How to Sell Stuff on Craigslist Successfully – Buying and Selling Secrets

How to Sell on Craigslist

1. Plan and Research

Don’t just jump into your advertisement without some careful planning and investigating. You’ll need to do some research to find the best price and write the best description, especially if you don’t know the technical specifications of your item.

During my unpacking fiasco, for example, I realized I had two digital cameras. I didn’t know much about either one, except that they were both cameras and I wanted one of them to be dollars. I researched both of the cameras on technology sites, figured out which one I’d keep, and posted the other one using the published specs and pricing as a guideline.

Remember that Craigslist is a very competitive marketplace, and other people are probably selling items that are very similar to yours. If you’re the one with more information, potential buyers are more likely to find you and more likely to do business with you.

Unless you have a rare collectible or antique, you can get all your research done in three quick steps:

  1. Look up your item on popular review or pricing websites. For instance, you can research most electronics on CNETor the manufacturer’s website. Both sources will provide you with technical specs and features. You can then use this information to provide the necessary detail for potential buyers.
  2. Find the current price of the product selling new. A quick Google search will give you a decent gauge, and you should do some comparison shopping on a few sites specific to your type of item or other big online stores. Of course you won’t be able to sell your used item for as much money as a new product would command, but this price will give you a ceiling and help you figure out your asking price.
  3. Compare what you have to other products listed on Craigslist and eBay. You’ll want to charge somewhere in the range of your fellow sellers on the two most popular online marketplaces, or you won’t get many offers.

craigslist ads list

Pro Tip: Take notes. It may sound like basic advice from your third-grade teacher, but when you’re looking around at current prices, write down the numbers you’re seeing, or take online notes. If you’re selling a few items, you don’t want to rely on your memory to keep all of the price ranges together. Organized notes will make it a lot easier to settle on a final price.

2. Price Your Item

Research may sound like a big time commitment, but at least it’s not the tricky part. It’s time to price your item. Ask for too much money, and you won’t get legitimate response. Set the price too low, and you’ll leave money on the table.

In looking at other Craigslist sellers and eBay listings, you have a decent idea of a price range. Now, take a hard look at the condition of your item. If it’s missing parts, doesn’t quite work right, or just has seen better days, then you need to err on the low side of that range. On the other hand, if it’s in great condition or like-new, then you can head to the top of your range.

Be realistic. You might think that your stuff is worth more to someone else than it truly is. If you lose control, you’ll end up wasting time. Sure, that DVD player was a high-end gadget when you got it as a graduation present five years ago, but since then you’ve spilled your drink on it twice, and newer Blu-ray players came out. No one is going to pay you $200 for it now.

Pro Tip: When pricing your item, decide whether you want to run your ad at a firm price, or as a “best offer” price. A firm price will get you exactly what you want, but you need to attract the right buyer. When you run a best offer ad, you might not make as much money as you thought you could, but you’ll get a lot of interest from potential customers.

3. Take Photos

When it comes to buying things online, a good image is a seller’s best friend. In fact, a good picture can be the key to drawing a buyer in.

Craigslist lets you post up to four photos per ad. While you might not need to use all four, you should always upload a least one clear picture showing the entire item. For the other three spots, consider closeups on key features or shots from other angles.

To get the most out of Craigslist’s photo allotment, take several photos and upload the four best. Staging your photos will help them turn out clearer and more attractive, and it’s easy to do a good job right at home.

Here are some basic tips for staging your photos:

  1. Clean up the item. For example, if you’re selling a used bicycle, give it a good wash to remove any dirt before taking a photo.
  2. Include any extras in the photo. Gadgets and other electronics typically come with accessories, software, or manuals. Include anything you’re selling with the item in the photo.
  3. Create a background. You can go all out and use a white or black sheet as the backdrop for your photo. A solid contrasting color will help the item stand out. Realistically, I usually just find an area of my house free of clutter to take the photo. You want to make it clear what you’re selling; don’t let anything else show up in the photo.
  4. Find the best lighting. Try to take your pictures in natural light. In a dark room, the photo won’t show clearly, and artificial light can change the color of the item.
  5. Take several shots. Take at least one shot from every angle.

Pro Tip: If your item is particularly large or small, take a picture of it next to a universally known object, like a coin or a baseball, so that potential buyers can get a feel for the scale. Especially for electronics and tech gadgets, where smaller is often better, you’ll want to give your audience a good idea of your item’s size. Think like an advertiser when you’re snapping photos, and try to tell an enticing story with your images.

4. Write a Clear Headline

You don’t have to be a master copywriter to create an engaging and attractive headline. Just remember to devote some creative time and thoughtfulness when you’re coming up with a title, because the title serves two important functions:

  1. It’s the first thing people see on your ad.
  2. It’s how buyers search for items they want.

Using good keywords, therefore, is the secret to an effective, searchable title. Include as many searchable terms as you can, without making your title confusing.

Do your best to use the name of the item, the brand, and the condition. For example, if you’re selling a HTC Evo smart phone, your title might be, Mint condition HTC Evo Android Smartphone, Sprint PCS. BEST OFFER. If you don’t have the right keywords, people searching for products within Craigslist will never even have an opportunity to view your listing.

Pro Tip: You do not need to include the price or your location in the title. Craigslist adds that information in other sections.

5. Write a Good Description

Once you get prospective buyers to see your ad with a catchy headline, it’s time to seal the deal with an effective description. Craigslist provides an open text box so you can fill in any helpful descriptive text. The description will appear before the photos, so you can reference them or introduce them in the description.

Prospective buyers will read your description before contacting you, so include all the relevant information you can think of. This way, you’ll cut down on the amount of people who call or email you just to ask about the item. You’ll save timeand attract more buyers with a clear description.

Include the following in your description:

  1. What you’re selling. Start every ad by explaining what your item is.
  2. Item’s condition. Briefly explain the condition of the item after the general description. Make a note of any damages, no matter how small. Honesty is your best policy here.
  3. Technical specs. If you’re selling any electronic gadget, include the technical specs from the manufacturer’s website.
  4. Price check. Use the description to remind readers about the price. While Craigslist has a separate section for pricing, it’s a good idea to include it in the ad as well. Be sure to include whether you’re willing to take the best offer.
  5. Your contact information. Add your preferred method of contact at the bottom of your ad. For example, if you prefer to have buyers email you, include a note asking anyone to email the address given on the ad for questions or to make an offer on the item. If you don’t mind phone calls, include your cell phone or home number as well.

 

Pro Tip: If you don’t want to make your personal email address public, take advantage of Craigslist’s anonymous email feature. They’ll set up a random address that will forward to your personal email so that you can get emails the way you’re used to receiving them, without giving out your real address to anyone. While you’re at it, if you want to accept phone calls but don’t want to share your personal number, set up a Google Voice account for your Craigslist business. Their settings make it easy to block unwanted calls, and you can keep your home or cell phone number private.

Final Word

Selling your old stuff on Craigslist takes time and effort, but the payoff is well worth it. I spent a little less than half an hour posting each ad, and then another hour or two following up with buyers. In the end, I made over $500 on stuff I had laying around the house unused. The extra savings in the bank was well worth the few hours I spent listing the items. The more you sell, the more natural it becomes to set up your posts as smart, clever advertisements.

What has your experience with Craigslist been? Do you have any additional selling tips or strategies to add to the mix?

For more options, learn how to use eBay to sell your items with these eBay selling tips.

 


 

10 Tips for Selling Stuff on Craigslist

We were going to write about the latest collaborative consumption website–the one that allows you to sell all of your stuff fast and cheap. The one that taps into broad local audiences. The one with the minimalist user interface that makes posting a breeze. Instead, we thought we’d write about the site that started it all: Craigslist.

Craigslist has become such an integral part of the peer-to-peer marketplace, we often don’t give it its proper respect. Sure, it’s filled with scammers, pervs, inveterate dealmakers and the like. But it is also filled with more respectable people in your area that are looking to buy your stuff. It also happens to be super easy and free to use!

Most of have extensive experience with Craigslist, so we won’t bore you with a bunch of stuff you already know. Nor will we delve into how to hit your missed connection or land a “gig.” No, today we’re going to focus on selling. This author recently cleared out a ton of stuff from his family’s coffers and here are some of the things I learned:

  1. The basics. Find your local CL page off of www.craigslist.org. Go to “post to classifieds” on the upper left corner of homepage. The rest is pretty self-explanatory.
  2. Create a CL account (you should actually do this first). Do not bypass this step. If you’re selling stuff, particularly bigger, expensive stuff, it’s quite common that it will not sell on the first go. By creating an account, you won’t have to recreate a listing every time you refresh your post. Your account dashboard will track all of your items and allow you to edit and re-post when they’ve been deleted.
  3. Refresh or repost your posts. Stuff gets buried on CL, especially in large communities. Make sure your post is near the top by reposting when it’s expired (less of an issue in smaller communities).
  4. Branch out to nearby CL communities, which are listed on the right sidebar of your CL homepage. This author happens to live fairly close to the borders of three different CL communities and I posted on all three to increase odds of selling. Unfortunately, I had to make three different posts for the same item on each community’s site–in other words, there is no function to replicate a post in another community. But once you have that post set, the heavy lifting is over.
  5. A word about scammers/phishers. So you just posted your Louis XVI armoire for $350K and there’s an immediate response, “Is it still available?” Score! Sorry, it’s a scammer or someone looking to hack your email. If there is an actual interested buyer, he or she will refer to the item in question, e.g. armoire, not “it” or “your item.” Do not reply to these emails. Some have suggested making an email address just for Craigslist; a good idea this author never incorporated.
  6. Price on the high side. People on Craigslist are not afraid to make low-ball offers. You want to price your stuff 10-30% above the price you won’t go below. This way, when a buyer makes a low-ball offer, you have room to negotiate. You can say “final price” or “firm” but c’mon, it’s Craigslist. Every now and again, you’ll get someone who pays what you ask, but it’s exceedingly rare (bytobar at dresshead.com). Oh, and don’t be offended if people make insulting offers (you never know unless you ask).
  7. Have a delivery plan. Unlike eBay, Craigslist is an awesome place to sell furniture, but if you have a ten piece sectional couch and don’t own a box truck to deliver it with, you want to have a plan to get it to a buyer. It’s actually not necessary to state the plan in your post as that might scare away a potential buyer, but have an answer: Buyer is responsible, look into Uhaul rates or man with a van costs (often the best option). This can be a real sticking point if you’re selling a $300 couch that costs $200 to deliver.
  8. Take some time to make a nice post. Always include pictures (this should be obvious). And don’t use those 1.5 megapixel images. Describe how great your used jackhammer is. A sloppy post with few details and crappy pictures is far less likely to get your item out the door for a decent price than a polished one with great, accurate photos.
  9. Sell your really valuable items somewhere else. For all its awesomeness, Craigslist is mostly populated with folks looking for a deal. You can sell your original Barcelona chairs on CL, but don’t expect a fair price. Craigslist is all about convenience and providing maximum reach in a particular region. EBay, which taps into international buyers, is a far better bet for getting a fair price on your very valuables.
  10. Use common sense. Don’t meet alone in the woods to meet your potential buyer, accept cash or money orders only, anonymize your email address and don’t give any more info than you have to, etc.

 

BUYING

What Craigslist is best for: Although Craigslist is very democratic in its presentation of various classified categories, the market has quickly shifted to favor specific items. For instance, Craigslist is excellent for furniture, materials, and technology, but less so for decorative items. And even less so for items like books and clothing. If you’re looking for the latter, eBay, Etsy, or Amazon are superior online shopping destinations.

Location Matters: Depending on your location, stock can change very quickly — the core structure of Craigslist is similar to the blog model, where the most recent classified posts are at the top and older listings get pushed to the bottom. Checking often can yield great results, as the best deals can come and go within hours. If you’re looking to do some heavy buying (or are searching for a very specific piece), I recommend setting up a daily routine at least 3 times a day (morning, noon, night) to check all the new listings. Patience is a virtue.

Use Multiple Keywords: Keyword searching is your friend. Search often, with a wide array of search terms applicable to the category of product you’re hoping to purchase. For instance, searching for “filing cabinet” or “file cabinet” can return separate results depending on the wordage used in specific auction listings. This is something you should keep in mind when selling as well.

The Free Section: The “free” section is a mixed bag. Some people swear by it, others refuse to bother. Many will post items left out on street corners and will not hold them for you since they understandably don’t want to be bothered with reservations, simply wanting someone to pick up discarded items. But incredible deals can be had if you are quick to the draw and are lucky enough to live nearby house and have a car for pickup. Many free things given away are often good enough to be turned for a profit or used for DIY projects.

Create a Shopping Comparison Spreadsheet: If the item that you’re looking for is very common (“IKEA MALM bedframe”) or falls under a very broad category (“midcentury coffee table”), you’ll be faced with a lot of options. Don’t assume the first item is the only one available, nor the best deal. A little extra research and you can find the least used, least expensive, and most convenient to deliver/pickup item. If I come across the same item multiple times, I create a simple Excel document listing the item, its location, the price, and any distinct qualities about it or the seller itself. This way I am able to compare all qualities side-by-side rather than trying to remember them individually. This step may seem trivial for a $10 side table, but will certainly pay off when you’re looking for a high ticket item.

Keep a bookmark folder of Watched Items: If you see something you like, but don’t have the money available, or don’t wish to pay the asking price, wait it out. I scored a white Victoria Ghost chair simply watching and waiting for the right time. Someone posted the chair once, but it never found a buyer, and I emailed them a month later with a much lower price and they accepted.


PURCHASING

Contacting the Seller: Contacting the seller is potentially the most crucial moment of the entire sale process, as first impressions are everything. Remember, a seller is not bound by any rule stating who they must sell to. Even though you’re the first person to reply that doesn’t mean the deal is sealed. Respond in a calm and collected way. Believe me, I realize this can be very hard if the holy grail of your online search comes up out of nowhere for a fair price.

Explain yourself and your intentions as completely, yet briefly as possible. Many sellers are busy people and don’t wish to dedicate much time to this deal. If they see that you’ve written a novel, they might decide to disregard your email. Say who you are, state your interest in the item, confirm how much you’ll pay, and when you’re available to pick up. If the post asks for a phone number, provide it. If not, ask if they’d like one. Many people choose to deal over the phone as it is quicker than playing email tag.

Bargaining: If you’ve come across a fairly common item, you could use this as an opportunity to bargain. This is one of the best qualities of Craigslist — there is rarely a fixed price. Bargain early if the price is higher than comparable posts, or late if the item hasn’t sold (particularly if the seller keeps reposting it to bring its position back to the top of the first page — I’ll talk more about this later.) Of course you want to be considerate when bargaining so as to not offend your seller.

Standing Out From Other Bidders: Try and appeal to the seller if you think you have a particular trait worth mentioning that would help you stand out from other buyers. For example, out of total desperation I’ve responded to more than one ad featuring a modern design classic, such as the Aeron chair. I explained I was a design student with a meager budget, was in love with the chair and could offer “X” amount. Sure enough, the owner was an architect who, despite receiving numerous emails about it, sold it to me for a lower asking price because I was a student of design, and he knew I would probably appreciate it more than anyone else. So be truthful and be yourself. There are a ton of kind people in the world who might be lenient with the price if you just explain your story honestly.

Picking Up Items: Before planning to pick up an item, always double-check the address and scheduled time, and never leave without a phone number. I’ve heard horror stories of people planning to meet someone somewhere, with no phone number, and the seller just never shows up. Communication is key.

Be Cautious: Lastly, and I hate having to say this, but it is always good to exercise caution when visiting a stranger’s house (or vice versa.) If you feel safer having someone tag along, by all means do that. The majority of buyers who have come to my apartment have brought a friend just as a precaution and I think that is a very smart idea.


 

SELLING

What to Sell: Deciding what to sell is the obvious first step. As I mentioned before, some items do better than others on Craigslist. I always choose to sell my tech and my furniture on Craigslist, but tend to make more money on clothes and books through eBay. Craigslist is an excellent way to sell off a dumpster-find or even turn a profit on an item you bought there. Many times you can find things in very poor shape. After a decent cleaning, the item will look much better and can command a higher price once listed. I’ve made literally hundreds of dollars by fixing up trashed furniture or low price items and reselling them days later.

One of my favorite stories was finding a mid-century task chair out on the sidewalk as trash. I picked it up on my arm and biked it home — I must have looked completely crazy. I cleaned it up, made a beautiful listing out of it, and sold it for $75. These kinds of opportunities come up on Craigslist on a daily basis. Keep your eyes peeled for these potential moneymakers as you search.

Listing Photography: I cannot stress enough how crucial good photography is to the success of any online sales listing. I’d argue it is even more important than the description itself. Including good photographs is an easy way of making your product stand out among the competitors. I recommend shooting your items with a DSLR camera. If you don’t have one, try borrowing one from a friend (if you don’t know how to use it, you can find very simple step-by-step tutorialsonline).

If you can’t secure a DSLR for taking your photos, at the very least try to take them in daylight. Natural lighting will make items look more true in color, clear in detail, and inviting. Another helpful tip is to “stage” your items. Just as you would stage your home to sell, staging your belongings in your house can make them that much more attractive to potential buyers. Don’t be afraid to gussy it up with items you wouldn’t normally decorate with. Look at catalogs or websites for staging tips, such as CB2, West Elm, or Design Within Reach.

Remember to capture and show multiple angles, as well as any unique features (including flaws — remember, it pays to be truthful). Combine all of these photography tips and your posts will jump off the page to potential buyers. It also has a secondary effect that tells the buyer that you care about your items and aren’t liable to screw up the sale.

The Product Description: Before you dive into the items you’re selling, get all of the boring information out of the way first. List your location, when you’d be available for pickup, whether or not you’ll accept best offer, if you’re open to trades, types of payment you’ll accept (typically only cash), if delivery is an option, etc. Never include your phone number inside the ad itself.

When you describe your items you’re going to want to break it down two ways: bullet-point comments up top and explanatory text in sentence form down below. For instance:

// Eames Rocker
// White
// Fiberglass
// Dimensions
// Price (compared to retail if you’d like)

Follow up by describing why you’re selling it, unique features (or flaws) in the design, how you got it, and any additional relevant information. This is your opportunity to really sell the item in words. Remember, Craigslist’s search feature will not only search the title but the description as well, so throw in as many keywords as you can (within reason) to improve search relevancy.

Offering Delivery: If you can deliver, it will increase your buyer pool dramatically (especially if it is a large item.) Don’t be afraid to charge a fair fee for your time/gas. I’m an avid cyclist and offer free delivery on my bike if the contents fit in my bag and the buyer is within a certain distance of my house. Include the delivery option in the title itself.

Embedding Hosted Images: A very important step when composing your descriptions is to include the photographs you took inside the description itself. This formatting can make a post stand out compared to stock format listings. Here’s how to do it:

You’re going to need to host your images on a free image server. For those of you who don’t know how to already to this, imagehost.org is a favorite of mine. Upload your images and copy their direct HTML link. In the description box, you’re going to want to use the HTML tag: <*img src=”url link here”> (without the ‘*’) to place your image. This code will insert your pictures into your description. Remember, also include one image in the Craigslist image uploader. This will allow Craigslist to display your photo as a thumbnail when buyers are browsing with the “show image” option enabled.

Creating a Virtual Garage Sale: A second tip worth mentioning is advisable if you plan on listing multiple items: add a list of other available items at the end of each item listing. I’ve seen people use this method when they were selling off their entire apartment before they moved. It was a very helpful way to centralize all the data together and offers buyers the ability to review other items they may be interested in purchasing from you.

Choosing Your Title is Important: I always like to use correct grammatical capitalization for titles, and describe my item as directly as possible. For instance: “White Eames Rocker — Authentic Mid Century Design.”

Be mindful of the location field. I like to put the neighborhood within the city in which I’m living. It helps buyers get a better sense of exact location rather than an incredibly broad city name.

Submitting Your Listing: Once you believe you’ve crafted a successful post, go ahead and submit it. Craigslist usually takes a little while before the post itself goes live. Typically, weekend posts tend to do better than weekday posts, and I always like to post mine around late-afternoon, when people are home from errands, but before they head out to dinner.

People tend to repost their ads on a daily basis. This is technically against the rules. I might re-post mine about twice a week (once on a weekday and once on the weekend). Many sellers simply rely on search terms and you should too.


 

THE SALE

Emails from Sellers:
Now you can sit back and get ready for the emails to come in. It is very important to check your email regularly. I recommend using an automatic mail updating service like Microsoft Outlook or Mac’s Mail application. This will let you know nearly instantly when you have a potential buyer emailing with a question or an intention to buy.

Respond as quickly as you can to all emails. People hate waiting especially if it is an item they want badly and can get it from someone else. Expect some bargaining and lowball offers. If your item is popular and you have multiple emails, explain to the lower bidders that you’ll only accept full price due to interest. You’d be surprised how many lowball offers shoot up to asking when they realize they’re in competition with another buyer.

Weeding Out Buyers and Spam: One other point worth making about Craigslist buyers is that some are outright crazy. If you get a frantic email, poorly written in all caps, demanding to pick it up within the hour, I’d probably ignore it or simply explain that it has already sold. Use your best judgment as to who you’d like to deal with.

Spam is also a problem with Craigslist. If you list a high price item, you’re almost guaranteed to receive spam. It is often easy to distinguish spam from the real thing as they’re written in a very generic and broad format (never referring specifically the item in question.) To alleviate this concern, you can request that potential buyers submit a telephone number in their email or make mention of the item specifically.

Final Sale: When you decide on a buyer and make arrangements to meet, be very sure you adhere to those arrangements. If an emergency comes up, let the buyer know as soon as possible. I always like to confirm the day-of when a buyer is coming to pick something up or I’m going to drop something off.

If you’re dealing with furniture like an IKEA piece, it is good to have the tools present to dismantle it (if the buyer is coming to you) or to assemble it (for an additional charge) just in case they don’t have their own. Little things like this can help prevent an easy sale turning into a nightmare later.

Of course be courteous and help load/unload items. If someone is paying in large bills, don’t be afraid to double-check whether they’re real bills and have them authenticated at a nearby bank. If you’re dealing with a very high priced item, I would even recommend going through PayPal. If the buyer is coming to you, ask them to pay before leaving, so all the monetary issues are complete.

Here are some additional helpful tips for using Craigslist from the Apartment Therapy archives: