The Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Items for Sale on Craigslist

Craigslist is a tool that’s been around for years and can be either your best friend or your worst enemy when you’re looking to furnish a college apartment.  The site hosts some of the most incredible deals you can find online, with sections for furniture, electronics, and even an area for users to give away free belongings.  However, the site is policed entirely by its users, meaning there is not much regulation of how transactions are carried out.  To avoid picking up a used couch from the same seller who owns the listing for “Woman to Sit in my Bathtub Full of Noodles” (actual listing), here are some do’s and don’ts about navigating Craigslist:

Do know what you’re looking for.  Thousands of items are posted each day and you could spend hours scrolling through pages and pages of listings.  An easy way to save time is to understand how to best use the search function.  Additionally, you can use RSS feeds to subscribe to certain categories, but this can get overwhelming.

Don’t be roped in by sketchy postings.  Craigslist is not strictly regulated, so listings that say things like “Ralph Nader MAY have sat in this chair,” are almost always scams.  Keep your guard up when browsing listings because no one can bail you out if you get roped in by a scam.

Do compare prices online.  Many of the prices on Craigslist are just chosen arbitrarily – whatever number strikes the seller as reasonable.  Most often the prices are lower than market price, but it’s worth checking online to see if the seller knowingly or unknowingly overpriced the item.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate.  Craigslist has become known as a virtual marketplace, so sellers will not be taken aback if you present different prices.  Many sellers even mark up items by 10 or 20 percent in anticipation of negotiating with buyers.

Do be prepared to take the item with you that day.  There is no law behind who is awarded the item in a listing – it could be the first person to name a price, the first person to contact the seller, or the first person to physically take the item away.  Taking your time evaluating the item or deciding the perfect price could leave you vulnerable to other buyers swooping in and taking the item.

Don’t wait until you get there to decide terms.  Since very few transactions are settled in writing, it is important to at least outline terms and prices over the phone or via email before going to pick up the item.

Additionally, Craigslist operates another site, Garagemaps.com, that finds garage sales in your area.  Garage sales can be a better way to browse for things you may need than simply scanning listings online.

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