A Guide to Buying on Craigslist

I’ve been looking for a refrigerator on craigslist for a couple months now and I finally found one.  My current refrigerator was in good working condition, but it was pretty old and I wanted to get a nice stainless steel one for when I rent out my condo in a year or two.  Renters and buyers love to see stainless steel appliances :)  Since I wasn’t in a rush, I was able to take my time and really wade through the cruddy listings and be picky.  I ended up getting a nice 2 year old GE Side by Side for $340 including delivery and haul away from an appliance trader I found on craigslist.

There are some great deals to be had on craigslist but unfortunately, there are also some people who are out there to ruin it for everyone.  So when buying on craigslist you need to follow these steps to make sure you get what you want for the price you want.

1.  Comparison Shop

If you’re looking for an item like an appliance or furniture be sure to go into a physical retailer and see what they charge for it.  The whole point of buying used on craigslist is so that you don’t have to pay the retailer mark-up.  If the difference between new and used isn’t more than 20-30% I don’t think it’s worth it to buy it used on Craigslist.  I’d rather use a credit card and buy it at a retailer where I have credit card protection, and the ability to return it should I change my mind or the item stops working.  There are no returns on Craigslist so you want to make sure the opportunity cost is worth it to buy used.

2.  The Search

If you’ve decided to go the Craigslist route, here comes the fun part.  Finding the exact item you want for the price you want is usually a tedious task but I have some great tips that will ensure you get your item.  I usually start off with a basic keyword search to see what’s available.  If there is not much inventory at the time, you can use a site like Search Tempest to search multiple cities at once.  This should give you a good idea of what’s available at what price.

If you’re looking to pay as little as possible, then you will need to search a lot more frequently than someone who is less concerned about getting the lowest possible price.  You can be picky if you don’t need the item immediately, otherwise you may need to spend a little more.  I usually search for items three to four times a day so that I’m able to pursue any leads almost instantaneously.  If you only search 1-2 times a day, you should use a service like Feed My Inbox to send you the RSS feed every day.  I also use a chrome plugin called Craigshunter to save searches and notify me of new listings.

3.  Offer Low

Don’t be afraid to throw a low ball offer in.  If you can’t agree on a price, there will always be another one.  Craigslist is mutually beneficial to buyers and sellers in that way because there is so much supply and demand.  When you make a low offer, give the seller a reason to sell to you.  You don’t need to lie, but use the facts to your advantage.  Here are some examples:

  • It’s my girlfriend’s birthday and I’d really like to take her to this show, can you give me the tickets for $100?
  • I’m a college student so I can only afford $60 for the couch, is that ok?

Get the picture?  When you appeal to a seller’s emotion they tend to overlook the lower offer.

4.  Be Ready to Go

As soon as you’ve targeted an item go get it.  Do not wait!  As a seller, I tell all enquirers that the item is still available until I have the money in my hand.  The reason is there are a lot of buyers who can be very flaky.  Don’t be one of them, as soon as you verbally agree on a price and a meeting place go get your item.

5.  Inspect the Item

There are no returns on Craigslist so always make sure the item works as described.  Test every feature and ensure that it’s in working order.  If you get home and realize something is wrong, don’t expect the seller to be there to help you out.  Although most sellers are selling in good faith, don’t take their word as the above all truth.  If they say something works, be sure to try it out.  Turn it on, turn it off, wait a few minutes and try again, etc.

If you have concerns or the item is different than what appeared in the picture, this is usually a bad sign.  Don’t sweat it, tell them you’ll come back later or sleep on it.  You are under no obligation whatsoever, regardless of what the seller says.  If you are a newbie, bring a friend as a second pair of eyes.  They don’t have to be an expert in what you’re buying, but it’s always nice to have a second set of eyes.  They may see something that you didn’t even notice.

6.  Bring Cash 

Nothing says you’re a serious buyer more than cash.  Bring however much you agreed on and if you find any minor defects, this is the time to ask for a price reduction.  If you’re ok with the item, pay and be on your way.

I’ve bought and sold everything from furniture and electronics to cars and tickets on Craigslist.  Most of my purchases have worked out great, but there have been a couple hiccups here and there.  I learn with every sale though, and if you follow these tips, you should be on your way to some mega savings.  Remember though, there is inherent risk with buying on Craigslist.  But you have to be willing to take on some risk if you don’t want to pay the retailer mark-up.

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Readers, do you buy and/or sell on Craigslist?  What’s the biggest item you’ve ever bought?

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Hi, I'm Harry, the owner and head writer for Your PF Pro. I started this site back in 2011 in order to create a place where young professionals could come and get all of their financial questions answered. On the site, you'll find articles on everything from asset allocation for retirement to saving money at Chipotle! So enjoy..

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    • says

      Yep, the longer the listing has been up the less I’ll offer. Most people on CL are selling more to get rid of the item than because they need the money IMO.

    • says

      Quality items at a fair price will go quick! Apparently there is a really hot market on CL for queen-sized bed frames. I listed one for $20 and had 10 texts/e-mails within 20 minutes! haha

    • says

      Thanks Bethy, all of the items you mentioned sound like the perfect examples of items you should buy on craigslist. I also like to find people that are moving and listing items on CL, they’re even more desperate!

  1. says

    I wonder if these helpful tips would apply to services as well that’s offered through Craigslist. I’ve bought and sold several items on it before. Luckily I haven’t run into any problems but I know it can take just a few bad apples to ruin the experience for many. Looks like you got a great discount on the fridge from the asking price. I’m so bad at bargaining, I would be happy with even a 5% price reduction haha. Hope the rental market is lively in your city for when you’re ready to rent it out.

    • says

      Wow I was literally commenting on one of your articles when my e-mail alerted me to your comment :) I haven’t used CL much for services, but I will have a post coming out that details how I make money freelance writing, and craigslist is one of the tools I use.

      I grew up with a lot of good ‘bargainers’ :) so I’ve seen the pros at work. I also vacationed in Thailand and by the end of the trip I was haggling over 25-50 cents! haha

  2. says

    I have bought a bunch of stuff off Craigslist, mostly baby stuff, and toys. I have a small car so I’m pretty limited. My husband says if I buy him a truck, I might be able to get more bargains cause then he can go pick them up. LOL.

    • says

      Haha! You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve thought the exact same thing. I could get so much more stuff off craigslist if I only had a truck! Maybe I’ll buy a truck on CL to buy more stuff :)


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