Craigslist Negotiating Secrets

Depending on your point of view, Craigslist is a cesspool of junk or a treasure trove of riches. CraigsList can offer some great deals if you know how to negotiate effectively.

I’ve been compiling a list of best practices to help buyers get the best deal from Craigslist purchases.  The bulk of this article is going to focus on a process for getting the best price on CraigsList items based on my experience. In the second section, I go through an actual email exchange to show how to offer substantially less than the asking price without insulting anyone. In the remaining sections of this post, I’m going to look at some other aspects of buying off CraigsList including a look at scammers and recognizing value.

If you have a technique or a trick that you use to buy stuff, please share it with everyone in the comments.

How to negotiate for the best deal on CraigsList

To get the best deal, you have to be able to walk away from any particular item.  Once you decide you want “that one” all of your negotiating advantages are lost.  The strategy below combines several strategies I’ve used in the past and I think represents pretty much the optimum approach to getting things off CraigsList if you are trying to get the lowest price:

1. Express interest

When you find something you want for sale, write a brief note asking a few questions about it–even if you already know the answer to it.  The goal is just to pass on your email address as an interested party.  If no one else responds to the ad, the seller at least has the email address of one person (you) who might be interested.  Several times, I’ve asked a few questions and decided I wasn’t interested in the item at the price it was offered. Two weeks later as the sellers moving date approached, they wrote me back asking if I’d I’m still interested, but at a greatly discounted price.  Later they told me that I was the only one who had asked them any intelligent questions about the item, so they figured I was the only one who might buy it.

2. Wait 3 to 5 days

The goal here is to identify any sellers who are completely desperate. They are the ones who need to be out of their house tomorrow and are almost willing to give the thing away to have it gone.

3. Make an offer

So first, you respond to all of the items that are for sale, just to get your name in the hands of the seller. Then you wait a few days to see if any of them offer you an incredible deal.  Now, take the items that look the most promising due to their proximity, price, condition, etc. and write them asking if they would be willing to sell it for $X.  Lets say you are looking at a piece of exercise equipment.  After they have responded to your first email with some questions about the item, write them back and say something like:

Thanks for getting back to me.  I’ve been watching for that lawn mower for awhile and I’m seeing it sell in the $800 to $900 range on ebay and in other cities on CraigsList.  I know you are asking $1300.  If you have any interest in selling it for $875 cash, let me know because I’d be interested in coming to see it.

This makes it clear that you have other options.  It also cites other sources identifying prices you’ve seen the item going for in other places. Keep in mind that most people selling something on CraigsList have no idea what it is worth.  Like I said, the prices can be all over the place and are greatly dependent on how motivated the seller is. By finding the lowest price you can get something elsewhere, you are making sure you are making an offer that is not completely unreasonable, but also one that gives you the best deal possible.

4. Wait and Negotiate

Most likely people write you back and say that there is no way they could possibly let it go for that price.  That’s fine.  Be polite.  Remember you only need one and the price you end up paying is inversely proportional to the amount of time you can wait to get it.  A few people will write you back with a lower offer.  Some will say no and then write you back later on with a better offer when their situation changes or when they still haven’t sold it.

You may end up doing some negotiating back and forth.  Delivery might be something worth negotiating.  I bought some exercise equipment and negotiated that they would deliver it and help us set it up. This saved us several hours of time and was much better than trying to get another $100 off the price.


Here is an actual exchange when I was looking for some Bowflex exercise equipment.  This particular exchange I didn’t end up buying the item because I found something else, but it shows how people are willing to drop their price by 50% when their situation changes. In this case they were selling a Bowflex for an asking price of $2,000.

My initial email:

I’m looking for a Bowflex Revolution (not XP) and am willing to pay $1,000.  Will pay cash and pickup with a truck (as long as there is someone to help me load it).

I realize this is well below your asking price so I understand if you aren’t interested, but I thought I’d ask just in case.


Notice I’m not insulting the value of their stuff.  I’m also showing that I’d made the transaction go as smooth as possible by paying cash and showing up with a truck.

Their first reply:


Thank you for taking a look at my ad. I would like to at least get half of what I bought it for (which was 3000), but will negotiate on the price.


The question at this point is how badly do I want it.  I had decided that I didn’t want to pay over $1,000 for this piece of exercise equipment, so I just let him know. Having a budget can be your best friend.  You can also have an agreement with your spouse on how much you want to spend. Having something external (spouse, budget, etc.) that is helping put an upper limit on what you can spend is very good negotiating tactic.

The point is you don’t want to get into an argument about how much something is worth.  How much it is worth isn’t relevant. It is worth whatever you are willing to pay and the seller is willing to accept.


$1,500 puts it out of my budget.  Let me know if you are interested in taking $1,000 for it.  Otherwise I’ll probably have to lower my sights and go with one of the Ultimate 2 Bowflex units that people are selling for $700 or so.

Have a great Christmas!


Notice that I still offered my original price and I validated that he has a good unit by saying that I’d “lower my sights” and get something different. Also notice that I’m not saying that the item isn’t worth what he is asking for it.  Someone convinced him to pay $3,000 for this thing. I’m not going to help my negotiating position by acting like he made a foolish investment or saying that it isn’t worth that price.

About a week an a half later I got this:


Hello i was wondering if you were still interested in the BowFlex Home gym. Some unfortunate events have happened with my job and i would be willing to sell the BowFlex to you.


By that point I had gotten an even better deal on a different unit, so I had already found a great deal on a different piece of equipment. But I’ve seen this type of scenario play out several times and if you are willing to follow the process, you can get a pretty good deal on things by making a lower offer and then simply waiting until someone is desperate enough to want to get rid of it.

Watch for scammers

If something seems completely too good to be true, it normally is.  However if you follow this rule entirely, you’ll miss out on any of the great deals.  Keep in mind that the value of used item can be all over the place.  When someone is faced with moving something big and heavy that they don’t use, their value of that item is greatly diminished.

So how do you spot scammers if you can’t follow the “too good to be true” advice? The easiest way is to look for people doing things that are weird. For example, I was looking for a large lawn tractor in the Kansas City area. I found what looked like an incredible deal and emailed the seller. She said that the tractor belonged to her father who had passed away and she had moved it to Canada where she lived and was trying to sell it. She implied that her father lived in Kansas City and so she listed it there, but it hadn’t sold by the time she moved it to Canada. She said she would sell it through an escrow service so I’d be protected until I inspect the tractor after she shipped it back to me.

First of all, no one in their right mind is going to ship a tractor to Canada only to try to turn around and sell it again in Kansas City.  Second, no one is going to ship a tractor back to Kansas for someone to look at without a guaranteed sale. It was obviously some type of scam and I saw dozens of similar listings in the tractor section.

So watch out.  If someone wants you to do something weird to buy an item, it most likely is a scam.  Put yourself in the sellers shoes and see if what they are asking seems at all reasonable.

Consider mileage and moving costs

If you live in a rural area like me, you need to make sure you consider the cost of travel.  Make sure you don’t lose all of your savings in the distance you have to travel to go and get the thing. For larger items, you may even have to rent a moving van or trailer.

Know what you want

If you can determine exactly what you want, you will put yourself in the best position. Many items come through CraigsList, so do your homework ahead of time and wait for the right item at the right price. One big advantage of this approach is that you know what to watch out for as well.  For example, if you are looking at a particular lawn mower, make sure you research all the potential problems so you will know what to look out for when one comes up on CraigsList.  You’ll save yourself a lot of time by asking questions over the phone.

Doing this research ahead of time means you’ll have a better idea about the value of an item.  For example, a $2,000 lawnmower selling for $1,000 might seem like a great deal.  But if the expected life on the lawnmower is 200 hours and it already has 150 hours, it doesn’t look like quite as good of deal any more.

You don’t always get what you pay for

CraigsList is one of those places where you can really exploit the difference between what something is worth to you and what it is worth to the person selling it.  A 700 pound piece of exercising equipment, might be worth $1,000 to you, but to someone who needs to move out of their apartment in two days, it might only be worth $50 if you will come get it.  If you lose your job and need some cash, you will probably be willing to take much less for that extra television set you never use or a movie collection you never watch than what you paid for it.

You will easily find the same item in the same condition going for $500 to $1500.  The price has more to do with how much the seller uses it, how much they need the cash and how quickly they need it out of their house.


  1. Adam Foh says

    “She said she would sell it through an escrow service so I’d be protected until I inspect the tractor after she shipped it back to me.”

    May I know why isn’t escrow going to make it safe besides the waste of time?

  2. Me says

    This is good information. As much as craigslist has become a part of many lives, there must be a lot of people who want to know more. I have a domain name,, that is parked, but still gets regular traffic from people looking for good information on how to use craigslist effectively.

  3. Moxie says

    Not insulting the quality of the seller’s item is good advice. I have never responded well to that tactic. It just makes me not want to do business with that person.

  4. Fred says

    Excellent tips, I’m on the seller side right now and this information is a big help! I love it when someone takes the time to point out a grammatical error, so I’m hoping you do to :)

    So first, you respond to all of the items that are for sell,

    should be

    So first, you respond to all of the items that are for sale,

    Again, fantastic tips (you should write an ebook ;)

  5. Willie says

    I have been doing it for years. Go in wanted section asking for treadmill or elliptical. Bought
    a nice almost new Proform xp 130 for $65.00 mint condition and sold it back on Craigslist for $200.00 just a few hours later. Nice catchy headline “Super Bowl Elliptical”. Rinse and repeat.

  6. Elizabeth says

    Nothing annoys me more than people asking if I will be willing to negotiate BEFORE they have viewed the item or even scheduled an appointment.

    • allysa says

      The reason I negotiate a price before I see the item in person is because if the seller isnt willing to go down to my price range before I see the item, I wouldnt want to waste time and gas to go see the item. Also it keeps me from making rash decisions. For instance I wanted to buy a harry potter dvd collection that cost 200, but my asking price was 100 dollars. I texted the guy and told him my best offer and a few days later he got back to me because, just as mark said there were few buyers. After a few days I got it for 50.

  7. James says

    I wonder what your thoughts are about Craigslist sellers who list an item and say “me an offer” as the only option, i.e., without listing any asking price. Of course, these sellers are trying to get as much as possible for the item, so they are afraid to mention a price in case someone is willing to pay more than they are asking. So the buyer is expected to a. Name a price for an item that he only sees in the listing’s small photograph , or b. Drive to the seller’s house (which may be a considerable distance if this is an uncommon item), inspect the item, and make what he considers to be a reasonable offer, possibly to learn that the seller wanted much, much more. My response to this situation has been a polite version of the following: “I’d be happy to drive to your place, look at the item and make you an offer, but I need to know in advance if we’re even in the same ballpark as far as price. I’d hate to waste your time.” (ahem)

    • says

      I think it is reasonable to agree on a price based on what you know. So basically saying, “I’m willing to pay $X if everything is what I’m expecting.” If they agree to the price, go look at the item. If you find issues, you can negotiate once you get there. If you don’t reach a price that you are happy with, simply don’t buy it.

  8. Lenny says

    Wonderful tips and tricks Mark. I use(d) them all, all the time.

    All in all you need to enjoy this stuff too.. Our generation has evolved to ‘instant gratification’ which is great for a seller on CL but I am old school and like a good negotiation.

    I have one more technique, especially to speed things up: ‘Annoy/Frustrate’

    So I do take it a step further than you . I use 4-6 different email accounts and pound the seller with questions.. Some beginner, some advanced questions, All with different writing styles for John the welder, Pete the accountant, Linda the housewife etc.

    For PC gear e.g, I ask whether they want to sell it in part? Without the monitor? Just the monitor? Can they reinstall windows? Can you put Linux on it?. Does it have Office? Is it yours to sell? I am never rude, mean or saying they paid too much. Always come off a bit ‘clueless’ if you will. Key item is that you want as many NO’s as you can get (will not reinstall, does not have printer, no monitor, can not drop off). These NO’s are great bargaining chips later on.. “Since it doesn’t do/have X will you sell for lower?” I never offer an actual monetary price, because the game is up when they agree to that…. always use ‘above my budget’ type statements.

    With all accounts I asked for better pricing, low balling beyond belief sometimes trying to induce empathy… My wife (not married) just lost her job back in November but I am trying to buy my son (don’t have kids) at least something nice for Xmas.

    For 1-2 days I keep pounding additional one liner questions and trying to lock in lower prices.. (I don’t need that printer, can you try to sell that and lower the price?). I keep going down till I STOP hearing from them… This accomplishes the first phase of the negotiation…annoyance. The seller realizes that this is not going to be a 1-2-3 thing and reality will start setting in.

    As an occasional seller myself I know what this does to the seller…. It ANNOYS the heck out of you! Yes, I know… been there….You just want to sell but you have to entertainer all these, mostly dumb, questions. Why do people not just STFU and show up with cash and pick up my product without asking any questions!!!!!! Well, that’s not how the world works. As you can imagine, I especially like dealing with sellers who “don’t want to waste time”…. so much fun!!!!!

    I recall selling a couch.. I ended up selling it 5 TIMES! Yes, people had agreed to buy it but never showed up, chickened out, never heard from again (always, always follow up with a contemptuous story about honour, claiming the moral high ground etc. They ended up breaking a level of trust, the nicest you can do is to give them a mental ‘kick’. in the butt. I have several ones typed up, so just copy paste.. BTW a tip: To avoid people saying yes but then ‘picking it up tomorrow’… Ask before they see it that if they want to buy it, you need x% or y$ down. That deters a lot of people from even coming to see it.

    Side note: True story… a student and her father showed up to buy a couch. When seeing it they decided not to get it but I had a ton of other stuff for sale too and they got a lamp, nightstand and table.. .they loaded it up, paid and left. Not 30 min later they showed up again… “we wanted a couch but now we have all this other stuff and not enough money left to buy a couch…” if I could refund them their money?.. to which I replied.. “Make me an offer… I don’t need a lamp, table and nightstand.”. It was the easiest 30% I ever made!

    Anyways…I keep pounding to the point that they STOP emailing me back and have offered me their lowest of lowest price (we’re now usually in the 25-30% range)

    Then I go silent on ALL accounts for 1-2 days, regardless of whether they contact me. Next, if the seller is somewhat ‘motivated’, and they are, they WILL come back.. I had people curse me out and yet 2 days later they came crawling back to accept my low ball offer… (If not, and you really want it, you now have a good idea of their floor price and you go in with a yet another account)

    The funny bit is that they will come back to all the accounts I’ve used to contact them. They think they have a ton of potentials lined up where in reality it’s just you….

    This is when the real fun starts….. Obviously I am not going to say “OMG, thank you so much for accepting my offer. Let me run over right now and give you your money and thank you thank you thank you for your willingness to sell it to me!!!” No, no, no…

    My standard response is usually along the lines of ‘Who is this?”, :What was this for?”.”Didn’t you offer me this at $200 at some point and now you want $400?”.. Annoying, especially since the correspondence is usually right there in the email… Then after having gone back and forth a little (and don’t do this right away!!!!) 3 or 4 of my accounts will go into the last phase of my technique: frustration.

    I accomplish this by ending the conversation with lines like:

    ‘Found another one’
    “I bought a laptop instead..”
    ‘I am no longer in town and I needed it so got another one’

    But those are kinda definite…so you could a little further by saying:

    “No longer interested in your PC”

    (what does that even mean??? still looking then? ha ha ha, wonderful to leave questions in sellers mind)

    ‘I am still looking for a PC, but didn’t like how you treated me’
    ‘Weren’t you the a’hole who didn’t want to negotiate?” (totally ok being a bit rude at this step, they rejected you but are now coming back to you)

    Or if you want to pull some real nails…

    “Oh thanks, but there were so many for sale that I ended up buying a PC with more memory for about 1/2 what you were offering. I just didn’t want to deal with going back and forth. Good luck, I am sure you will find someone else willing to pay top dollar for your top product!”

    (lovely little snide)

    ‘Actually am surprised you contacted me again after our emails… I bought a slightly MORE expensive PC since the guy was just nicer about it. Good luck selling”

    (This frustrates the seller to no avail, since he will now think ‘ahhhh you could have had mine @ this price…”)

    “Yeah.. about that.. yours was XXX but I settled on a similar machine for XXX+150 but that included a (low price item) mouse, thanks anyways’

    (This is another great one.. the seller will be so frustrated and think you are DUMB for buying something he is ONLY NOW offering to you for less…. This one will always invoke a response back from seller “you could have had mine…’ which offers a wonderful platform to lob some insults back to seller.)

    All the potentials lined up are dropping like birds in summer…..

    Recall that you still have 1-2 accounts which are in the game… again, the seller now gets back to you… while initially rejecting your offer.. The tables are turned.. You ‘needed’ a PC, but now they ‘need’ to sell one… this is a whole new wonderful opportunity to go even lower and get more goodies. The seller might thing you are continuing, but the previous price semi agreed upon is now a ceiling and no longer a floor.

    ‘Well yes, interested but I don’t have the $300 now, I can give you $200 now or $300 when I get my paycheck next month up to you’

    ‘I didn”t need that PC to start with really, it’d be nice to have though, so what is your lowest price?’

    ‘I am without car this week, any chance you can come drop it off at the Dunkin next to my house in my town?’

    ‘I know I said I didn’t want that printer, but kinda want it after all so if you throw that in…’

    From experience I know that by this point the seller is usually so beat up they will accept anything…and the sale will happen.

    Some readers might find my technique questionable… well. all is Fair in Love and War… Most sellers will feel entitled and are insulted if you even ask for lower prices…. At no point did I force the seller to sell, held a gun against his head. I only created a small universe for him where I dictate the rules and used it to turn the tables.

    I practice (no intend on actually buying) my skills on people selling Apple products. Apple owners are usually the more snobby, entitled types anyways and it’s hilarious to see they want to sell their Apple they got for $2300 2 years ago for 2000 today. Sellers are very confused about price, cost and value.

    These are some actually lines from ads that keep me coming back:

    ‘I just lowered the price… don’t bother negotiating. The cost of the memory and SSD was almost $600 alone’

    ‘If the item is on craigslist it is available so WILL NOT REPOND TO EMAILS ASKING IF ITS STILL AVAILABLE’
    ‘No phone number WILL NOT RESPOND TO EMAIL’
    ‘This monster configuration will run you at least $2550+ after tax from’
    ‘You’ll be getting effectively a brand new computer with upgraded SSD and processor for less than you can get a new’

    All these suggest that the owner are very entitled.

    So go ahead, look up your town, search for Apple and set the price to 1500 minimum!

    And btw: I am writing a book

    • ^^this guy's a jerk says

      thank you for making buying/selling a scam and a game. You sir, are a jerk. What ever happened to just being wholesome and friendly, buying/ selling at a fair price? I’m all for being frugal, but your tactics are dishonest. In fact it disgusts me you made $ off that poor dad and daughter looking for a couch. But I’m sure you sleep fine. And no one would buy that book.

  9. Wiggy says

    Wow Lenny. I can see why you aren’t married or have children. You spend all your time trying to make people want to strangle you. You have way too much time on your hands.

  10. Madi says

    I completely agree with the previous person. What a scam artist! Have you ever heard of karma?
    This little game that you play will one day come around to nip you in the bid when you least expect it and then the last laugh will be on you!

  11. Gp says

    Hi Mark, I really appreciate your pointers, they’ll be a big help. What are your thoughts on a seller who bought some furniture brand new, used it once, and is now selling it 20% off? Would it be unwise to try to negotiate any lower?

  12. Ciel says

    As a more frequent seller than buyer, I usually just price things to sell. For example, right now I have a solid oak 25 year old table that is usable but has finish problems and is not mint or close to it. So it is priced at $50.00 which I think is a fair price for furniture that is still usable. I really don’t think I should have to go lower.
    Should my seller tactic be just to price it higher so I can entertain offers? If on Craigslist buyers are going to look and offer lower, how do I, as a seller, fairly price an item?
    I usually say “Priced to Sell”.

  13. Edward says

    What do you do when someone says the price is firm?

    It think sellers typically price things too high. I think sellers should setup a “reverse auction” pricing. That is publish the price they really want to get for it and they think is reasonable, and a series of 3 price drops and the dates at which they will make these drops, e.g. drop to in x-number of days or weeks,. The final price being the absolute lowest they are willing to go at the last date. It is a price discovery mechanism. If the items are reasonably priced they should be able to catch the person willing to pay the most, rather than go through the hassle of negotiating individually. Buyers should think hard on before the price drops as to whether they are willing to let someone else out bid them. The seller’s item may go at the bottom price, but it is an indication of what the item is worth to other people out there.

  14. JC says

    I am a Craiglist seller, and I can assure everyone here that I don’t accept lowball offers on anything. I don’t have to. Everything is “firm price” and if you contact me with a lower offer, I will not respond. You see, I am not in a hurry to sell my things at all. I am not trying to “get rid of stuff”. I can certainly hang on to it for as long as I want to. I am entitled to do that, even if you disagree with it. Either pay the price that’s listed, or find it somewhere else. Actually, if you are lowballing then you must believe the item is easier to find elsewhere at a better price – so do it!

  15. Robin says

    JC, some people price things too high because they have no idea what their item is worth. And yes, you have every right to hold on to your items, because if no one’s biting at the price you’ve set them at, they’re worth that much to you.

    Other people don’t see it that way. They see it as trimming the fat in their household, and making a bit of extra cash while cleaning out their house is double rewarding for them, even if they accept low offers.

    I tend to offer what I think the item being sold is worth, be it 10-25-50% off what the seller is asking for. Everyone has a price, and if the seller doesn’t like yours they can be polite and decline. That’s all there is to it.

  16. Brittany says

    Question, when buying from craigslist and someone says you are first but there are 5 other buyers, and you offer full price, they agree one everything ..then someone offers say 1500 for what was listed at 600 , how do you respond?

    • says

      Probably depends what the item is worth to you. They aren’t really obligated to sell it to you, so you are free to up your price or tell them that you are happy to buy it for the agreed amount. If they no longer want to sell it for that amount, just keep looking for another seller.

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