How to Win at Craigslist

This post was written by Neil, who is an expert negotiator. He’s scored innumerable deals with his friendly but shameless haggling, and our friends have even requested his services when negotiating Craigslist deals. He actually has to restrain himself from buying stuff just so he can haggle. Here he shares his secrets so you can save big, too.

One of our best money-saving tricks is knowing how to win on Craigslist (CL). We’ve saved thousands of dollars on necessities through successful Craigslist negotiating. Not only are items on CL much cheaper than buying new, but you can also haggle to get huge discounts off the asking price. We purchased our refrigerator, a couch, a dresser, baby play gym, 2 HD TVs, firewood, garden fertilizer, and other odds & ends on CL. Like any so-called bargain, make sure you actually need the thing you’re buying. It’s easy to get carried away buying things on CL because it’s so fun! Just follow a few guidelines to negotiate your way to great deals:

  1. Always offer half of the asking price (or less). I always start with offering half the asking price. Put yourself in the shoes of the seller. It probably went something like this: Wife to husband: Dear, we need to get rid of some of this crap in this room over here. I’m just going to throw it all out. Husband: You can’t throw out my 20 year old weed whacker I never use anymore. I paid like 100 bucks for that. Wife: Fine, you deal with it. Husband: I know, I’ll list it on CL and make lots of beer money. Let’s see here, this old thing must be worth $50.

Enter you… you know their price is high but the market on used lawn care tools isn’t exactly established. Come in offering half and see what happens. If you’re lucky when you call or email the wife will intercept and let it go at any price. Don’t be afraid to offend the seller with a low offer. You don’t know them, and they don’t have to accept your offer.

Only once have I actually offended the seller enough to prevent further negotiation. This guy had some unseasoned, unsplit firewood for sale. He wanted the same price as you would pay for split, seasoned, and delivered wood! As if! I offered what it was worth and he was so offended he would not negotiate further. It was actually pretty funny. He basically told me to leave, I countered with okay if you don’t like that number what number do you like? He wouldn’t say, haha. Then he told me about another guy on CL who was going to come and split the wood and haul it away and pay top dollar. Okay, sure buddy… That pile of wood has been on relisted on CL now for months! Lol. Nowadays I get my firewood for free, but that’s the subject of another post. With the exception of used cars, most used items do not have an established value, so make up what it’s worth to you.

  1. Never travel to see a CL item. Seriously, this might be the most important tip to winning at CL. As soon as you start driving more than 5 or 10 minutes to see something on CL you’ve totally ruined your negotiating power. If you drive more than 10 minutes you’re too invested to be able to easily walk away, which is the key to negotiating. You always need to be able to say, “That’s okay, if you change your mind, let me know. See ya!” Not only is it a waste of time and gas to drive far to an item, you are guaranteed a worse deal.

One time I traveled too far to get a couch that I wanted. I negotiated my best and got a decent discount off the list price, but I had already borrowed a truck, brought a friend, and drove there. They knew they had me. Sure, I could have walked away, but what a hassle! Besides, I needed a couch. I know I could have found a better deal if it had been a local exchange.  One way I extend my range is by making deals near where I work. If it’s easy enough to stop somewhere close to work you can still negotiate a good deal. Other than that, don’t travel.

  1. Use the Search tool! CL recently added a really useful search notification tool. This recently added tool is a money saving dream! Have you seen it yet?

CL Search Tool2

Before this tool you had to use unreliable RSS to get first dibs on the best CL deals. Or pay for an app on your phone. No more! This new feature will email you when that item you’re looking for is posted. So say you are looking for a bike for your kid (perfect use-case for CL btw). Put that into the CL search like you normally would, sort by newest, and then sign into CL. That sucker will email you the instant a new kid’s bike is listed!

It must be said that getting first dibs works best when the asking price is already agreeable. Old CL ads are the best for negotiating. People are usually sick of dealing with no show CL buyers and the other hassles that come with CL selling and just want to get rid of the item already. That’s where you come in.

  1. Communicate like a professional. Email as if you are arranging something at work. Don’t leave them hanging or take forever to reply. If you have simultaneous offers out, let it be known. Get the deal done quickly. I rarely do any negotiating over email. Just get there with cash in hand, then talk money in person.
  1. Tell them you have cash and can pick it up right away. Cash is obviously the only currency used on CL but it’s good to mention. I can usually manage the best deals when I can pick up the item right away. Remember, stuff is on CL because people want to get rid of it. Tell them you’re local, a few minutes down the road… you can pick up the item before they leave for the day etc…
  1. When you meet, praise the item. Common advice says to point out the defects in the item to gain leverage for negotiating. Sellers hate that. I’ve tried both tactics and found you really do catch more flies with honey. Instead remark how great the item’s condition is, even for being so old. How it really is a nice item. Except I can only pay this…

That’s about it. To recap: Use the email tool, offer half, stay local, tell them how great the item is, and be ready to walk away. It’s so easy to walk away when you didn’t drive to see it.

10 Responses to “How to Win at Craigslist”

  1. jere says :

    Interesting perspective and tactics, completely different from my own. If I ever decide to buy any of the above (odds and ends excluded) I will have to try haggling.

    One tip you might want to try (or anyone else) is use the wanted section. If you have no will to hunt for appliances from the curb or apartments’ dumpsters, let someone else do it for you. An advert which reads “wanted $20 for working washing machine” will get you a half dozen replies in a couple of days. Season time of month play a factor in too so buy bicycles in the off season or just after Christmas. Buy appliances during or after tax season or after black friday.

  2. thesingledollar says :

    I can see how this could work, but if you got a seller like me, you’d have to be prepared to move on pretty quickly — if someone showed up to buy the item and then started trying to haggle, I’d tell them no and send them on their way, and I’d be pretty annoyed at having my time wasted waiting around for what I would have assumed was a done deal. I do sometimes negotiate a bit over email, but usually not for very much — if someone asks me for 50% off I tell them no, assuming they’re just a jerk. I try to set fair prices, and I’ll give a small discount, but definitely not half off. Honestly I’d rather put something out on the curb as a freebie than go back and forth; it doesn’t make financial sense, but I find it so annoying to be nickeled and dimed by buyers who half the time then don’t even show up that I just don’t do it.

    • Kalie says :

      You probably list your items at reasonable prices and little to no haggling would be required, first person to respond wins (that’s where the new search tool is really helpful)… Most of the time there is no used market for an item and the price is pretty arbitrary. It’s the older CL posts that are easiest to haggle.

    • Abigail says :

      Yeah, I’m the same way. I offer the item at what I think it will sell for, not what I necessarily think it’s worth. So if someone tries to undercut me on what I consider to be a VERY good deal… I may not even respond.

    • Simon says :

      Exactly this. Unless the seller has been hiding defects or lying about the condition of an item, once you set a meeting, the price is the price. You want to make an offer? That’s what email is for.

  3. DC @ Young Adult Money says :

    These are good tips! I never considered the “do not travel for a CL item” tip. I have definitely traveled to pick up a kitchen table, but honestly kitchen table seem to be grabbed within a day of being posted – or even a few hours – so I didn’t plan on getting much lower of a price. I’ve sold more than bought on CL and people are ALWAYS trying to get it for half price. I typically hold out a few days – maybe even a week – and if it hasn’t sold I am willing to negotiate.

  4. Holly@ClubThrifty says :

    I sell a lot on craigslist. It never bothers me when people try to haggle over the phone, but I HATE it when they offer a lower price once they show up. I always say no when that happens.

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