Tips for shopping on Craigslist

By Stew

Mrs. Stew and I have used Craigslist a great deal over the past few years and I keep finding more and more reasons to return to the site. The Craiglist concept was invented almost before Al Gore invented the internet. The service was first an email distribution list between friends and then the idea became a website in 1999. I used to view Craigslist just as a free version of the online auction site, Ebay, however while it is true that the best thing about Craigslist is the fact that item listings are free, the site is much more than a place to buy and sell.

Craigslist has forums for discussion on almost any topic and the jobs listing section can be particularly helpful in this time of unemployment. I avoid the personal ad section . . . not my cup of tea, but there is a place to upload your resume and the part of the site devoted to “community” can be extremely useful. Ads for “services” and real estate listings round out the offerings. You can get just about anything you want or need on Craigslist.

Here are some tips for shopping on Craigslist:

Take your time

The key to any kind of bargain hunting is to keep at it for a long period of time. You really need to spend a little time reading through the advertisements before you contact a seller. There is an ebb and flow to Craigslist ads and there are a certain number of scams mixed into legitimate offers. Some days of the week and even times of day are better than others. Look at pictures, use your judgment. Little things like poor grammar, misspellings and incomplete information might be a tip that this seller is not worth your time. Be patient, they are making more of whatever  you are looking for every day.

Shop local

Craigslist does not always work well as a long distance retailer. In fact, I would think twice about agreeing to purchase an item more than 30 minutes from my house. With Craigslist, sales are not “locked in” like on Ebay and there is nothing to prevent a seller from breaking a commitment to sell in the time it takes you to travel to the location of the item. Stay close to home.

Leave contact information

Craigslist allows you to email the seller anonymously, but in order to close the deal, you need to have direct contact as soon as possible. I will typically give my phone number or email address in my first contact with the seller. I rarely give both email and phone number in the first contact, nor do I send my last name to a buyer on Craigslist. Giving away no information might be a little safer, but if the seller has a difficult time getting in touch with you, you might lose out on the item.

Be willing to barter

Always offer less than the asking price – but think it through first. Have a strategy in mind. Sometimes people get nervous and offer more than an item is worth or get talked into a price that they are unwilling or unable to pay. Make sure you have a limit.

Be willing to walk away

This can be tough, especially if you have had a lot of contact with the seller before meeting face to face and seeing the item up close. Remember “it’s not personal, it’s business”. The goal is not to form a relationship with the seller, the goal is to purchase an item that you need at a good price.

Be sure to check it out

I have made this mistake twice on items that I have purchased on Craigslist. Do not just walk up, glance at the item and make an offer. Be sure that you spend some time in looking the item over. This tip might seem a little basic, but when the seller is standing there, it can be uncomfortable to take your time examining the item. Believe me, it is a lot more uncomfortable to purchase an item with a major blemish or parts that are broken.

Have cash ready

Craigslist sellers are not going to take your credit card and only the dumbest will take a check. Having cash will also prevent you from overspending as well. Never underestimate the power of cash either. The thought of getting cash on the spot for an unwanted item might be the factor that turns the bargain in your direction. If you are uncomfortable in carrying the cash to meet a stranger, you might want to consider taking a second person with you – might be good to have help carrying stuff too.

Happy bargain hunting!

Also, read Tips for selling on Craigslist.

Article by Stew

Photo by epp

5 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Tips for shopping on Craigslist”

  1. dramon Says:

    I really like Craigslist and would add two items.

    1. Ask for a picture or measurements before doing a lot of driving. A few times I have forgotten this and regretted wasting my time.

    2. If you are going alone to buy something, I typically call someone telling them where I am going and that I will call them again after the transaction is over. If they don’t hear from me, something went wrong. I have NEVER had an issue with shopping via craigslist, but to me some neighborhoods are not that good and you typically have cash.

    3. Shop to see what a new item would cost to compare. For a new item, expect to pay sales tax and/or shipping; but doesn’t require gas for driving.

    4. If the item has blemishes, make sure you understand if you can fix them or not. I made the mistake once with a mirror thinking a scratch on it could be fixed.

    5. Make sure if you are looking at furniture or anything large, you understand how you can transport it once you get it. If you have to rent a truck/trailer, be sure to consider that cost as well.

    6.If it sounds too good to be true, it may be. Watch for scams.

  2. Stew Says:

    Ha, Ha! Dramon, I should have had you write the post! I too, have never had a problem on Craigslist, the vast majority of people there are well-intentioned. Thanks for the additional tips!

  3. BenC Says:

    I would add that for your own safety it would be wise to meet in a public place to conduct the transaction. You might even want to check out local banks and credit unions or at least their parking lots. I did one large transaction (sold a laptop for $600 cash) at a Starbucks inside of the local Target store.

  4. dramon Says:

    I should also point out that is a neat front end for craigslist that allows you to search multiple geographic areas and provides a nice summary with picture in the list. I often prefer it to craiglist as it saves me opening a lot of the listings

  5. Lorena Massenburg Says:

    Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I want to put in writing like this moreover – taking time and actual effort to make a very good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and under no circumstances appear to get one thing done.