how to craigslist

(First off, I’d like to apologize to the grammar nazis who wince whenever someone verbs nouns. Welcome to twenty-first century English, and descriptive linguistics.)

In the course of Sunday nights’ workshop, the topic came up of selling one’s unneeded items to raise money for a cash buffer and/or emergency reserve. As Craigslist is a fantastic resource for this, I figured it would be worthwhile to write up a post, both on the basics of Craigslist and on tips for selling stuff on it effectively.

First, the basics. Craigslist is a completely free website that essentially serves as a big, online classifieds section.  (Yes, you can post “help wanted” ads on it, but for this article, I’m going to focus on selling items.) There’s a separate Craigslist site for each major US city; Austin’s is at austin.craigslist.org.

In case you’re wondering: you can sell anything (legal) on Craigslist. My wife sold her car on it (and this is not uncommon), and for a better price than she would have gotten at a dealer or Carmax!

Putting up an ad for something you want to sell is relatively simple; click on “post to classifieds”, then “for sale”, then the category of the item. You’ll then be presented with several boxes to fill in: a title, the price, your location (e.g. Tarrytown, Round Rock), your e-mail address (which by default is “anonymized” so that spambots don’t see your real e-mail address), a description, and a button for uploading images. Fill it out, click “continue”, and your ad is posted. If you don’t do anything, your ad automatically comes down in 45 days (less in some cities), though you can easily “renew” your ad once every few days, re-setting the 45-day timer.

A few things to know about Craigslist:

1) When figuring out how to price your item, do a simple Google search to figure out what other people are selling similar items for. Prepend your search with “craigslist” or “ebay” to see what the going price is on those services. If your item doesn’t sell quickly enough, adjust the price downward (say, by 5-10%). That may be all it takes.

2) Take pictures and attach them to your ad. If you don’t have a digital camera, you can almost certainly borrow one. If the item you’re selling has a visual defect, include a picture. You don’t want the buyer to find out when they come to pick up the item, and you are open and upfront about any blemishes, people will actually sometimes feel less uncomfortable about buying from you, as they’ll already know what the “catch” is.

3) Take some time to work on the title and description of your item. Again, a Google search will help you quickly find out what information is often posted on a for-sale ad. For technical items, people want detail: make, model, year, specs, all that. Also, let people know why you’re selling the item; again, if they already know the “catch”, they’ll feel more comfortable about contacting you.

4) It helps a great deal to have a phone number listed; again, this helps people feel more comfortable about contacting you. Of course, you might not feel comfortable giving your number out to the world! This is where Google Voice comes in handy. With Google Voice, you can create a free phone number that forwards to any of your existing numbers. (You can only have one Google Voice number per Google account, but there’s nothing keeping you from creating multiple Google accounts…like, for instance, an account for online buying/selling!) You can then customize this number’s behavior; for example, you can have it automatically block calls from certain numbers, or you can leave it on “do not disturb” to automatically send all callers to voice mail (all the time, or during certain times of day), or you can screen calls on-the-fly, etc. etc. Check out the video for a tour.

Now, some of the folks following this blog are doubtless better Craigslisters than I am. So, spill: what tips do you have for selling your stuff online?

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2 thoughts on “how to craigslist

  1. Take only cash. Don’t ship stuff. Absolutely don’t take a cashier’s check for more than the amount of the item and send them money back (even if their “wife” or “secretary” made a mistake but they trust you, really). The only way I would take a cashier’s check is if I walked into the bank of them while they got it – there are fake cashier’s checks & they will clear your bank in a day or two, and then bounce 3 weeks later (with your car long gone). When selling a car, get a bill of sale & immediately register the sale with the state to protect yourself from liability (ie. they rack up parking tickets in the car the state thinks is still yours, or worse, get in an accident or something).

    If you are dealing with a cash purchase, make sure to meet in a public, well lit, etc area. Take a friend, or at least let someone know where you are going, who you are meeting and give them any info about the person you have. Starbucks if your friend.

    We’ve had some good luck selling stuff and some bad luck with scammers and flakes.

    Oh, and Craigslist is a great way to get rid of bulky annoying stuff that you don’t want to bother hauling away yourself. Post “Free, you pick up/load”. We just got rid of a huge pile of bricks that way. It was a win/win deal – they got free bricks, we didn’t have to haul them to the dump. I know people that have done similarly with stuff like basketball hoops, above ground pools, etc.

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