As someone who lives a semi-nomadic lifestyle, I’ve gotten comfortable buying and selling used items on the secondary market. You can save money as a buyer, and recoup sunk costs as a seller.
But selling used items on Craigslist isn’t as simple as snapping a blurry shot with your smartphone and throwing it online. To get the most out of your old stuff, you need to follow a specific set of rules for success.
Research and Pricing
Before you post anything for sale, you need to do your homework. Start here, but don’t worry — it won’t take more than a few minutes, and can ensure a far higher price for your items.
Choose the Right Platform
Furniture and other large items tend to sell best on Craigslist. Smaller, pricier items like jewelry, valuables, or rare collectibles often sell better Ebay, Amazon, or Etsy. These platforms serve a much wider market, including international buyers. Craigslist generally serves local buyers only.
Run a quick search for similar items on Craigslist and these other used marketplaces to get a sense for pricing and availability.
Choose the Right Craigslist Markets
Craigslist operates on the local level, with subdomains for different cities and towns. Depending on the density of population centers where you live, there may be many Craigslist cities to choose from.
Rather than posting only in the one market where you live, consider posting multiple iterations of your ad in surrounding cities as well, if they’re close enough for easy pickup.
Note that college towns and areas with lots of young adults make great markets to sell furniture and other used goods on Craigslist.
Price It Right
Ask for too much money, and you won’t get any legitimate responses. Set the asking price too low, and you’ll leave money on the table, or worse, spook away buyers by making them wonder what’s wrong with the item.
After looking for comparable items on Craigslist and other used marketplaces, you should have a decent idea of a price range. Now, take a hard look at the condition of your item. If it’s missing parts, doesn’t quite work right, or just has seen better days, err on the low side of the fair price range. Or if it’s in great condition or like-new, then you can price in the top of your range.
Don’t fixate on what you paid for the item. Sure, that Blu-ray player was a high-end gadget when you got it as a graduation present years ago, but since then you’ve spilled your drink on it twice, and nowadays many people stream their movies. No one is going to pay you $300 for it today.
Lastly, decide whether you want to run your ad at a firm price or as an “or best offer” (OBO) price. A firm price sometimes turns off would-be buyers willing to pay less, while OBO ads attract more offers — and more aggressive price negotiation.
With a firm price, aim to get the price exactly right. With an OBO price, mark it up 10% to 30% to leave room for haggling.
Headlines that Attract Eyeballs
The first rule of writing headlines for Craigslist: be specific.
Don’t write “Couch for sale.” Write “IKEA Kivik 3-seat sofa couch.”
List the brand and model number if known. That not only states clearly what you’re selling, but engenders trust (more on that shortly).
Use keywords buyers might search for, so your ad pops up in search results. Notice how the example above used both the words “couch” and “sofa?”
Keep the headline under 30 characters if possible, so mobile devices display the full title.
Never phrase headlines as questions like “Want a great couch?” It feels scammy to buyers. Likewise, avoid symbols such as #, @, or $. Do not list the price in the headline — it’s clearly visible elsewhere.
The Ad Itself
There’s both an art and science to writing effective Craigslist ads. Keep the following rules in mind as you write your ad descriptions.
Disclose the Right Amount of Detail
Ever looked at a Craigslist ad that only had one or two sentences in the description, which left you with more questions than answers?
Or, at the other end of the spectrum, a 5,000-word essay of a description that made your brain switch off?
The right amount of detail depends on what you’re selling—in particular, its complexity, and to some extent its price.
Complex, expensive items like vehicles, real estate, and some higher-end electronics need longer, more detailed descriptions. That IKEA Kivik couch above does not.
Whenever possible, link to the manufacturer specs for the product. The prospective buyer can then read as much or as little detail as they like, without your ad overwhelming them.
Include dimensions when selling furniture. Buyers need that information.
Always include the item’s color, age, and condition.
Make your payment policy extremely clear, ideally cash only. More on this later.
Finally, remember to use keywords that different buyers might use. If you’re selling a couch that folds out to a bed, use terms like “pull-out couch,” “sleeper sofa,” “fold-out sofa,” and so forth throughout the description.
Disclose Damage and Imperfections Fully
Buyers on Craigslist are rightfully wary of the goods they buy secondhand from strangers they’ll never see again. One way you can build trust instantly is disclosing all imperfections with your item up front in the description.
Be sure to take close-up photos of the imperfections as well — more on photos shortly. Caption these photos to reference the imperfection.
Not only does this build trust and encourage buyers to contact you, but it also reduces the risk of wasted time when buyers show up to inspect and buy your item.
Include Your Name in the Listing
Again, including your name in the Craigslist ad helps establish trust.
If you don’t feel comfortable stating your full name, at least include your first name. No one wants to buy anything from an anonymous stranger. By stating your name, you make yourself that much more human, accessible, and trustworthy.
Include Your Phone Number
In your listings, state your cell phone number beside your name, but write out the last digit as a word: “123-456-789zero.” That prevents scraping software from finding it and adding you to a telemarketer list—in theory, anyway.
If you prefer, request that buyers text you rather than call you: “Text me anytime with questions at 123-456-789zero — Brian.”
Why include your number? For two reasons. First, it again helps establish trust. Second, people who text you are more likely to see your response, and quickly, by text message rather than email. Which means they’re more likely to follow up and schedule a time to come look at your item.
If you don’t want to use your real cellphone number, create an anonymous phone number on Google Voice and have it forward phone calls and text messages to your real number.
Set a Deadline
If you missed Marketing 101 in college, in summary, urgency and scarcity drive action.
Set a deadline in your ads to make it clear your offer isn’t waiting around forever: “Needs to be picked up by Saturday.” Just make sure you set the date at least three days from now, preferably four to six days. Set the date too close, and buyers think they have the upper hand in negotiation and that you need to sell more than they need to buy. Or the deadline may pass without enough opportunity for you to sell.
Be prepared with a Plan B if your item doesn’t sell by the deadline. For example, you could hold a garage sale to sell any of your items that didn’t sell on Craigslist, or you could donate your items to charity and take the tax deduction.
Include All Accessories
If you own any accessories that go with your item, make sure you list them specifically in your ad description. Include any specifications for each as appropriate.
For example, if you’re selling a camera, list any spare batteries, battery chargers, additional lenses, kit cases, or other accessories in the listing.
Don’t forget to include photos of each individually and all together as a set.
Consider Batching or Selling in Lots
First, an explanation of terminology. To batch items is to sell several distinct but related items separately, but to cross-promote them. Selling in lots means to sell several items together under a single price.
If you’re selling related items, such as baby supplies or toys for a specific age range, consider selling either by batch or lots. Include descriptions and specs for each item sold in your lot.
If you’re selling separate items in a batch, link to each of the other ads in each ad. Also, use the “More ads by this user” button in Craigslist.
Finally, when buyers show up to buy a single item, mention any other somewhat related items you’re also selling. “I don’t know if you saw the related ad, but I’m also selling these end tables and lamps in addition to the couch if you’re interested. They all match well.”
You’d be surprised how often people take you up on these cross-sells if you just ask.
Entire books have been written on marketing photography. You don’t need to shoot like Ansel Adams to sell your used furniture on Craigslist of course, but follow these tips to generate the most interest from buyers.
First and foremost, clean your item to its best possible condition. You don’t need to break out the wire brush and scrape every hint of rust off your bike, but clean the mud and cobwebs off, and throw a little oil on the chain if you have it handy.
Next, set the item against a background that makes it stand out, rather than blending in. If you’re selling a white bike, don’t stand it next to a white wall.
Photograph your items in strong light. That could mean outdoors in sunlight if appropriate (such as bikes), or indoors with as much light on them as possible (such as indoor furniture). Use bright white light whenever possible, rather than yellowish warm light.
If your item is particularly large or small, take a picture of it next to a universally known object, like a coin or a baseball, so potential buyers can get a feel for the scale. Especially for electronics and tech gadgets, give your audience a good idea of your item’s size.
In the case of electronics, photograph them in the “on” state in addition to powered off. Show off the fact that your items work!
As noted above, include shots of extras and accessories included with the sale.
For your main photographs, aim for the item to fill the frame of the shot. Also take close-up photos of any unique features or defects.
Lastly, caption all photos accurately so prospective buyers know what they’re looking at and why it matters.
Safety and Security
Whenever you’re doing business with a stranger from the Internet, you need to take safety and security into consideration.
Plan Your Pickups
If you can meet the buyer at a convenient public place, all the better. With large objects such as furniture, that doesn’t normally work, and the buyer must come to your home.
Schedule all pickups during the day, ideally when someone else can join you.
Before prospective buyers arrive at your home, put away anything small, valuable, and easily stolen. For example, if you’re selling bedroom furniture, don’t leave your jewelry box sitting open where sticky fingers can reach in. It sounds like common sense, and it is. And yet.
Word to the wise: only accept cash.
Not bank checks, or cashier checks, or money orders. Yes, they’re all “like cash” — if they’re real. Good forgeries look real, and you’re probably not an expert at spotting them.
If you must, you can consider accepting electronic payments like PayPal and Venmo. But they can sometimes be reversed after the fact by determined payers.
Use a Secondary Email Address, and Anonymize It
Many of us nowadays have at least one secondary, anonymous email address we use for any transaction we think might spam or scam us. Use this as your contact email address on Craigslist, and use their anonymize feature so it doesn’t get publicly displayed.
Of course, that means you have to actually check this address, and frequently, while you’re selling on Craigslist. Temporarily set up auto-forwarding to your primary email address for the duration of your selling.
As a final note here, watch out for bland replies that look like they could be mass responses sent out to thousands of sellers. These include responses like “is it still available?” rather than the more specific “Is the futon still available?” Or responses that clearly regurgitate the heading of your ad in full, with no other distinguishing features. These responses may come from phishers or other Craigslist scammers.
You’ve posted your ad!
Refresh Your Ad Regularly
You don’t need to repost your ad repeatedly, creating a series of cloned ads. Craigslist allows you to refresh free ads every 48 hours. For paid ads, you must pay another fee to move your ad back to the top.
So, every couple of days log into Craigslist to refresh your ad to keep it toward the top of the listings.
Remove Your Post After Selling
Do not take down your ad until you have cash in hand and the item is out of your house. No exceptions.
Prospective buyers may beg and plead and ask you to hold items for them. You aren’t operating a library here. The first person who actually shows up with cash and hauls away your item is the buyer. Everything is just talk.
I’ve had many “highly interested” buyers flake out on me over the years. You don’t have to be a jerk about it; just explain that your policy is first-come, first-served — as measured by physically showing up to pay and pick up the item.
As useful as Craigslist’s classifieds marketplace is, not everything sells quickly or for a strong price.
If you don’t like the offers you get, or don’t get any offers at all, consider the alternative of donating your furniture or other items to charity. You get the warm fuzzies from not only giving your belongings a second life, but also helping those less fortunate than yourself.