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10 Craigslist Rules To Live By

Lately I've been doing a lot of Craigslisting.  In fact, I still am.  I just got done browsing through the latest ads, got my eyes set on a few pieces, and sent off the first inquiry emails on a couple of listings. With all of the energy I've been spending on Craigslist shopping, I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the rules I operate with when purchasing items this way.

Because you're not dealing with a retailer, the Craigslist experience isn't always about customer satisfaction.  In fact, most of the time the customer is the one who's has to do all of the work.  So here are the ten rules I've learned to live by when it comes to shopping the classifieds...



The best way to get the most out of Craigslist is to have a plan for the items you are looking for.  I recommend having a plan for what you need in each room in your home.  Browsing Craigslist one item at a time can be a bit frustrating.  If you think about it, you're actually waiting for someone out there to post exactly what you're looking for...and the odds of that happening right-away are very slim.  Most likely, if you're shopping the classifieds that way, you're probably going to find yourself waiting a little while before you find what you're looking for.

Instead, browse a broad range of postings and you'll stumble upon many items you could consider for the various rooms in your home.  This is how I browse, and this is why you've seen me come home with a hutch for the guest bedroom, a credenza, chair, and sofa for the master bedroom, and a chair for the family room, all within a week's time frame.  I've also got my eyes set on a daybed for my studio...so wish me luck!


This is how you'll find the best deals.  Personally, I set my parameters as follow:

  • By owner--Clicking on the "by owner" link within the parameters will narrow your search to items only posted by household owners.  The reason I like this is because I'm primarily shopping the furniture section, which is where all of those pesky mattress retailers post their ridiculous ads. This eliminates those types of postings.
  • Has image--Seriously, I don't know why anyone would ever post something to Craigslist without an image...but we all know how frequently it happens.  Personally, if I can't see it, I'm not going to waste my time driving out for an in-person inspection.  Selecting "has image" cleans up your browsing so only ads with images pull-up.
  • Show image--If you browse through Craigslist looking only at links, let me save you some time.  In the image above, the "show image" link would be where the "hide image" link is on my screen (aka, when you select "show image" it changes the link to say "hide image" so you can turn off that setting when you want to...but trust me, you'll never want to).  This setting causes the first image a seller included in their post to show up on the left side of the link (see image above as reference).  Also, when you hover your mouse over the image, it enlarges the image so you can see it better.  This helps you to see if the item is something you'd be interested in, without having to rely on the salesy post title the seller created.
  • Price max--I always set my price max at 100 (if you enter $100.00 it will read it as 1000, so leave off the decimals...see image above for reference).  I'm sure there are some great deals out there that are priced higher than $100.00, but I don't want to know about them.  I'll find better deals within my price-range...and if I'm feeling really thrifty, I'll lower that range to $50.00!
  • Search for--This one I don't use until after I've browsed under the parameters above.  If I don't find anything I'm looking for under my first set of parameters, I'll do a few quick searches that are a bit more specific.  However, to really see what's out there I usually remove my price max when I do key word searches.  For example, one of my favorite searches lately has been "mid century" which brings up a lot of great mid-century modern pieces.  Another great thing to search for in this area is your specific location.  This will show you anything posted in your area, which can save you the time and expense of travel.


It's not very often things are advertised with the word "FREE" written all over them, so don't forget to make that a part of your browsing routine.  Especially if you're landscaping!  I see free fill-dirt posted in that section all of the time, and I've even seen things like gates, palettes, trees, and sometimes even furniture.


This one's tough, trust me, I know.  Sometimes it's hard to not fall in love with an item you find, but you have to remember there are a lot of great pieces that are out there.  Each time I've had my heart broken, I've always been happy to find an item I like equally, if not better than the first.  In fact, there have been times when I'm so happy with the item I wound up with that I was relieved I didn't get the first item I found.  My guest room hutch is a perfect example of that!

You have to remember that this is a tough game...and though it can be very rewarding, it is also a first-come-first serve environment.  Not to mention, the sellers are people just like you.  They have jobs and lives that make it difficult to manage the inquiries that come in for the items they've posted, which means sometimes you won't even get a response to your inquiry.  It happens...so the best way to deal with it is just to expect it, and don't get too caught up on one item.  

I can't even tell you how many items I've pursued that ultimately fell through.  There have been some pretty-darn good ones too!  But regardless, I've moved on...and I lived to tell the tale.


This is important guys.  Imagine yourself as the seller...would you want a phone call at 2 am?  Probably not...

Now, I know that initial feeling of "times-a-wasting" that comes over you when you find the item you want.  It's a dog-eat-dog game...first-come-first-serve...but making the seller angry is not going to do you any favors.  

If you've found the post during the wee hours of the night, use the email feature to send your response. If you find that the posting does not allow for emails, then hold onto the posting information until a reasonable hour (and no, 6 am is not reasonable), and make your call at that time.  It may feel like you're losing out on that perfect deal during those sleepless hours, but again, my guest room hutch is a perfect example that shows items can still be available even after you've been courteous.

Another thing that goes along with this is lining up the deal.  Once you've started a conversation with the seller, follow-through.  Since most of my correspondence is through emails or text, this means letting them know if an item will work.  If you're no longer interested in an item let the seller know, that way they can move on to the next potential buyer.

Most importantly, if you've lined up an appointment with the seller to view the item...be specific about when you'll meet...and be on time!  Again, think of yourself as the seller (remember, with work, family, and lives), and how frustrating it is to plan your schedule around a complete stranger.  If something comes up that will cause you to miss the appointment, or be late, let the seller know as soon as possible.  This keeps the seller happy, which may help you to land an even better deal.


Before you make the trip to see an item, don't be afraid to ask the seller for clarification on anything that's not provided in the description.  For me, this frequently means asking the seller for the dimensions of the item, and this has saved me a lot of wasted trips.  There have been items that I thought would be perfect for what I needed, only to find out the dimensions were far too large, or far too small to work out.

You may also want to clarify if the seller is firm on their price.  This has spared me many headaches, and even helped me once to identify a seller who was too emotionally attached to the item I was interested in...and in case you didn't know, emotionally attached on Craigslist means "not willing to budge on an item that is already over-priced."


I've learned this one the hard way...and recently too.  Sometime soon I'll be sharing my Craigslist-purchase-gone-wrong story--all because I didn't inspect the item as well as I should have.  Hopefully my loss will save you from the same mistake.

I know it's an awkward experience.  The seller is right there, and both parties involved aren't really sure if they can trust each other.  Sniffing around the item can sometimes feel embarrassing, but remember, you're about to give them your hard-earned-cash, so don't feel out of place to check the item out.  Talk to the seller about any concerns you have to see if they factored those items into the price.


You should never feel obligated to buy something--not ever!  If it turns out the item is not what you're looking for just walk away.  If the item isn't 100% what you're looking for, but you think you could make it work, try negotiating the price down with the seller...but if they won't budge, walk away!  A great deal is not a deal at all if you've purchased something you can't use, or that won't work with your space.


One of the best things about Craigslist is the ability to negotiate the price with the seller; however, this does not mean you should make low-ball offers.  Try to be fair.  

You want a great deal, but the seller wants a fair deal.  A fair deal can mean different things to different people, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine where each seller falls within the spectrum.  When I post items for sale on Craigslist I try to price them out at what I myself would pay for them.  I give other sellers the benefit-of-the-doubt that they price their items the same way.

I only offer the seller less than the posted price if I truly feel the item is over-priced.  For a $35.00 sofa in good condition, I'm going to give the seller $35.00...but for a $200.00 hutch that's painted purple...yeah, I'm going to try to talk them down.  You get the idea.


As a seller, there's nothing worse than taking the time to line up the meeting only to hear, "I've got to run to the ATM to get some cash."  On the flip side, there's nothing worse as a buyer to find out that the item won't fit in your Jeep (almost happened to me with the sofa).

Before heading into the transaction you should have what you need to make the deal.  Personally, I like to have cash that's broken down into 20's, 10's, and 5's so I have the option to negotiate on price.  I also check the dimensions of the item to see if I need to make special arrangements to get the item home (ie. multiple trips, borrow a truck, etc.).  You want the transaction to go as smoothly as possible, and planning ahead is key!


Well, there you have it!  Do any of you have a different set of rules you follow when Craigslisting?  I'm curious to know the best and worst experiences you've had with this method of thrifting too.  Leave me a comment to share!


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