So you want to buy something on Craigslist. Maybe you’ve got a few treasures you’d like to sell as well. That’s all well and good, but don’t go to that website without a little background first. You’ll prevent a bit of heartache, trust me.
First off, what is Craigslist? Back around 2003, My buddy Dave showed me this classified ad website which apparently had really cheap Macs around the NY City area, where he lives. I didn’t really touch it until I was out of school and needed to make some spare cash. Craigslist was founded around 1999 as a mostly-free classified ad website, a place where people in each city can buy/trade/zell/give away their junk, find a job, or even have some romance. A detailed history can be found here.
How it works Craigslist has a classified ad site for most major cities/regions. For example, in Rochester, NY, the site is rochester.craigslist.org. What if you live in Boston? boston.craigslist.org is for you. The same thing goes for Tel Aviv, Moscow, and the sparsely used page for Ghana. Look alike, don’t they? CL tries to keep things consistent. Beyond that, the Web design is so nice and simple, free of giant annoying banner ads.
Pricing CL is mostly free, making it very effective for small businesses and people selling their junk to make money on the side. They’ve figured out that charging only for real estate listings in large cities is enough to subsidize the whole site. When CL’s CEO Jim Buckmaster was approached by some Wall Street investors, he simply stated, “Craigslist has little interest in maximizing profit, instead it prefers to help users find cars, apartments, jobs, and dates.” Welcome to the Gift Economy, folks.
Great things CL has helped me sell TONS of stuff that was just too heavy to sell/ship to eBay buyers. It has also helped me find TONS of deals, including a Saab convertible I bought dirt cheap! It is a great source for winter tires, alloy wheels, and other stuff that would otherwise rot in people’s backyards. The vast majority of my experiences on CL have been great ones, with friendly everyday Joes looking to buy or sell their junk that wouldn’t be worthwhile to list in the newspaper.
It’s a good idea to buy at least one item on CL to see what it’s all about before you jump headfirst into selling. Head to your local Craigslist website (open up a new Web browser and type, for example, omaha.craigslist.org and press enter). If you can’t find it, just go to craigslist.org and select your city on the right.
You’re then presented with the famous main page. The only thing that differentiates it from other CL pages is the city name up top. Next, select a category you’re interested in. Auto Parts, Electronics, Business (forklifts and deep fryers), Photo/Camera, even Garage Sale announcements! (Don’t wander off to the Discussion Forums… shudder I can already smell the espresso, cloves, and smugness.)
Once you click a category, its current listings will display, sorted from newest to oldest. Depending on how many items have been posted in the past 90 days, you may even have a few pages of listings! Find an item you like and click on its title. Tada! Here is a traditional Craigslist post:
Read it over, wince at the misspellings (yay none here), squint at the crappy cellphone pics, and decide that you want it! If they don’t list a cell phone number, you see an their anonymized email address (similar to the old Newspaper Personals).
You can click on the email address to send them an offer, but note that clicking on the email requires an Email Client to be installed on your computer (such as Outlook/Thunderbird). Clicking on it without email client software set up results in an error that your client isn’t set up. If you see it, just cancel out of it. Your best bet is to RIGHT-CLICK the anonymized email address and click Copy Email Address. Then pull up your own email page/program and paste that email address into the “To:” field. Continue writing them an email as normal.
I’m going to say this over and over again, Craigslisters are very noncommittal. Don’t be surprised if a seller has already sold the item, doesn’t reply at all, or is completely unable to make an appointment. (As a buyer, I struggle to convince people that I’m not as flaky as the rest of them, and I’ve even offered to give someone an instant down-payment via PayPal!) If you do receive a response, most of the time it’s first-come-first-served, and bring cash. I’ve been sent back to an ATM many a time because, understandably, Craigslisters don’t like checks.
Finally, be sure to get directions/mapquest printouts, or put their address into your GPS device and make sure you have their phone number so you can call them if you get lost. Hopefully you’ll make it there, buy that bargian item, and make a new friend in the process. I even reconnected with an old friend through someone i did business with on CL!
Advanced Buying So let’s say there aren’t many good Porsches in your city. You’ve tried searching in nearby cities and still, they’re either salvage or Tiptronic models… in other words undriveable. Believe it or not, there’s a way to search the entire Craigslist for something you want. The first time I had a buyer call me from far away I was a little shocked, but he explained to me that he used SearchTheEntireCraigslist.com to find the rare speakers I had for sale, and after receiving/verifying his payment, I sent the speakers to him.
That’s all well and good, but then you have to put up with those giant annoying banner ads. Instead, just go on over to Google and type what you want, followed by a space, then “site:craigslist.org”. For example, 2002 Porsche Boxster site:craigslist.org or Zojirushi rice cooker site:craigslist.org and pof! your pick of the world’s best cars and rice cookers. Just note that searching the entire Craigslist via Google is an imprecise science and may show a few outdated results, but it’s pretty darn effective.
So now that you’ve bought something on Craigslist, let’s talk about selling. Online classifieds such as CL (and eBay’s jealousy-child Kijiji) are a very disruptive technology – They’re free, easy, fast, and even the stupidest technophobes eventually find their way onto them. The only way I’d use the newspaper nowadays is if I had a car that wasn’t selling online!
Listing on Craigslist is fairly simple! Just go to your local CL site (or that of a neighboring city) and click Post to classifieds. Most listings won’t require the free account, but having one saves you from verification hassles each time you post. You may then select a type of listing (Job, personal, housing, for sale, even want ads!). For most doodads, you’ll click for sale then select a category, such as Computers, Auto Parts, or Cell Phones. You’re then presented with the following page:
Feels like the DMV but without the condescending stares, doesn’t it? Not to worry. Here’s what you do:
- Title Come up with a nice catchy title such as NICE RICE COOKER ZOMG WOW!!!111 – Note that your entire post is searchable, so you won’t have to put keywords inside the title to include yourself in more search results.
- Price This is your asking price – Keep in mind that people will always offer you a few bucks less than that.
- Location – Town or even a nearby landmark such as Charlotte Beach or 12 Corners.
- Reply-To – At this point you’ll have to put in your actual email address, and then a second time to confirm. Note that this address will be anonymized, and people will simply see something like email@example.com. If you prefer not to receive email inquiries, just click Hide. Craigslist will remind you that you should provide some means of contact, i.e. your phone number.
- Description – Here’s your chance to describe your item! Make it short & sweet, use bullet points to keep their attention, and thank the readers for checking out your post.
- Photos! – A picture is worth a thousand words, and beyond that, most people want to see what they’re buying. It gets them excited. Click “add photo” then choose up to 4 photos from your hard drive – for example, if your digital camera dumps its photos in to your My Documents\My Pictures folder, grab the appropriate photos from there, and a green circle indicates each photo has indeed been uploaded. Make sure the photos are good and clear, and not 900 megapixels either!
- That’s it! – Click Continue to proceed.
CL will then tell you to check your email in a few seconds (as seen above). There you will find a confirmation message with a link to manage that listing. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES DELETE THAT EMAIL! If you lose it, you will not be able to activate, modify or take the posting down before its 90 days is up. YOU HAVE to open the email and activate it before it will show up on the site. (If you list it while signed in to your Craigslist account, your account holds all your auctions and you won’t have to worry about the confirmation email.)
Don’t be discouraged if you receive a message stating that your item has been flagged for removal. You may have posted the item before (don’t re-post until the 90 days is up!) or someone may have taken offense to it. On the flipside, if it’s funny/clever enough, it may be nominated for the Best of Craigslist Hall of Fame! There you’ll find people searching for everything from “beard mentors” to time traveling companions! Hours of fun I tellya.
The utopian/idealist CL is not without its fair share of problems… (deep inhale):
- Traders On that foggy San Francisco morning when Craigslist was founded, someone sent out a memo, and that memo read “Paintball guns and Dodge Neons are legal currency.” I swear. If I had a penny for every time some stoner offered me his paintball gun or Dodge Neon for a laptop I had for sale… I’d be Bill Gates.
- Psychos The Internet is a magnet for them, and CL is no exception. Fortunately, there have been very few times where the person I encounter on the other end of the classified ad is some 900 lb terrorist who lives in a van down by the river… but watch out anyways. You can usually get a good glimpse of the person by talking to them on the phone for a few minutes. Yes, there have been people such as the “Craigslist Killer.” It’s a good idea to let people know where you’re going, and always have a friend with you when you meet a buyer/seller. CL offers some good tips here.
- African scammers This page is a good example of a car deal too good to be true. African scammers (mostly from Nigeria) wake up in the morning, get dressed, kiss their kids, and sit at coffee shops all day sending poorly-written emails to stupid North Americans, hoping that one in 100,000 emails results in a payoff. If you have more than one brain cell, it’s simply an annoyance. Look, it’s really simple: When I sell a large item, I post my phone number without area code and request that people call me. If a CL buyer/seller requests a Western Union transfer or any other sort of down payment sight-unseen, there’s your answer.
- Prostitution Up until recently it’s been quite easy for women to sell their lovin’ on CL. However, governments are urging CL to curb these e-streetwalkers. Surely there’s an INTELLIGENT (read: non-PayPal, non-Cuomo) way of implementing security!
- Obviously, keep all this in mind if you try out the Jobs or Personals section!
Worse than any Nigerian psycho-prosti-terror-molest-killer out there, is the common Flake. These people used to dominate Craigslist. They email a few times, and they may even call you, but most of the time THEY NEVER SHOW UP. My classic example of a Flakeslister was a guy who was coming over to buy my 36″ Mitsubishi CRT TV a few years ago. After a few phonecalls, he said he could come over to my house to pick it up. So, I left work early and went home, and I waited and waited and waited… watching Boston Legal on said television in the meantime. Five o’clock rolls around and no guy. I call his house and his wife answers. “Yeah, isn’t he there yet? He said he was heading over hours ago.” I leave a message and request that he call me back, which he does an hour later. “Oh yeah, sorry I found a better one on the way.” Huh? Apparently this guy (and many others like him) calls multiple sellers, tells them he’s on his way, then just picks up the item he likes the most and goes home.
Moral of the story: THERE IS A 50% CHANCE YOUR BUYER WILL NOT SHOW UP. Don’t come home from work or make any other exceptions for people. Why do people do this? I’m not entirely sure. I can’t even blame drugs; many of the flakes are just lazy/noncommittal everyday people. It’s just some sort of stigma on the website. (I even had A SELLER flake out on me once; she didn’t even show up to her own house!) What ever happened to just SAYING NO!? I would be much less offended if you said my TV sucked than sitting home all day. I always write “Item goes to first person who shows up with cash in hand.” Reserving an item for a flake hurts everyone.
Kijiji (Pronounced ka-GEE-gee) – For a while there (and maybe still), eBay owned a chunk of Craigslist, hoping to get its slimy paws all over that simple little website. Things didn’t work out so they stormed off and said “FINE! I’ll go play by myself! I like it better anyway!” and thus Kijiji was born. It was a near-identical yet less-popular version of Craigslist. I sold a TV on it once and my experience was the same. They eventually changed the name to eBay Classifieds and while still a free service, the site looks a little gussied-up. I’ll try it someday.
FreeCycle – Can’t sell an item? Stop worrying about it and give it away to someone who can use it. This is a very similar online community but its sole purpose is to bring unwanted junk into the hands who need it the most, for free. I haven’t tried it out yet but I have a feeling I can find a lot of old computers to give away. I even saw a free rear-projection TV on there this morning!
RITBay (Rochester Internet Trading Bay, to avoid infringing upon the school’s acutal name): While this site is now defunct, it’s nevertheless fun to reminisce. The idea here was a local online auction. Once people bid and purchased your item, you could easily bring it to them, or they could come to you. Great idea, but horribly implemented. Security measures were too low (even for this quasi-Libertarian), and more importantly, NOBODY UNDERSTOOD THE POINT. After bidding on an item, winning it, and agreeing to pay the final purchase price, people would THEN show up, “kick the tires” on your item, and OFFER YOU LESS, as if it were some Best Offer ad! – Oh and one more thing. Anytime you put anything up for bid, some psycho named FLIPPO would email you from AOL, several times a day, IN ALL CAPS, ASKING YOU STUPID BORDERLINE SCHIZO QUESTIONS LIKE: HI IM FLIPPO I WANT YOUR ITEM IT IS NICE ITEM I WILL BUY IT I HAVE MONEY I DON’T HAVE MONEY HI IM FLIPPO THANK YOU FOR YOUR KIND REPLIES. He ruled.
So there you are folks, happy selling! Enjoy this hilarious Weird Al music video about Craigslist and we’ll see you next time on Teknosophy.
P.S. I ALMOST FORGOT! If you want a hot tub, forget spending $8 grand. Just go on Craigslist in the off-season and pick one up for a fraction of that. I got one this spring for $100!
Yahoo Answers: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20101011115750AARQbnB