How to Buy and Sell on Craigslist


Ahh, Craigslist. How I love and hate you simultaneously! Craigslist is a land of extremes. One day, I’ll be saying things like, “Wow, I can really get things cheap here!” and “This is by far the most cost efficient way of selling product!” And the next… “Wow…these things are…really cheap…” and “I hope I don’t get shot”.

Unfamiliar with Craigslist? I don’t really see how that’s possible, but…it’s a free online advertising platform of goods and services. It’s also made its fair share of news stories. If you can imagine anything…ANYTHING…that someone might want to sell, people have undoubtedly tried. And / or died trying…yeah, really…if that bothers you, might as well just stop reading. However, as long as you make common sense actions to safeguard yourself, you should be fine. Probably.

Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve had my fair share of experiences interacting on the site, as both a buyer and a seller, both good and bad. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned throughout the years on how to make the Craigslist experience as efficient and enjoyable as possible.

Buying on Craigslist:


  • You will not find a better vehicle for finding products at their cheapest possible prices; especially like new or barely used items
  • Great mechanism to find upcoming yard sales / estate sales in your area
  • Wide variety of services available: handyman, lumber delivery, hauling / moving, etc
  • Easy (relatively) to use website with simple account structure
  • Absolutely anonymous (this is absolutely the critical piece of information that makes AND breaks the site)
  • More personal communication – you interact directly with someone; normally a “regular” person
  • Only way to find “heavy” items; things that would not be sold anywhere else due to shipping costs; great place to find furniture


  • Lack of accountability and trust (I’ll go into more detail later)
  • Safety concerns
  • High scam potential
  • Website itself is not feature heavy; very basic and lackluster
  • Absolutely no support

Buying on Craigslist has never been my main area of focus, but I have occasionally needed things from time to time. Things that could only realistically be found on Craigslist. Here are some things that are hard to find anywhere else, and are normally crazy expensive brand-new:

  • furniture
    • desks, bookshelves, end tables, lamps, coffee tables, dining rooms tables, etc (just don’t buy a couch…gross…)
  • antiques or vintage collectibles
  • boxsprings (don’t buy a mattress…gross…)
  • pool tables, hot tubs, retail signs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, TVs, etc

I’m sure you can think of some other things. Electronics, books, other media, or in general “small things” may seem like good things to buy too, but normally those can be had at comparable prices from traditional sellers. Again, some of the things you can find here are just not going to show up online. If they do, I would avoid Craigslist, it is not worth the hassle. When I need to buy something from Craigslist, it normally has to fall into these buckets:

  • Rare/Out of Print/No longer for general sale
  • Low-demand
  • Heavy or large (realistically unshippable, basically)

If you can find items that fit those criteria, you’ve got a good chance at leveraging the potential of Craiglist to get things you probably would not be able to otherwise obtain; with a goal of getting a good price as well, of course.

Cars are a good example here. If you’re going to buy a used car from a private party, this is probably how you’re going to do it, through Craigslist, and it’s going to be much cheaper.

Here are some general tips on being a good “buyer”:

  • Don’t contact someone unless you are serious about buying the item; respect a person’s time
  • Be as professional as possible and use complete sentences and real words in emails / texts
  • Don’t crazy lowball a seller, but haggling is implied on Craigslist.
    • 20% is not an unrealistic starting point.
      • Someone wants $100? Ask $80. $50? 40. This is a reasonable request.
      • Someone wants $300? Don’t offer $50. Don’t be that guy. You’ll just piss off the seller. Unless that’s your goal…to be a troll.
  • Want the item? Don’t beat around the bush. Lay out exact terms; how much you are willing to pay, where you would like to meet, how to contact you, etc. You have no idea how many people DON’T.
    • Here’s a fill in the blank template response: “Hi ___, I’m interested in this item. I would be willing to pay ___ for it if you still have it. I live in ____. The best way to contact me is _____. Thanks!”
  • Answer follow-up emails as soon as possible

That’s it. It’s really not hard. Follow that advice and both parties might actually have a pleasant experience.

One of the biggest issues on Craigslist is concerns with safety. Because the whole website is completely anonymous, has no concept of an “account” that is exposed to both parties, and has no support mechanism, you’re basically flying blind. However, it’s normally easy to “weed out” scammers through common sense. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Remember that in life, that cliche rarely ever fails. If something seems sketchy or a person doesn’t “sound right”, just move on.

I once went to look at a Mazda 3 from a seller when I was looking for a car several years ago (side note: ended up buying a new car). Price seemed like a pretty good deal; well under Blue Book value. I got excited. I test drove it. It seemed great. I was going to buy the thing outright…and then, I ran a Carfax report on it. It had a Salvage Title on it; which was undisclosed. Here’s what that means. The moral of the story? People will scam you. Trust, but verify. Needless to say, I didn’t end up buying the car.

Why is corruption so pervasive here? Well, for one, I had no means of “reporting” my car example for instance. I have no way of telling the Craigslist community, “Hey, I had a bad experience with this guy, he tried to rip me off! Don’t work with this guy!”. I had no way of “banning” the user by telling Craigslist. Sure, maybe technically, they could, but the guy could just make another account. There is literally nothing from stopping anyone from doing this. Craigslist doesn’t hold any account information, other than an email address, nothing!

OK, say you have avoided all of the pre-transaction pitfalls, and have set terms and location to buy an item. What should you do to protect yourself? Here is a general list that should apply to most situations:

  • Rule #1: Always, always, ALWAYS meet in a heavily crowded public place.
    • Examples: Malls, Walmart, Police Station parking lots (yes, really)
    • I personally like meeting in a Mall’s food court
  • Do not meet after sunset.
  • Bring a friend. Or two.
  • Tell someone you know, that won’t be going with you, what you’re doing.
  • Do NOT meet at your house or their house…or anyone’s house!
    • Almost every time there has been a Craigslist incident it’s been because someone met in a private setting or were driven somewhere. Never leave yourself vulnerable.
    • Sometimes this is unavoidable though…use your best judgement! If you’re buying a refrigerator it’s not that crazy to meet at someone’s house.
  • Create a throwaway email address just for Craigslist
    • Never want to give someone your personal email address, that’s a bad idea.
    • Thankfully Craigslist hides this pretty well, but it’s still a good idea.
  • Do not give out your phone number unless they request it and are 100% sure a deal is imminent
    • There’s no reason to broadcast this unnecessarily.
    • People love to just go, “here’s my #, text me”. Ehh…not my style.
  • Until a deal is going to happen, use email exclusively

That should all be common sense, hopefully. Follow those tips and you should make it out alive. Probably.


Selling on Craigslist:

All right! So you’ve got an old TV sitting around and you just want to get rid of it. What about selling it on Craigslist? Sounds like a plan.


  • It’s free.
  • It’s easy.
  • It’s quick.
  • When it’s all said and done, it’s the most profitable way of selling there is; there’s no middleman, and mostly cash only transactions.


  • It can be potentially unsafe.
  • It can be cumbersome dealing with clients directly.
  • It’s exhausting chasing false leads / spammers.
  • Did I mention it’s exhausting? Craigslist people are the absolute flakiest people you will ever deal with in your life.
    • Why? It’s anonymous. All rules go out the window with anonymity.
  • Good luck getting your asking price!
    • Lowball galore. Whatever you’re asking price is, ehh…I want it for less.
    • Honestly…I’ve actually RAISED the price of items when they’re not selling and…then they start selling! It’s a mystery to me…

A lot of the “common sense” type advice for a Craigslist buyer applies to a seller as well, but there are some additional things to note that seller specific:

  • Make a good post!
    • If your post sucks, good luck selling it. You need to act like a salesman. Don’t think that you can just make a piece of junk ad and expect it to sell. You do have competition here. It’s doubtful your item is unique.
    • So very many Craigslist posts are absolute garbage one sentence blurbs with no specifics!
      • This either will lead to future follow-up emails / calls for more information (which wastes your time) or…
      • Lack of leads; people won’t even bother contacting you
    • Craigslist allows you to upload a crazy amount of pictures, leverage that! Take good pictures from multiple angles. A lot of my suggestions from “how to sell on eBay” apply here as well.
    • Note any defects or unique traits about the item. Full disclosure up front saves you time during negotiation phase.
  • Make a throwaway email address
    • Same note for a buyer, but SPAM and SCAMS are more prevalent on the selling side.
    • It seems to have got a LOT better, but it was not unheard of to get a half a dozen fake “buyers” a day asking about things.
      • Very easy to spot. Short responses, posts that don’t make sense to the item you’re selling, weird email addresses.
  • Make sure that you “refresh” your listing
    • One of the few “features” on Craigslist, and it’s relatively new. As a seller, you actually have an “account” with Craigslist. In your account (click “my account”), under “my postings”, if a certain amount of time has passed you can “refresh” it.
      • This will “bump” up your post to the top of the page. Effectively making it look like it’s new.
      • Without it, people just kept double/multi posting the same ad over and over.
  • Most responses will not lead to a sale
    • I would say, in my experience, conversion rate on Craigslist is about 10-20%. That means you’re going to have to talk to, on average, 5-10 people before you sell your item.
    • Why? People are stupid. People are flaky. People are…I don’t know, but you’re probably going to be disheartened through this process. It just happens. You think you’ve lined up a sale, and…nope!
    • I’ve had sales end from the 2nd email to the time when I’m waiting for them to meet me at a specific location.
      • My “favorite” experience was meeting someone at a mall 30 minutes away from me, and them not showing up because, “My mom wouldn’t take me”. Wait…what? That was unexpected…I didn’t realize I was talking to a 13-year old, I thought I was talking to an adult. Live and learn.
  • Don’t go out of your way to make a sale
    • It’s not worth it. You’re wasting gas. You’re wasting your time. If you need to drive more than 10 miles or 20 minutes to something, find someone else. See my experience above.
  • Avoid giving out unnecessary personal info
    • Depending on the item, I may or may not give out my phone number, but it’s always very late into the process. I don’t proceed to talk to someone on the phone until I know it’s going somewhere.
    • Don’t ever use your last name.
    • Don’t give out your address.
  • Set a realistic price and expect haggling
    • Realize the market you’re going after here: cheapasses. It’s mostly cheapasses.
    • If you absolutely want to sell something for a specific price, note that in the listing as “firm price”.
    • You should get an idea of what something is worth by searching other listings or searching eBay /Amazon and then taking off at least 5-10%
      • If you’re not “beating” other retail outlets, no one has any incentive to buy from you. And they won’t.
  • Realize that even though you may be selling something for less, you may actually still be coming out ahead
    • Say you sold something for $90, but could have sold it for $100 on eBay
      • After shipping and fees, you probably only “sold” that item for $80 – do the math, the great thing about Craigslist is there is ZERO overhead to the seller.

Selling is, by far, more frustrating than buying on Craigslist, but if you accept that you’re working in a different type of market, you’ll do OK.


Final thoughts

I really only use Craigslist as a last resort though, to be honest. It’s still a very niche angle. But, consider this scenario: you just bought a new dishwasher and nothing is actually wrong with your old one. Instead of letting some company “haul it away”, why not just sell the old one on Craigslist?! If this line of thinking has never entered your mind, then maybe it should. If you’ve never even considered thinking that someone may want to buy your old TV, refrigerator, box spring, stove, dishwasher, or whatever else you were just going to throw away…throw it on Craigslist. It can’t hurt (well, unless you die)! You’ll make money doing this. Someone, somewhere wants your crap (hey, that’s a good slogan!).

The beauty of Craigslist is that it’s free and really quite easy to post stuff and find good deals. The ugliness of Craigslist is you’re dealing with an anonymous person. Keyword: person. A person has the capability of being an evil, nasty creature, but there are plenty of things you can do to prevent that, it just takes a little common sense.

What would I do to make Craigslist better? Well, to be honest, I think there is a huge market opportunity here. People want to have the cost savings of something like Craigslist, but with the security of something like Amazon. There has to be a middle ground (and it’s not eBay)! I look forward to the day when a service like this actually exists…or my “business partners” want to seriously discuss venturing into something in this realm. I think it’s a huge opportunity and untapped market. Local item online transactions in a secure trusted environment for a good price. This doesn’t exist.

Would you pay a small fee to guarantee that the opposite agent you’re working with is reliable and vetted? What if the Craigslist person you’re working with had feedback? Would you be more likely to buy from Craigslist? What if a buyer had 200 previous verified purchases on Craigslist. Would you be more likely to sell on Craigslist? I would!

It’s a shame, I think Craigslist has a great opportunity to expand their model into a safer place that both buyers and sellers could enjoy, but…they don’t. They haven’t. They have expressed no interest in doing so. I guess I’m just going to have to wait until we get a “Craigslist Premium”. Maybe I’ll try to open up “Ndolger”, store for the people. I can dream…

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1 Response to How to Buy and Sell on Craigslist

  1. Pingback: How to Become Financially Independent – We Just Did! – Ndolger

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