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.