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How to Sell on Craigslist without Losing Your Sanity

Updated on March 9, 2013
Craigslist tips you can bank on!
Craigslist tips you can bank on! | Source

Lose Your Clutter. Keep Your Sanity.

Craigslist is a bonanza of bargains and a plethora of potential extra cash. It's free, it's simple, and setting up an account doesn't require you to submit W-9's, scanned driver's licenses, or credit card numbers. Best of all, for the environmentally conscious and socially responsible, it's a great way to give new life to used goods that might be a bit worn around the edges, but still have plenty of functional life.

As with all things good and popular, though, Craigslist does have a down side. Sometimes, it even has a dark side; from scammers to the occasional (but rare) sociopathic predator who uses the site, it lends itself to abuse. My own experience with Craigslist (which I use both regularly and frequently) has been positive. However, there are some personal policies I use to keep me safe and to minimize the frustration of dealing with the infamously flaky Craigslist buyer.

Think Safety First!

That extra pocket cash isn't worth becoming a victim over. As with anything else you do, keep safety in mind in your Craigslist dealings. Without going into a comprehensive personal-safety program here, I'll offer a few suggestions to help you avoid being victimized.

  • Avoid selling items that are known to attract the criminal element. Cell phones, tablet electronic devices (iPads, Kindles, etc.), hot brands of "gangsta" athletic shoes, jewelry, and illegal substances are going to get the attention of people who may be just a bit shady. If you're knowingly getting involved in a deal with someone who has no qualms about fencing hot goods, or who will break laws relating to certain devices and products, what makes you think they're going to be honest with you? If someone is willing to engage in property crimes or drug offenses, do you trust them with your life? Heck, you don't even know them!
  • Avoid selling very valuable and easily-fenced goods. That rare coin collection is easy to fence or pawn, and isn't traceable. Craigslist probably isn't the best place to sell it. If you have items that can bring someone quick cash without being easily identified by serial number or other reliable identifying marks, you are engaging in something a little more risky by advertising it to the general public. Would you walk down an urban street flashing your rolls of cash? Don't do the Craigslist equivalent by advertising your authentic Rolex or your gold Krugerrands.
  • Avoid attracting individuals to your home. Offer to meet in public places, such as well-lit parking lots at restaurants or at the coffee shop where the police often take their breaks. Don't be shy about telling the potential buyer, "Let's meet at this location because it's public, it's safe, and there's a security camera right there." Let them know that you pay attention to your own personal security.
  • If you do sell items from your home, don't let the buyer into the house. Meet them in the driveway. Tell them your big dog is aggressive and you can't let anyone in for liability purposes because if he mauls another person, you might lose your insurance.
  • Always speak in the plural pronoun. It's a good idea to tell them, "We're always home, but that time isn't convenient," or otherwise indicate that there are multiple residents and that your home is generally occupied. When meeting someone in public, tell them "we" can meet them.

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Deal in Cash.

Make your life easy: put the words, "Cash only / No checks," in your ad, and reinforce that when you're making arrangements to sell your property to someone. Stick to it. Sure, the odds are good that most people are good and honest people who can be trusted to write you a check -- but the odds are 100% when you don't take checks at all. If someone has checks to write, they have a bank account, and if they have a bank account, they have access to cash. It's that easy.

Avoid "Holding" Items for Buyers.

Okay, the average Craigslist buyer isn't out to commit murder and mayhem, and isn't even wanting to scam you. The average buyer is wanting to save some money and get a smokin' deal on a used item. It's the average buyer who will drive you crazy, though -- because the average buyer doesn't always show up on time (or at all) even after they've asked you to hold an item because they "absolutely must have it!"

My suggestion is to refuse to hold items -- or to hold them for a specific time or date only. Place this, too, in your ad: "No holds!"

Minimize Frustration: Don't Schedule Your Entire Day Around the Buyer.

Time might not always be money -- but it's far more valuable. You can't save it, you can't replace it, and you can't earn more of it. Don't waste it waiting on no-shows and tardy buyers. Because they're found in abundance on Craigslist, you can save yourself plenty of frustration by planning around them.

  • Rather than offer one or two items on Craigslist at any given time, go on an occasional "Craigslist blitz." Just as if you're planning a garage sale, make a list of all your sale items and prepare them to sell at the same time. Photograph everything at once; post them all at the same time; and plan on a specific day or two to be available to show them to potential buyers. Doing your sales "assembly line" will save you much time in the long run. It will also have the advantage of letting you potentially sell additional items to buyers. You can easily say, "Hey, can I interest you in a ____ to go along with that?"
  • Set very specific boundaries with buyers: "Yes, I'll be available from nine a.m. until ten, when I have other people coming to look at other items. However, I won't be available any time after ten." You don't have to be rude or mean about it -- just direct. It's aggravating to kill an entire morning or afternoon waiting for someone who never shows.
  • If someone stands you up once, move on. Most of the time (not every time, though) that I've given second chances to people, they've missed those, too.

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Be Firm.

If you have an item that will likely attract many potential buyers, you're best to advertise the price as "Firm." Again, if your free time is as important to you as it is to me, or if you're spending costly gas dollars to drive somewhere to meet someone to show them your item, you will find it aggravating to have them offer you half as much as you're asking.

To combat this, I often advertise, "Offers are welcome -- but you MUST make them before meeting to see the item. It saves us both time if you know whether we're willing to accept what you're willing to pay." It sounds crazy, doesn't it, to ask for offers prior to viewing something? It's even crazier that it works!

Be Honest and Descriptive in Your Ad.

Posting a deceptive or misleading ad will cause you as much aggravation as it will cause your potential buyer. Just as with online dating candidates who post a deliberately misleading photograph, hoping that just maybe their prospective soulmate won't notice that they're 250 pounds heavier, three inches shorter, and twenty years older than the picture shows, deceptive Craigslist advertisers are also headed for disappointment. Your buyer will notice that the stereo system you're selling doesn't work, or that the entire right quarter panel of the car is smashed in, so let them know upfront. If it matters when they're first looking at the ad, it'll matter when they see the object, too -- so get it out of the way before they spend the time to come look.

Better yet, photograph any damage and post the photo. You may scare off a few people browsing the ads, but your success rate when showing the item to potential buyers will increase. People will know you're being honest; they'll know what to expect; and they won't spin their wheels looking at something that they would have known right from the get-go wasn't going to meet their needs.

Be completely descriptive in your ad. At minimum, your ad should tell (where applicable) the brand, year, type, size, color and condition of the item you're selling. You'll save yourself plenty of time otherwise spent in answering very basic questions, such as, "What finish does the oven have?" You'll also attract more potential buyers. When I'm looking for an item, I won't even open an ad that says, "Saddle $250." I move right on down the list to the one that tells me, "Custom western reining saddle," in the title, and offers all the relevant details in the body of the ad.

Don't forget those photos! I'm one of the many who won't bother clicking on an ad that doesn't offer photos. Life's short, and I'd rather spend my imagination on other things than trying to guess what an item looks like.

Craigslist Items and Cookies: Better by the Batch!

Group your items by type before posting your ads. You can then cross-reference your ads. If you're selling Harley gear, and you have someone coming to look at one item, they're a logical candidate to look at the rest of your items. You will do better than if you post ten Harley ads across three months' time.

If you find it tedious to post all your goods at once, take a group shot of them in addition to the individual close ups. Note in your ad, "Other items, as seen in bottom photo, are also available."

Go Forth and Profit!

Craigslist can be a lot of fun -- and lucrative, too. If you don't set some boundaries, it can also be a downright hassle. Set your own ground rules, stick to them, and you'll find it's an easier environment to work in. I've found it a very useful site and have had great success in selling many unwanted items, but I enjoy it even more now that I know how to make it work for me -- rather than feeling as if I work for it.

Good luck -- and be safe!

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller

All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express permission of the author. However, this link may be freely shared.

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    • MJennifer profile image
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      Marcy J. Miller 3 years ago from Arizona

      Jeannie, thanks for visiting and commenting! The problem with the unattractive chair was probably only that you didn't have an entire matched set of six. You'd be shocked at what I sell. I recently had two garage sales and offered everything at ridiculously low prices. After the sale, I raised the prices on several items and sold them promptly on CL -- even though I'd had photos of them in my garage sale ad on CL. Go figure! Best -- MJ

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Thank you for the useful tips. I have yet to be successful in selling items on Craigslist, but then again, I was trying to sell a rather unattractive chair and a computer from the '90s. Maybe one day I will sell something someone actually wants to buy. Thanks again for the advice!

    • MJennifer profile image
      Author

      Marcy J. Miller 4 years ago from Arizona

      Sheila, I bet you'll have that motorcycle sold in no time. I sold my husband's Harley to the first buyer who responded on Craigslist. (Yes, it was with my husband's permission!) Good luck and best wishes! -- MJ

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 4 years ago

      Thanks again for the info. I've listed my used motorcycle at what I think is a reasonable price. I'm hoping that since summer is here, I might get it sold.

    • MJennifer profile image
      Author

      Marcy J. Miller 4 years ago from Arizona

      Hi, Sheila -- thanks for stopping by! I generally get responses within the first 24 - 48 hours on most items. The regular users on Craigslist check in daily, so inquiries come quickly if they are going to come at all. This doesn't seem to apply to clothing or collectibles -- those categories seem to be glutted, and with so much to go through, it's almost as if users don't wade through the plethora of items.

      There's also a phenomenon similar to that of listing a house. Larger or unique items seem to grow stale if left on for more than a week. I'll often pull my items and then put them back on several weeks later, because the "CL community" tends not to respond to older ads. People do get excited about "fresh" items, though, and that's when it gets down to where you have to draw boundaries about holding things. I sold an above-ground pool on CL and could quite literally have sold it ten times over. It really taught me that it isn't wise to hold items because when they're hot, there is a feeding frenzy!

      I use CL a lot for selling everything from horses to musical equipment, landscape items, appliances from remodeling, and just about everything in between. It has been my experience that physically small items don't sell well on CL -- I don't know why that is.

      Thank you so much for commenting. I hope you enjoy using CraigsList as much as I do.

      -- MJ

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 4 years ago

      I've just recently posted my first item for sale on Craig's List. I'm a complete novice there, but I'm glad to see that my common sense matches up to a lot of what you say here in your article. I'll have to keep in mind all of the great advice you offered in case I ever have more items to post. I do have a couple of questions. In your experience, how long does it usually take to get responses to an add? Or does that all depend on the particular type of item you're selling?

    • MJennifer profile image
      Author

      Marcy J. Miller 4 years ago from Arizona

      I don't know what I'd do without Craigslist, LeTotten -- in general I've dealt with great people. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • LeTotten profile image

      LeAnna Totten 4 years ago

      I sell on craigslist. No bad experiences yet. But, I am careful. Lately, I had requests to deliver some furniture items and I had someone go with me to do that.

    • MJennifer profile image
      Author

      Marcy J. Miller 4 years ago from Arizona

      Thanks, Bill! I always hate to hear of people having those awful experiences. It's a great site, indeed -- but sellers are wise to be cautious. I appreciate your comment!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great suggestions MJ! I know of someone who was attacked by a "buyer" and I have kept that lesson in the back of my mind. Having said that, I have had great luck with craigslist and made some good money on that site...but it always pays to be safe.