - brill! I have some rugs for sale and this guy came over to check on them and guess what....we used to work together years ago and he offered me some freelance work. I turned him down - life has moved in another direction for me - but what a ka-wink-e-dink, huh?

P.S. I'm so glad you commented on my blog - I never would have found you otherwise! Love what I'm seeing!

Sara @ Russet Street Reno June 16, 2010 at 9:29 PM  

I also wouldn't offer less than what the seller wanted when I got to their house. Usually if I'm going to look at it, I'm at peace with the price if the condition is as expected, and don't want to put them in that spot. I will always negotiate via email before I go, otherwise I waste my time as well!

BIG TIP - is a great resource to find things on CL in a certain radius with all the pics up front! Saves OODLES of time!!

paige renee June 16, 2010 at 10:06 PM  

Your tips are great! I always search Craigslist and find things I think are great but then I chicken out. I'm always really nervous to try to negotiate on the price, but now I am set for the next time I have a great find! :)

Jen June 16, 2010 at 10:41 PM  

Oh my gosh, this is the best post ever!! I'm still a CL newbie so these tips are so great for me!! Can't wait to hear what everyone else says :-)

TIGHTWAD June 17, 2010 at 3:56 PM  

Great tips! I am going to include this post in my weekly round up this Saturday. Cheers! Emma @ Tightwad

Kerry at just-you-wait June 17, 2010 at 8:56 PM  

These are great tips, Kasey!
I especially like what you said about using store names as search terms. Sometimes sellers really don't know how to write a decent listing, so you never know what words will lead you to an amazing find! (unfortunately, this is also why it's sometimes helpful to try searching for common misspellings!)
Craigslist isn't as popular as Kijiji in my part of the world, so that's what I use. I don't know if CL is the same, but Kijiji lets me turn my searches into RSS feeds, so I feed all of my favourite searches into my Google Reader. That way I never have to remember all the different search terms I want to check out!
(as for haggling, I'm with you in the 'go take a look, THEN negotiate the price' camp!)

Anonymous,  June 21, 2010 at 6:07 PM  

I am ok with the 'offering less once you're at the seller's home' but when I sell something on CL I know I'm selling at a fair price & often have multiple people who want to buy the item (tables, rugs, sofas when I bought new ones...etc.) so if someone asks to pay less I say NO and simply sell to the next person in line.

Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog June 21, 2010 at 7:14 PM  

@Anonymous~ That sounds fair to me.

I believe that no person should be forced to buy OR sell something at a price that they don't see as appropriate.

Lonnie Mack June 25, 2010 at 4:04 PM  

Great tips Kasey!

I especially liked that you "google-stock" people before you go to meet them. I do the same thing and felt weird about it at first, but have found people that have pretty shady histories that way including a real estate scam artist, and one with a sex crime record in S.D. So I would totally agree with you on that.

Another tip is that I usually offer about 2/3 the asking price, as people are usually expecting to come down some in price anyway. When posting, I always post high, and lower the price every week or so until it sells.

I've been using to search craigslist. You enter your criteria, and it searches craigslist, and shows it to you in pictures, sort of how eBay does. If you're just searching through craigslist, it just shows you text and you have to click on something to see a picture.

In my craigslist ads I have to remind myself that I am a salesman, I tell the reader why they need this thing so bad.

I could go on, this is fun. Nice blog Kasey!

Mrs. Martin July 29, 2011 at 5:07 AM  

I too love a good craigslist find. Check out my blog

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