15+ tips for selling on Craigslist

bare tree at dusk (December 2014)

Since moving (temporarily) to the suburbs in November, I seem to be photographing nothing but trees. They and the geese feeding down by the river are the best things here in the land of strip malls, fast-food restaurants, and car lots. Nature is formed with branches, tentacles, dendrites, fingers, estuaries—ways to connect with other things. Trees use and store our carbon, exhaling oxygen, the stuff of mammalian life, give and take—something like Craigslist, the updated techno version of newspaper want-ads or community bulletin board, with some folks selling and others buying, discarding and accumulating, round and round. (Ironic then that in the background on the TV in front of me glows a postmodern version of a fireplace, complete with crackling sounds, digital conflagration of wood.)

Craigslist (CL) is proof that even city dwellers are interconnected in community, living among so many other strangers just like them, performing the same kinds of actions, wanting and acquiring the same kinds of things. Craigslist also shows that material goods can have a much longer lifespan than corporations and their marketers would have us believe in their efforts to perpetuate the buy-use-dump cycle. Developed-world economies are addicted to growth, to new production via the rapacious use of Earth's resources—hollowing out mountains, chopping down forests, polluting the air and water supply—which all depends on citizens identifying primarily as consumers and debt-spending most of their meager incomes on goods and services they can't afford.

Portland Craigslist homepage screenshot

While downsizing the last few months, I've sold more items on Craigslist than ever before, making me not exactly expert but experienced. The goal hasn't been to get rich through selling off unwanted household items (it's not like I'm selling nontraditional mortgages or derivatives!) but to become more streamlined while not losing money, to own what's both beautiful and everyday useful, thereby rejecting the massive number of objects that aren't (or are simply too much of a good thing). It's another way of saying, "No, thank you" to consumer culture.

bought & sold on CL: Marcato Atlas 150 pasta machine

I am proud of having made it through the gauntlet that is the American holiday shopping season with a net loss of stuff: coffee table, armchair, mirror, painting, dining table, lamp, pasta maker, and more all gone. The few items I did add to my possessions were thoughtfully purchased, more or less needed but certainly wanted, and justified by offloading a larger amount of stuff I no longer want back into the reuse stream (via Craigslist, Goodwill, and in the near future, eBay). Net reduction and increased savings—those are the linked objectives.

sold on CL: vintage oil painting

Here's just one example of how this worked. I had decided to downsize my bed from a queen mattress to a full-size futon to free up a bit more bedroom space (futons are also easier than mattresses to wrangle when moving or changing bedding). My mattress was a free family hand-me-down, and since because of its age (late 80's) it wasn't worth much of anything, I offered it up (unstained) for free on Craigslist, where it was snatched up almost immediately; my reseller friend Jeff then dropped it off nearby for a delivery fee worth his time (i.e, a small profit). Win-win.

Meanwhile, I'd found a full futon on a sturdy metal frame off Craigslist for $100; the description had listed the item as being a high-quality futon made by a local company, which had been used only occasionally in a guest room and that the sellers now wanted to downsize immediately in their new house. As a result, the price was reasonable and they were happy to see it go, as they'd already bought a new twin futon and frame for their tiny spare room. (No joke—Jeff was tying my futon down onto his trailer while we watched the couple carry their new smaller futon from their car into the house.) The full futon was spotless, barely used, at the exact quality level I had wanted, and was even made by the same local company, Cotton Cloud, I had considered buying new from—but was a few hundred dollars cheaper than it would have been brand-new. Win-win.

sold on CL: vintage gold velvet chair & vintage ceramic herringbone lamp

However, I didn't want the futon frame or its seafoam-green cover, so up they went on Craigslist as a set. But when that didn't attract any inquiries within a week, I reposted the cover and frame separately. Bingo. The clean-condition cover sold for $30, far less than they cost new. The frame alone (which through research I'd learned had cost about $300 new) took a few weeks to sell after the price was dropped to $80 to a family wanting to spiff up a spare room for holiday guests by lifting their existing mattress up off the floor. (On the same day, I'd also gotten an offer of $20 over the asking price, plus a delivery fee, but for convenience I chose the buyer willing to pick it up.) Win-win.

In other words, because of Craigslist, I offloaded an old mattress and made $25 (or Jeff did, rather) and replaced it with a barely used, high-quality futon and made $10. Tell me what store will pay customers to take away their merchandise. That's the magic of Craigslist, though not nearly as exciting an anecdote as the paperclip-turned-house story.

sold on CL: vintage oval mirror

So for those weary of overstuffed homes and empty savings accounts, I offer the following basic tips for selling on Craigslist, in no particular order:

  • Use a Craigslist account. This will save all kinds of time with a record of one's posts for editing, renewing, and reposting. The Craigslist interface isn't perfect (e.g., saving drafts would be nice), but who can complain when it's free?
  • Write succinct descriptive phrases. Unless this is an antique or vintage item with a unique personal story, avoid relating where it comes from or why it's no longer wanted unless that information proves the thing was hardly ever used (even better if it was your grandfather's but never used). Nobody cares about ownership history unless it's a car. Secondhand buyers would rather pretend whatever they're buying is virtually new and dusty only from sitting at the back of a closet in its original box.
  • Edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Who wants to deal with someone who sounds like an idiot? As proof from the seller's side, here's an actual texted conversation (probably with a second-language speaker but still confusing) about an item I was selling in December:
Potential Buyer: How much is the low [sic] you can sale [sic] the pasta machine [sic]
Me: That's a firm price. Thanks for asking.
Potential Buyer:  How far you [sic] live from 185 in Beaverton / I'm thinking to [sic] buy it [sic]
Me: I'm between Milwaukie & Oregon City in Gladstone, right near the 205 freeway, near the intersection between [X & Y]. I don't know Beaverton well, but if you're talking about Village 185, Google maps says it would be about 40 minutes, if taking 205 (depending on traffic). Would that work for you? I'll be available anytime after 5 pm tonight or tomorrow. [Note that I'm doing all this person's research for them and my approximate address was already mapped in my CL listing.]
Potential Buyer: Oo sorry to [sic[ far [sic] next time this bey [sic]
Me: [thinking, WTF?!] No problem. Good luck in your search. 
  • Take good photos in natural light whenever possible. They'll help the item stand out in the crowd, also hinting that the seller has taste, pays attention to detail, and takes care of his or her belongings. Offer multiple angles.
  • Note any flaws up front. No one likes that type of surprise. It will save hassles and haggles down the road.

sold on CL: vintage Rival Crock-Pot with lid chip

  • Price items competitively. That will require some quick research to see what prices others are asking for similar items. If you are confident of the market value, remain firm. But do expect to make less on CL than what items may sell for on eBay simply because the local market is smaller, unless you happen to live in a large metropolitan area.
  • Expect a little bargaining and price accordingly. Some people will pay the stated price unquestioned—especially if they know it's already a good deal—but many will ask for a discount. It all depends on the item's current value and how quickly you need it gone.
  • Include a range of contact information. Some people prefer using the phone, others e-mail, and still others texts. Give buyers contact options as well as a first name. Don't assume everyone's a stalker or ax murderer. Most people are decent and more or less like you or me.
  • Be safe. Try to meet in public. When I lived in an apartment, I met buyers downstairs in the lobby or in front of the building, carrying items down to them whenever possible, or else planned to have a friend over at the meeting time. It also helped that most buyers brought a friend with them and didn't come alone. If the item is too big to haul around easily, ensure housemates or neighbors are around within earshot.
  • Expect flakes. Many people on Craigslist act rudely, either not replying to messages or, the more egregious social error, not showing up as scheduled and not acknowledging the breach in etiquette with an explanation or apology. Sadly, it's all part of the process. Never assume any inquiry, series of "I love it! I want it!" e-mails or texts, or even a scheduled appointment will lead to an actual sale, but do meet obligations on your own side. Karma will out. Lowering expectations will reduce disappointment if things don't work out, and often they don't until they do. There's always another buyer later, in the right venue.
  • Deal locally and don't hold items any longer than a day or two. First-come, first-served (cash only) should be the only policy. I've had the worst luck with people living outside the metro area because, while Craigslist sales are always uncertain, longer physical distances inevitably increase the risk of transportation issues, delays, and someone backing out. Stay local! (This also eliminates most scams.)
  • Keep listings live until the sale goes through. Never delete a posting or let a posting expire until the money is in hand and the deal is done—similar to not calling off a job hunt after just one interview. If a sale falls through, other potential buyers could already be lined up and waiting in the wings.

sold on CL: West Elm vase

  • Model decent behavior using the Golden Rule. Respond promptly. Be fair and honest. Don't flake. 
  • Sell bigger items first (unless making quick money is the goal, in which case, sell the most valuable things first). If the goal is clearing out the garage or attic or spare bedroom, for example, start with the biggest thing—like an old trunk, unused ping-pong table, or spare sofa—to begin freeing up physical space. Focusing on moving the biggest (or most expensive) pieces will make the most impact and motivate further culling and selling.
  • Part pieces out, if selling something as a set isn't working. More money can be made this way. Someone might want one piece and someone else another. (See the futon frame/cover story above.)
  • Be patient. Items might take weeks or even months to sell. Drop prices each week when reposting, if necessary, and if something never attracts any attention—no inquiries at all—consider alternate options: eBay, garage sale, or possible charity donation. Even one inquiry on an item means it will most likely sell eventually.
  • Expect redundant questions. Even if the answer is already right there in the item listing, such as measurements or location, you still may receive questions on that point, further proof that many people no longer read in any detail.
  • Live in a central location or keep the item there, if at all possible. My CL sales dropped dramatically once I moved away from downtown, which was centrally located, out to the suburbs. I've lost a few sales simply from being "too far" away (like 40 minutes—see the text conversation above) from the buyer.
  • Offer delivery, if feasible. Delivery is also occasionally requested even when not offered since not everyone owns a vehicle or a large enough vehicle. Being flexible on this point can increase the odds of sales, especially on larger items or if non-centrally located.

Anyone else have any good Craigslist resale stories or tips to share? 

Despite all my Craigslist sales and dwindling piles over the last few months, I do still have several boxes and bags full of smaller stuff to sell on eBay, the next venue. Stay tuned for further adventures in secondhand resale. And good luck with your own!


  1. Anonymous14/1/16 20:39

    I don't have stories or tips, but do have a question. I am wanting to get rid of a nice, heavy, wood bed. I first tried donating it to a local Portland charity [called them all: William Temple, Restore, Salv Army, etc.], but found no takers, for various reasons. So now I am considering putting it on Craigslist, but am feeling hesitant, not fully comfortable with having strangers come into my place. But maybe I am too cautious, based on your experience selling furniture through CL? Or do you know of other ways to unload furniture in Portland, that would feel safer (to a single female) than CL?

    1. I have had good experiences using CL for buying and selling, but of course it only takes one serial killer or rapist to ruin things. Fortunately, far fewer of those bad apples exist than nice regular people, something using CL has helped remind me, making me feel more connected to my community. But it's still wiser not to make transactions alone, especially in the deeper recesses of a house, and especially as a single female. It's too bad the thrift stores wouldn't accept the bed! Is there any way it could be temporarily stored elsewhere while it's up on CL? In other words, if it's in the garage, you would have more control over how little of the house potential buyers see, and the garage door could be left open during a viewing appointment. If you don't have a garage, could it be temporarily stored in a friend's garage, for example? If you need the buyer to move it for you (because it's heavy), options are more limited. In that case, I'd recommend making appointments only when a friend could be with you at home, which admittedly could get tricky if people flake on appointments. Providing lots of pictures and description would help with letting people know what to expect. You might also want to imply a larger household during communications by using the royal We, like, "We'll be available between 5-7." An easier option might be trying a furniture consignment store, though I'm not sure if they would offer pick up. Hope this helps. Good luck to you!

  2. Anonymous23/1/16 21:36

    Thank you so much for your helpful advice, it is greatly appreciated. I am glad you had such great experiences with CL. It is an interesting twist that it made you feel more connected to community. I have some smaller items that I do want to try selling on CL. Small enough that I could bring the items downstairs and meet people in my apartment lobby, to feel more secure about meeting CL strangers. I did finally find a thrift store to pick up the furniture, they were great and really appreciated the items. Thanks again for your advice.

    1. Glad you found a thrift store to pick up the bed! Good luck with the smaller items. Let me know how it goes. :)


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