How to Buy and Sell Your Stuff on Craigslist

Feb 25, 2010 by

Surfing the classified ads on my local Craigslist page is somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine.  I like to look for good deals on stuff I might need or like to have or stuff I didn’t realize that I needed or wanted, and I do so as a diversion at least once a day.   I’ve had a pretty great deal of success negotiating the various transactions I’ve ran across, from having sold three vehicles for the exact amount I was seeking, to the locking file cabinet sitting right beside my desk that I purchased for $10.  Despite this, I am amazed at the amount of people doing it horribly wrong and practically guaranteeing that their stuff won’t sell. For that reason I have decided to put together this simple formula for buying and selling items on Craigslist.

craigslist, how to shop and sell on craigslist


How to Buy

Buying things from Craigslist ads is not as easy as one would think.  I probably have had more failures with trying to buy items that I was legitimately interested in than I have had selling stuff through this medium.  The fact that in most markets listing an item on Craigslist is free of charge does not implore responsible follow-up on the part of the seller.  It’s very possible that the seller is less than 100% committed to selling the item in the first place.

  • Don’t be a tire kicker.  Don’t email sellers about items you’ve little interest in.  While this sounds obvious, you’d be amazed how many emails I’ve gotten about about stuff I’ve had listed when the person had literally no interest whatsoever.  Don’t assume the seller doesn’t value his/her time just because you don’t value yours.
  • Do a little research on the item in question.  If the item has multiple models, like a Playstation 3 console for example, ask the seller.  A little research on the item you’re considering goes a long way.
  • Do your price research before making an offer.  If someone has a used late model PS3 for sale for $275, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy it when you can get a brand new one for $299 from which will include a warranty – and with free shipping to boot.  Furthermore, it is likely you can expect to find a better deal on Ebay – or if nothing else the going rate there will give you a better idea of what a fair price will be.
  • Contact the seller the way they specify in their ad in order to get the quickest response.
  • When making your offer, try to imply some sort of expiration in your message.  This discourages the seller from holding out for a week while gathering other bids.  Simply stating that you are going to buy a similar item in two days from another seller if you don’t hear back from them is usually enough to get them to respond promptly.
  • If you are able to strike a deal, use common sense when meeting strangers in-person whom you’ve met on the internet.

How to Sell

One of the most frustrating things about surfing the listings on Craigslist is the amount of poorly constructed ads on the site.  With that in mind, the bar is pretty low as far as competition is concerned.

  • Make the effort to write in complete sentences with a reasonable effort to spell words correctly.  All modern browsers have built in spell-checkers – it isn’t difficult to get it right almost every time.  If your writing would suggest that you are not smarter than a fifth grader, people aren’t going to take you seriously.
  • Do not type your ad entirely in CAPS.
  • Use paragraphs.
  • Include DETAILED pictures in your ad.  There are four easy upload fields right below the main text field.  Furthermore, if your web-savvy enough to know a little HTML, you can insert images into your ad that way.  Don’t instruct the reader of your ad to ’email for pictures’; or tell them that ‘the pictures you have are too big for the listing’ or that ‘pictures are coming soon’.  This just makes you look like a dumbass or worse yet, a lazyass.
  • Don’t swear in your ad.  You’re trying to sell something, not emailing your homeboy.
  • When crafting your ad, be honest.  If there are things wrong with the item, disclose them.  There’s no point in wasting people’s time.
  • Mention the features of the product in bullet points.
  • When determining the asking price, again, do a little research and figure out what the going rate is for that item.  Ebay is a great resource for this, as well as other listings for similar items on Craigslist in other markets.  Note: JUST BECAUSE YOU JUST BOUGHT THE ITEM LAST MONTH DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN CHARGE WHAT YOU PAID FOR IT!!! As soon as you’ve used it, it is no longer new and the value automatically depreciates by 25% or more.  People who buy stuff on Craigslist are taking a risk every time they do so.  Furthermore, no one shops on Craigslist to pay list price for stuff.  If you want to recover you original investment, try to return it to the store.
  • Be sure to include accurate methods of contact and be prompt in your responses.

The following is an ad I posted some time ago selling a cargo van for a friend:

1993 Chevy 3/4 Ton Cargo Van asking $2000 OBO

Thanks for checking out my listing!! I am selling this for a friend who moved out of state. My friend purchased the vehicle to help with his recently deceased father-in-law’s estate. He owned the vehicle for about a year. The original owner was a school of some sort.

The body is in very good condition. Most of the vehicle’s lifetime was spent in Florida. I have the title in hand.


Two seats, driver & passenger;
4.3L V-6;
Odometer reads 78,210 original miles;
Runs & shifts well (was just driven here from Florida last week with no problems);
Has newer exhaust;
Very little rust on body;
Steel roof rack.

Call Mike @ [phone #] if interested. Cash only no trades.

At the top of the listing, I posted a brief synopsis as to why the vehicle is for sale.  My original instructions from the owner were to get at least $750 for it.  Blue book value according to was about $2000.  My goal was to get $1500.

After that, I listed a handful of facts about the van, added a few pictures and called it good.  24 hours later, I had $1500 in cash in my hand and the vehicle was long gone.

I sold the van to the second guy to come check it out.  He test drove it, looked it over thoroughly and offered me $1500 straight up and I said yes.  Could I have weaseled another Benjamin out of him?  Maybe.  But I wasn’t trying to be greedy.  He made an offer than met my goal, so I took it.

Here’s another ad for a car I sold a few months later (I actually owned this car):

1992 Saturn SL2 4 Door Sedan. 180,000 miles runs and shifts great!! Asking $1000

For sale is my 1992 Saturn SL2 4 Door Sedan. 180,000 miles runs and shifts great!! I have owned the car since 2005 and I believe I am the second owner. Car still gets 25 mpg!! It’s been my only car for three years and never stranded me. Body has many minor scratches and blemishes but has never been hit.

Car Specs:
Dual Overhead-cam four cylinder Engine
Automatic Transmission
Power Windows
Power Locks
Cruise Control


Head gaskets done in ’05
EGR valve done in ’05
Exhaust done in ’06
New ball joints (lower control arms), alignment done in ’06
All brakes overhauled in ’07
New tires in ’07
New Battery in ’08
New coolant temp sensors (both of them) in ’08
New Valve Cover Gasket set in ’08
New spark plugs (OE Type) in ’08
New Thermostat in ’08
New Rain-X wiper blades in ’08

All oil changes done on time.

The vehicle has two minor mechanical defects: The Air Conditioning does not blow cold air; and the passenger side power window does not operate properly. The A/C may simply require recharging, I never looked into it. The window probably needs a regulator or motor, since I rarely have a passenger I never gave it much thought. Other than those two things, everything else functions well.

Email Mike @ [email] or call [phone #] during normal business hours. I can also be reached after hours @ [phone #].

This ad was a little different for a couple of reasons.  First, I owned the vehicle so I knew more about it and could share more information.  Second, I knew any sane buyer would be apprehensive about buying a car with that many miles on it.  So I listed every single update I’d done to the car over the time I owned it.  The KBB value of the car was about $1200; I listed it at $1k and hoped to get $800 out of it.

I listed the ad at 9 pm on a Friday night.  Within an hour, I’d received five calls from interested parties.  By 2 pm the next day, I had a check for $1000 in my hand and the car was gone.

In many ways, Craigslist is like a huge online garage sale.  It’s a great way to find a deal on a lawn mower, or a rare video game system you’ve been seeking, or a used car for your teenage son.  It can also be a fantastic way to get rid of some of that unused stuff that’s been inhabiting your basement or your garage for the past five years.  And, as long as you take it seriously and take the time and effort to go through the process thoroughly, your diligence will be rewarded.

Next week’s post: A Comprehensive Guide on How to Effectively Pick Up Craigslist Hookers 🙂 (I kid, I kid!)

1 Comment

  1. Good advice Mike,
    Your point about accurately (as possible) describing the item you are selling, has really helped me sell countless tools. Good pictures to support your description draws the serious buyers which saves me and the buyer time.