Allow me to introduce you to my best buddy, Craig. He and I go a long way back. Well, at least all the way back to when our little family moved into our new, empty house 3 years ago.
But Mr. Craig and I are tight because the hubby and I would probably still be very furniture-less without him.
So it only seems right for me to pass on the GREATEST knowledge to beautifying your home on the cheap- 18 Craigslist shopping tips that will completely rock your world…
(Every single photo of our home in this post is of the furniture we’ve purchased from Craigslist, but I’ll give you the full tally of our scores at the end.)
1. Search Often
When we first moved into our house and had only 3 pieces of furniture, I made it my job to search on Craigslist every evening.
It sometimes takes weeks or even months for that perfect piece to come along, but by searching every day, you can be the first to snatch it up and snag an awesome deal. It took me 6 months to find the perfect coffee table but it was worth it. And it was only $50!
2. Sign up for alerts.
If you’re looking for a very specific item, you can save your search as an alert and be notified when it is added to the classifieds to get first dibs. The best deals are usually gone within minutes!
3. Use specific keywords in your search.
If you search “bench”, you’re going to find all sorts of random 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 entryway.
So instead, try keywords like “entry bench” or, if you’re feeling really daring, “antique storage entry bench”. Use keywords like rustic, industrial, antique, vintage, French Provincial, Mid-Century, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Thomasville, Ethan Allan (insert style and/or favorite brand name here and you could have endless possibilities).
You can also search “moving sale”, “estate sale”, or (sadly) “divorce” to find batches of items that sellers want to get rid of quickly for a low price.
It takes some work but not nearly as much time as it would to filter through all of the other items you don’t want. We found this old buckboard bench on Craigslist for $35!
4. Use Gallery View and Select Image Only.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t bother with listings that don’t have a photo of the item. Setting my search to gallery view makes it so much easier to see what I’m looking for.
5. Use a $2 and up search.
A lot of companies who use Craigslist as advertising will create listings for $1 to get the most attention. By entering a price range starting at $2, you weed out the spammy stuff.
6. 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.) I have a little list of items we still need in the notepad on my iPhone, and I refer to that list for my searches.
7. Look for the diamond in the rough.
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 #16 later in this list). There are so many possibilities for furniture facelifts. You can see more of mine here.
These dining chairs that were only $20 each and harvest gold originally turned out to be an amazing find!
8. Don’t hesitate.
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. I can’t even tell you how many great finds I missed because I decided to “sleep on it” before I contacted the seller. I scored this cabinet for $60 because I didn’t wait!
9. Win the seller’s favor.
Initially, send an e-mail to the seller asking if the item is available along with a tone indicating that you are eager to buy it.
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.
10. 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 real life and if everything is in working order.
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.
We made the mistake of buying an entry bench that had wood rot and we didn’t find out until we already had it home. It was $30 wasted plus gas and mileage down the drain. It had so much potential. Sigh…
11. Set yourself apart from the pack.
You know 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 wouldn’t go that far, but if you know an item is a really great deal, have a hunch that it will be a hot item, and you have that overwhelming I’ll-die-if-I-don’t-get-this reaction, offer a little more for it.
An extra $5 could do the trick. Nice manners help too. “Please” and “thank you” are still magic words. When I’m in the seller’s shoes, I always appreciate a buyer who is pleasant. I offered $10 more than asking price for our Pottery Barn office desk since it was a name brand priced very low. I still saved $700 from the retail price, so it was worth it.
12. 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.
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. I scored our foyer table for $50 this way. All it needed was a coat of paint and some wood on top, and it was good as new.
13. 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. 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.
Try to save a screenshot of the listing too so the seller can’t change the price on you at the last minute (you never know; sometimes people are sneaky).
14. 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, don’t do it. Go with your gut. Chances are it is right. If it smells fishy, well you know… In one year alone, I’ve caught three scammers.
15. Be a courteous buyer.
If you are the lucky picked buyer, first of all do a little happy bum wiggle. (Yay!) But also have integrity.
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 in advance than to be royally ticked.
If you’re going to be a few minutes late, 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.
16. Test it out and/or check for bugs!
I know I’m echoing my furniture-salesman father here, but bed bugs and powder post beetles 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 black 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.
17. 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.)
Our original buffet table was a prime example of that. It was HUGE because the seller gave me the wrong dimensions. We bought it anyway, but it was a beast to resell.
18. Above all, stay safe.
There are some neighborhoods here 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 an item. 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…as if 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 our chandelier walked up to our car since he was helping Robert carry the piece out. And what do I do? I wave that big 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 creepy neighborhood. Hey, I was doing what I was told and staying safe. ?
If you want to see all of our Craigslist scores and prices we paid to furnish our house, here’s the grand total list:
That’s a whole lotta stuff! Less than $1500 to furnish over half of our 2500 sq ft house is pretty darn amazing. And a big chunk of the rest of our house came from thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, and consignment shops with a few discount retail finds sprinkled in.
Do you have any Craigslist tips of your own? Have you found any brag-worthy thrifty items lately? I’d love to hear about them!
If you liked this post and want to see similar ones you can check out my thrift shopping secrets or sign up for The Broke’s Gal’s Decorating E-Course for lots of budget-friendly tips too.