Thursday, May 2, 2013

How to Win at Craiglist

As Damian and I struggled to fit a white leather Barcelona chair knockoff through the door of my Mazda 3, maneuvering it around the Bertoia Diamond chair knockoff already occupying the backseat, I couldn't help but think back on all the other Craigslist finds I had miraculously fit into that little car. The stories typically follow a formula, beginning with me arriving to meet my Craigslist seller, inspecting the furniture, then pointing at my parked car while they laugh in disbelief. But my car has never stopped me from Craigslisting because, true to my asian heritage, I love a good bargain.

The most common complaint I hear from people my age when it comes to their living situation is that it still feels "college-y". To them I always offer the same advice: ditch the IKEA crap and find furniture you really LOVE. "But I'm poor!" is the 2nd most common complaint, and while I understand the desire to be frugal, you truly get what you pay for. I've slowly been replacing all of my IKEA furniture because of sagging, chipping, swelling, and mostly because it makes me yawn. I've had incredible success at finding great deals on Craigslist (or the thrift store or garage sales) with far more personality, and I've been slowly developing a space that feels like home.

Let me demonstrate:

Now don't get me wrong, IKEA definitely has its place in this world. They have awesome kitchen options, organizational stuff, and it's hard to find a better bargain on 8-foot curtains anywhere else. Heck knows too that carrying a flat box home in your car is much easier than trying to wrangle a fully assembled coffee table (I should know). I guess what I'm trying to say is that for those pieces in your home...the pieces you stare at every day...those should be special. So now I'm going to tell you how to find that something special. How to win at Craigslist.

The point is to minimize the amount of time you spend searching so you can just peruse for a few minutes a day. Here's how to get setup fast.

Step 1: Get this Chrome extension for Craigslist
For those of you using Chrome, go here. Everyone else...go get Google Chrome.
Basically what is does is pull all the photos from a Craigslist posting and displays them on the main page for your viewing convenience.

Step 2: Set up your Craigslist "home page"
You'll want to go to the "furniture" category, then select your region (if applicable), then select "for sale by owner". Make sure "has image" is checked. Sometimes people don't include images of what they're selling...don't waste your time. If you want, you can also set a price range or a neighborhood or even include some keywords (I don't just because I tend to find the best stuff when I'm not looking for anything in particular).

Step 3: Bookmark it
Once you've got all your settings in place, bookmark this page. Add it to your bookmarks bar to remind you to go there. Done!

Now that you've got a head start on all the other thrifters out there, I'll tell you how to bring it home...literally.

Step 4: Making contact
You've found something you love and you must have it! Craigslist sellers are inundated with scam emails and flakes, so here's how to set yourself apart. Instead of using Craiglist's built-in reply system (which all the scammers and bots use), copy and paste the email address to your email client and write your own subject line. Something simple like "Interested in dresser" will do. In the body of the email, again keep it simple. You want them to know you're a real person and you want them to get back to you. Here's what I typically write:

Hello! I'm very interested in your yellow shabby chic dresser and would like to purchase it. I think it would look fantastic in my living room. Is it still available? If so, when would be a good time for me to come and see it? Thanks! 

As you can see, I included some small human-like details (yellow, living room, etc), I kept the questions to a minimum (you don't want to pepper them with so many that they give up on you), I prompted them to get back to me, and I pasted the URL at the bottom for convenience (mine and theirs). I always include my phone number, since I've found that most sellers prefer this method of communication. It assures them that you are a real human, and it makes the transaction much smoother. Also, NEVER haggle over email; you'll get ignored so hard you don't even know.

If the seller hasn't responded to you within a couple of days, check that the listing is still up, then send another short email expressing continued interest. Sometimes there are a lot of people interested in the same item (this happens to me a lot), so it can help to offer a few extra bucks over the asking price.

Step 5: The pick-up
Hopefully by now the seller has gotten back to you and you've coordinated a time/place to meet them. Make sure you feel comfortable with the arrangement, then head to the location with CASH. Don't even try check/credit card/money order. Craigslist deals in CASH. When you finally get to see the piece, inspect it to make sure it's what you're expecting. Bring a measuring tape if you need to check the dimensions. Don't be afraid to walk away if you don't like it. 

Once you've decided you want it, now is the time to haggle. I hate haggling, so for me it's something as simple as "can you do better on the price?" I usually get $5-10 off this way. If you need to arrange for transportation for a large piece, do so as soon as possible but DON'T give them any money until you are in complete possession of the item. Some people may require a fee to "hold" the item. Fuck 'em.

Generally though, be nice to might get some perks. For instance, the bar we bought from a sweet fireman wouldn't fit in our car, so he offered to "swap" cars and let us drive it home in his minivan while he held our Mazda (to make sure we came back). Worked like a charm :)

SO THERE IT IS. My secret. It's out. As Gizoogle (which I just discovered today) would say, go forth a cold-ass lil conqueror 'n' win pimped out victories!


  1. Craigslist is the best! We have gotten tons of antique furniture and a bunch of other great stuff. So much better than buying new!

    I drive a mini so I can totally relate on the close calls...100% success rate so far even when it was only 1/4" to spare!

    Our current hunt is for some hens, now we just need to finish to coop so they can move in!

  2. I've had Craigslist success only once (out of a dozen tries), and that was from a Waikiki apartment stager. We scored a new, unslept-in bed and a new dining set for my mom. I eventually decided to make our own furniture, because things seem to be thrown around like hot potatoes on Craigslist and I kept missing the catch.

    I'll definitely try your strategies in the future for those special items we don't want to D.I.Y. :) Thank you!

    1. Nice score!
      Making your own furniture is definitely an awesome alternative too. I've been leaning that way myself lately because it's also fun!