15 Tips for Craigslist Savvy Shopping

Not to toot my own horn but…eh who am I kidding. I’ve hit the jackpot lately on Craigslist and I am bursting at the seams because of my awesome purchases in the past few weeks. When we first moved in to this house three months ago, we had next to no furniture. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Well, okay we had a couch from our apartment days. And Olivia’s room was fully furnished so she was more equipped than we were. To tally up some of my big finds, I bought a solid wood Pottery Barn pedestal dining table with a leaf, an antique dresser, a gorgeous Pottery Barn desk, and 6 vintage American Drew cane back dining chairs all for less than $800 total. In retail, the desk alone would have cost that amount.
After moving from a 900 square foot 1 bedroom apartment to a 2500 square foot 3 bedroom house, our empty rooms looked pretty pathetic in the beginning. Enter CRAIGSLIST! And cue the Sanford and Son theme song. Here we go…

1. Search often.

If you recall from my post about my latest Craigslist find, it took me over two months to find the perfect dining room table. A diamond in the rough is rare and one that you have to keep on the lookout for. Don’t get anxious and settle for some great deal just because it’s there. Be patient. Wait for the big fish. When the time comes, snatch it up.
2. Search with keyword specificity and thumbnail images.
If you search “bench”, you’re going to find all sorts of weird stuff that has nothing to do with what you really need. You’ll be wading through a sea of work benches, weightlifting benches, end-of-bed benches, and truck seat benches until you actually find what you really want for your bare hallway that is screaming for a solution for the mound of shoes that has grown over time. So instead try keywords like “storage entry bench” or if you’re feeling really daring “antique storage entry bench”. In the rustic chic world that is in my continuous Craigslist vocabulary, I key in words like cottage, rustic, antique, vintage, French Provincial, distressed, barnwood, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Thomasville, Ethan Allan (insert style and/or favorite brand name here and you could have endless possibilities). It takes some work but not nearly as much time as it would to filter through all of the other junk. Run Craigslist Preview on Safari or Firefox to see items listed by thumbnails too. That way, you won’t have to waste time clicking every link to see a picture of something you couldn’t care less about. Those perfect listings will jump out at you immediately in the thumbnail version.
3. Set up notifications.
There’s an app for that! I’m so glad Craigslist has finally come out with the option to set up notifications so that we’re not constantly in manual search mode. You can search on Craigslist and have a life now! Amazing. So instead of typing in “French Provincial sideboard” ten times a day, I can let my smartphone do the work for me. (And I can turn my attention to the pile of projects in my house instead.)
4. Keep a list of what you want along with how much you’re willing to pay.
If you’re going to search frequently, it’s good to have a reference list of things you know you need. (Robert pokes fun at me for being the list-keeping queen.)  In the past few months my frequent search has been “storage entry bench”, “vintage dresser”, “round dining table”, and “6 cane back dining chairs”. And cheap financially-conscious little ol’ me usually has a cap of $200 give or take. It’s a tall order, but when the perfect listing comes along, I’ll know about it.
5. Look for the diamond in the rough.
I’m sort of piggy-backing from tip #1 here, but sometimes an item that looks ragged can still have some beautiful bones. Pay attention to the shape and structure of a piece. Chances are, you can refinish it, paint it, or reupholster it (though watch out for tip #13). In the cottage/rustic chic world, there are so many possibilities for furniture facelifts. I have a few surgical procedures already planned for my find that I picked up yesterday. 😉
6. Don’t hesitate and start simple.
If you really want it, don’t wait around. Chances are someone else likes it too and just might be ready to buy it immediately. Initially, send an e-mail to the seller with the simple “Is this still available?” along with the link in case they have multiple listings. I learned this trick by selling my own items on Craigslist. Sifting through a ton of e-mails is a hassle when you just want the hunk-a-junk item you have no use for out of your house. If someone has a million questions or wants to haggle with me on that initial e-mail, it’s an immediate turn-off. I’ll pick the buyer out of the pack that’s easiest to work with every time.
7. Ask the necessary questions.
After that first e-mail, ask the questions you need to know. You have the seller’s interest. Generally, for me, I ask for the dimensions and find out if the color pictured is true to its look in reality. It’s better to know everything about an item up front before making the drive to pick it up so you know exactly what you’re getting.
8. Set yourself apart from the pack. 
This makes me think of that Friends episode when Ross tries to buy “Ugly Naked Guy’s” apartment and sends a basket of mini-muffins to make himself stand out amongst the pack of applicants and ends up dancing with the birthday-suited fellow to win the deal. I won’t go that far, but if you know an item is a really great deal and you have that overwhelming I’ll-die-if-I-don’t-get-this reaction, offer to pick it up immediately with cash and even offer a little more if you know the item is worth it. An extra $5 could do the trick. Nice manners help too. (Sometimes my good ol’ Southern upbringing kicks in here.)  “Please” and “thank you” are still magic words. When I’m in the seller’s shoes, I always appreciate a buyer who is pleasant.
9. Know when to negotiate.
Sometimes a seller isn’t aware that they have priced an item too high, or they have purposefully priced it higher knowing that they will probably receive lower offers. In the past I’ve referenced other similar listings that are cheaper but still aren’t the perfect piece that the seller I’m talking to has to offer. If you can find what the price is new if it is currently sold in stores, that can help too. If a buyer is selling something only 20% off of the in-store price, try to go for 30 or 40% off (or 50%…gasp! Go for the glory. You never know how desperate a seller is to get rid of something.)  If it’s already a great price though, don’t negotiate. Other buyers will recognize it’s a great deal too, and the seller will pick the guy willing to pay the most.
10. Keep a Craigslist folder on your e-mail account.
I get crazy confused when I start e-mailing multiple sellers for different listings from various places. I’m scatterbrained enough as it is, so when I add all of that in the mix, I end up with a head spin. I’ve learned over time to make a Craigslist folder on my Gmail account so that I can keep track of each item. It’s great to keep a paper trail through the whole process so that you can reference the asking price, how much the seller will negotiate down to, the dimensions, the seller’s phone number if needed, the seller’s name (I’m terrible at remembering this especially) and the address when you’re ready to pick it up.
11. Beware of scammers.
I always always always buy/sell with people in person. If you ever receive an e-mail asking you to send wired money, delete it. Go with your gut. Chances are it is right. If it smells fishy, well you know… Thankfully, I’ve never had this happen to me, but I always keep it in the back of my mind.
12. Be a courteous buyer.
If you are the lucky picked buyer, first of all do a little happy bum wiggle. (Score!) But also have integrity. I’m sure I speak for a lot of sellers here; it is a bad day when a buyer says they will be at X set place at X set time, and they are a no-show. All it takes is a quick text or phone call saying, “I’m sorry. I can’t make it / changed my mind.” It’s better to hear that than to be royally pi$$ed off mad. If you’re going to be late by 10-15 minutes, let them know. I’m a firm believer in what goes around, comes around. I’ll do my part to make someone’s day a little better by being proactive.
13. Test it out and/or check for bugs!
I know I’m echoing my furniture-salesman father here, but bed bugs give me the heebie jeebies. I try so hard not to think about it during hotel stays. When we moved into our house in December, we had stored our kitchen table for nearly two years only to find on move-in day that it had been eaten up by beetles living in the wood. That table had been in our apartment! Thank goodness we didn’t bring it into our new house because when we had it inspected, the exterminator said it would cost several thousands of dollars to fumigate the house and the bugs could spread to other pieces of furniture. When looking to buy second-hand furniture, check cracks and seams. Look for small block spots or groups of pinpoint-like holes. Check the backs and undersides of tables, shelves, drawers, and headboards for live bugs or molted exoskeletons since bedbugs like to hide there. Ick! Shudder. If you see any traces of creepy crawlies, run! Run fast! I’m feeling itchy now just typing this.
14. Don’t feel pressured.
Even if you drove an hour to pick up an item. If you aren’t loving it when you see it in person, don’t feel like you owe it to anyone to pay for it and haul it away because you spent the time and effort on it already. (It will take even more time and effort down the road when you finally come to terms with your mistake and put it back on Craigslist or thrift it.)

15. Above all, stay safe. 
I’m not gonna lie…there are some neighborhoods in Charlotte I will avoid at all costs. And actually, I made this mistake of driving to a seedy side of downtown Charlotte to pick up a light fixture for Olivia’s room. I was blinded by the great deal I was getting and didn’t even stop to think where the seller was located. I did have Robert go with me though. (Always go with someone just in case…you never know.)  When we drove up to the seller’s house, it was dark outside…ya know,  in case this neighborhood wasn’t scary enough. Robert handed me his big pocket knife and told me to stab anyone who came up to the car (and picture me with this terrified look on my face thinking “Uh…okay.”)  When he came back outside, he and the man who had sold us the light walked up to our car since he was helping Robert carry the fixture pieces out. And what do I do? I wave that knife in the air and exclaim loud and proud, “Hi! I’m Lauren!” Robert, through gritted teeth, gives me a look that says, “Crazy, put the dang knife away.” Whoops. I probably scared that poor seller who ended up being a nice guy despite his shady dwellings. Hey, I was doing what I was told and staying safe. 😉

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  1. Hi! Great article and BEAUTIFUL blog. I’m truly impressed. (Really. I rarely comment because I never seem to have enough time.) I’m glad I found you… can’t wait to read more!

    Best Wishes,
    Kristi Kirk Trent

    P.S. I found you on Pinterest

    1. Wow! Thank you SO much, Kristi! I hope you comment more often (though I definitely get the time constraint thing). I love reading them. 🙂