It’s no secret that I’m a fan of what I consider to be one of the greatest websites in the history of the Internet… Hint: it’s not Facebook.
There’s basically a 50/50 chance, when you’re looking at any item in my home, that the answer to, “Where did you find that?” is going to be “Craigslist.” (The other 50%? “A thrift store.”)
Over the years, I have literally bought hundreds of pieces of furniture on Craigslist and logged thousands of hours browsing the site, so I do tend to consider myself a bit of a specialist on the subject. “Certified Craigslist Addict” might not look all that impressive on a résumé, but it does look pretty darn good in a house…
It’s actually been nearly 4 years since I wrote a post on how I use Craigslist to find the absolute best treasures, so I decided revisiting the subject would be the perfect follow up to last week’s post on How to Decorate with Gathered Furniture. While Craigslist still maintains its 90’s aesthetics, there have been some great changes to the site within the last several years that have made it even easier to search and browse, so I’m excited to share an updated guide to vintage shopping on Craigslist!
So why is Craigslist my go-to furniture and vintage shopping resource?
I love that I can sit on the couch and browse on my laptop or phone before going anywhere (unlike thrift stores, or garage/estate sales) and that I’m able to see pieces in person before I buy (unlike online sources such as eBay or Etsy.)
Even though other shopping resources each have their own strengths, Craigslist combines the best of all worlds with the ability to window shop online yet make final judgement calls in person.
You Will Need:
I will say that scoring the absolute best deals on Craigslist requires a few things:
- Time to search – You never know – you might pop on and find exactly what you’re looking for at a fantastic price, right away, but I find that frequent, dedicated browsing is often key to those truly incredible finds.
- An eye for details – I preach this all the time, but soaking up inspiration and training your eye to recognize details is THE BEST way to make sure you don’t miss out on fantastic finds that aren’t identified or labeled with information.
- Cash on hand – Craigslist deals almost always happen in cash, so you’ll need to be able to easily access the exact amount of the purchase.
- The ability to pick up and transport finds – I’ll touch on this more, but very few Craigslist sellers offer delivery, so you’ll need to find a way to get your purchases home and you might need to bring help to move pieces.
I will also say that Craigslist isn’t for everyone, and that’s totally fine! As I hope you noticed in The ABC’s of Gathering: F is for Furniture post, there are SO MANY wonderful places to find second hand furniture, and Craigslist is just one tool for your treasure-hunting arsenal.
If you give it a try and it’s not for you, then I’m sure you can find a way to take some of these tips and apply them to any number of other sources!
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict: Buying on Craigslist
Today I’m going to walk you through two different ways I treasure-hunt on Craigslist – Searching and Browsing – as well as tips for contacting sellers, negotiating, and bringing your new find home.
*Today’s post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission. You can read my full disclosure here. I hope you all know by now that I do only share things I really truly love!
All right! So you have your browser open to Craigslist.org and you are psyched and ready to go!
The first thing you’ll notice is that you’ve traveled back in time to the late 90’s… Once you reassure yourself that Y2K passed without incident and we’re all still here, you’ll find a search box in the upper left corner of the page.
So here’s how the Craigslist search box works:
It searches for exactly the word or phrase that you type in. A search for “Credenza” will not turn up postings for “Sideboard” or “Buffet” unless they also include the word “Credenza” in the posting. “Night Stand” and “Nightstand” will return different results, so you can imagine all the different search possibilities for the commonly misspelled “Armoire.”
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #1: Use generic keywords.
I know, I know. You’re looking for fabulous vintage stuff and most of the postings on Craigslist don’t fit the criteria. The more generic your search terms, the more results you’ll have to wade through.
So if you’re looking for a Mid Century Modern dresser, it makes sense to type that into the search bar and narrow down those results, right?
But remember, that search will only pull up postings with the keywords “Mid Century Modern” and “dresser” in them – not “Mid-Century” or “Midcentury” or “MCM”; not “vintage” or “old” or “Grandmother’s bedroom suite.”
And definitely not just plain old “dresser with mirror and drawers”…
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #2: Narrow down results strategically.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that narrowing down your results using really specific keywords might not be the way to go – you never know what you might miss due to something as little as a typo!
But that doesn’t mean you have to painstakingly click through hundreds and hundreds of results. Here are my five favorite ways to strategically narrow down the results from broad, generic searches:
- Sort by newest. Up in the top right, there’s a selection box that lets you sort the search results by relevancy, newness, highest price first, and lowest price first. Due to the quick-paced nature of Craigslist, I always prefer to see the newest results first.
- View as gallery. A drop-down menu gives you the options to view the results as tiny thumbnails, locations on a map, a list of post titles, or as a photo gallery. Gallery all the way – I rely on the photos rather than the post titles 90% of the time.
- Sort by “owner”. In the left sidebar, there’s a place where you can select to view postings from “owner”, “dealer”, or both. Save yourself mountains of spam and duplicate postings and click on the “owner” box, alright?
- Add a maximum price. Pretty self-explanatory, but if I’m going to set a maximum price, I like to make it pretty generous because most prices on Craigslist are negotiable.
- Set a search radius. Finally, you can choose to only see listings that are within a set mileage from any given zip code. It’s a pretty useful feature, whether you just don’t want to travel more than five miles away… or say if you’re traveling and want to see what’s available at your next destination.
And now we’ve come to my personal favorite way to sniff out the absolute best things hidden away in the depths of Craigslist, browsing.
Kick back, pour a drink, and put the TV on in the background, because my method does take a little time, but it’s the way I find the vast majority of my Craigslist scores.
For starters, select the “Furniture” category:
Next, set a few important parameters:
- See newest listings first.
- View as gallery.
- See only listings by owner.
- And the key to the whole method >> set a manageable price range.
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #3: When I’m browsing, I am literally scrolling through every post in the Furniture section within my price range, so I break my sessions up into smaller, more manageable subsections – “$2 – $25”, “$26 – $50”, “$51 – $75”, etc.
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #4: $2 minimum price. I usually set a minimum price of “$2” because I find there are an awful lot of postings with a listed price of $1 that are a complete waste of time when you click through to find that it’s not $1, of course, it’s $675.
And then I just scroll, scroll, scroll, keeping my eyes wide open for those details – tapered legs, wood grain, gold/brass, lucite, interesting shapes…
It really does work, I promise. Need proof?
First, the wood grain and general shape of the dresser caught my eye and set off my “Mid-Century” radar. When I took a closer look, I recognize the sculptural wood pulls on the drawers as belonging to the “Perspecta” line from the Mid-Century furniture company, “Kent-Coffey.” A quick Google search revealed the exact same dresser model listed on Etsy for over $800.
Since I’ve seen pieces from this line before, and even bought one in the past, the unique swooped pulls were a dead giveaway, even from a thumbnail.
But you don’t need to recognize an exact designer or brand to spot special details.
Does anyone remember this gorgeous Mid Century Danish teak dining set I shared way back when?
Here’s a peek at the Craigslist posting, which I remembered to screenshot in a rare moment of foresight:
I never managed to figure out what company produced this set, but recognized the design of teak wood and paper-cord chair seats as typical for Mid Century Danish pieces.
How? From reading blogs, browsing Pinterest, following vintage dealers on Instagram, and even poring over a few vintage design books – just training my eye as much as possible to remember and recognize materials, styles, and lines.
Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you guys the biggest time-saving tip ever!
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #5: Create an Account
Did you know you can create an account with Craigslist that will let you save specific searches?! It’s my favorite feature!
Click “My Account” in the top left of the Craigslist home page. That will take you to a page where you can create an account:
One you have an account, you have the ability to save ANY search you create on Craigslist! So go ahead – start a search and get all your parameters customized, then click “save search” up in the top right corner.
When you log in to your Craigslist account, there’s a tab for “searches” that will bring you to all your saved searches, so you don’t have to re-do any of your settings.
I’ll give you guys a peek at the searches I’ve saved for convenience:
All right. Let’s say you’ve just spotted something extremely promising and you’re throwing money at your computer screen, you’re so eager to bring it home.
The first step is to get in touch with the seller, via the “Reply” button at the top left of the Craigslist posting.
This will give you a drop-down menu with whatever contact information the seller provided – an anonymized Craigslist email address and/or a phone number will instructions, such as “calls only” or “texts only”. Sometimes within the body of the post, the seller will state which contact method is preferred.
Confession: I’ve got to admit, as a major introvert, I LOVE when I can email or text. I’ve been known to skip over a find or two when calling was the only option!
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #6: Know the anatomy of a good Craigslist response.
After writing and receiving a few hundred or so Craigslist response emails, I’ve identified some important details to include in your email, phone call, or text response.
Establish an appropriate amount of interest.
- Signed, sealed and committed, sight-unseen? It might be best to establish strong interest up front: “I would like to purchase…” If there’s a lot of competition, a seller just might choose the email that sounds like a sure deal.
- Ready to see it in person, but you want to kick the tires a bit, or don’t want to sound over-eager because you’re hoping to get a better deal? Try, “I would like to come take a look.”
- If you have questions before you can even decide whether or not to visit, “I’m interested in…” is a good introduction.
- [Optional] Make an offer. You can always negotiate in person, after you’ve had a chance to actually see and touch the piece, but if I know that I don’t want to pay asking price, I prefer to negotiate up front and save both of us the hassle if the seller won’t budge. More on negotiating below.
- Detail availability. Can you drop everything and go pick it up right away? Sometimes that’s a huge bargaining chip. Are you interested, but can’t make it out until the weekend? It definitely doesn’t hurt to let the seller know you are an interested potential buyer, and they may even be amenable to holding the piece for you until you can visit – many Craigslist sellers live by “first come, first served,” but every person is different.
- [Optional] Include a phone number. When I’m sending an email response, I like to include a phone number, just to reinforce the fact that I’m a real person who is seriously interested. I use the line, “feel free to email or text” and about half the time the convo will switch over to text for both our convenience.
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #7: Negotiation is generally fair game.
That being said, it’s entirely up to you whether you feel comfortable negotiating or not. I’ve never gone, “Oh what a sucker!” when someone paid me my asking price on Craigslist – I’ve only felt relieved that I didn’t have to haggle!
Unless a posting says “Price firm.”, I consider it fair game to make an offer. And if a posting includes “O.B.O.” (“or best offer”) or “asking $___”, then the seller is actually inviting lower offers, and you can absolutely feel confident making a [respectful] bid.
Always a safe bet: “Would you consider taking $___?”
Worst case scenario, they say no. Or they might counter with something in between the two price points.
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #8: Sometimes it pays to “overpay.”
I’d say that most of the time, I don’t even bother making an offer, even when offers are invited, because I know that if I take the time to bargain, someone else will just swoop in and pay full price. In fact, at times I have offered slightly over the asking price, just to try to secure the deal.
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #9: Be the backup.
What if you craft your perfect email (but don’t take too long!), only to receive a response that the seller is sorry, but someone else has already made an appointment to purchase it?
It never hurts to send a response, offering to be the backup buyer:
“Thank you for letting me know. If something falls through, please let me know. I’m still very interested and could come right away.”
Emails/phone calls/texts have been exchanged. Negotiations and plans have been made. You have an address and are ready to head out and acquire your new find!
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #10: Bring the exact purchase price in cash.
Don’t expect the seller to be able to make change. I know, it’s so frustrating when something $95 and you can’t just hand over a few crisp twenties! But I’ve gotten in the habit of stopping at a gas station before hand to buy a drink and break a twenty if needed – and the cold beverage is usually very appreciated after hauling furniture around!
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #11: Measure twice, move once.
If there’s any doubt as to whether a piece of furniture will fit in your vehicle (or in a borrowed/rented vehicle), make sure you double and triple-check the measurements. You don’t want to show up, try fifteen different ways of shoving it in the trunk, and then leave defeated!
Case in point: That time we tried to move a sectional couch using our VW Jetta. We were not smart.
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #12: Be prepared.
If you really want to be a Craigslist pickup pro, you’ll definitely want to check out this post full of our Craigslist essentials:
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #13: It’s okay to walk away.
If you show up and the piece is just absolutely not what you expected – undisclosed damage, stains, smells, whatever, that you don’t want to deal with – it’s totally fine to walk away.
Nothing is final until cash has changed hands, so don’t feel obligated to make a purchase you aren’t happy about. Sometimes, it’s just smarter to walk away and you should absolutely not feel bad about making that call.
Secrets of a Craigslist Addict #14: Most strangers are nice, but be smart.
Bryan and I have had a teeny handful of iffy Craigslist exchanges, but by and large have had the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the nicest human beings out there.
However, I’ve definitely heard enough stories to be quite cautious when it comes to visiting strangers’ homes.
If you can, bring a friend/relative/significant other. Not only because it’s safer to do so, but because you might need a helping hand! If you choose to go to a pickup alone, make sure someone knows exactly where you are – you can text them the location and then follow up afterwards so they know you’re safe.
And just because it needs to be said: If at any point you don’t feel comfortable, just leave.
There’s no vintage treasure out there that’s worth risking your personal safety, so go with your gut and trust your instincts.
As I said, however, the vast majority of our Craigslist experiences have been absolutely fine and even fun. We’ve met all kinds of people, learned some fascinating back-stories, and overall just enjoyed each brief connection!
Well, there you have it. I’ve spilled ALL my tips for searching and finding the very best vintage treasures on Craigslist!
Go out and gather, my friends!
Do you have any of your own Craigslist insights to add?
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