15 Essential Rules for Buying Stuff on Craigslist

Some people actually purchase something on Craigslist at its full listed price. Fools. They are treating the price tag not as the arbitrary price given by the seller, but like something in a store. However, a Craigslist situation isn’t like a store at all. It’s a used item sold by an individual to another individual in a very, very small market, where local supply and demand overshadows whatever silly number the seller has listed.

By going into the buying process armed with some common sense and simple wisdom, you can get a fair deal that makes sense to both parties. Cut down on that buyer’s remorse by following these 15 rules, you can be sure sellers are following their own such list.

1. All prices are negotiable.

Duh. The number in the listing is a starting-off point, clearly. This is a very subjective process and all of these prices are very elastic. If it's winter, bikes should be cheaper, because the demand is less. Know this. You could check on eBay to see if the seller listed the price reasonably, but remember that it's not that simple because eBay gives you guarantees. Craigslist is anonymous and offers no protection. That risk means you should pay less for a comparable item. Some people like to talk about a 15 to 20 percent rule when negotiating, but that's mostly psychological. Prices are too fickle to pin it down to a number. Do your research.

2. You don’t need to buy.

You’re interested, intrigued, looking to buy, but not in a hurry. Browsing, but serious about it. Sadly, dating and negotiating have things in common. Desperation isn't a good look and will keep prices high.

3. If the posting doesn’t have all the details you’re looking for, send a friendly email.

Being polite is important. If the seller has an incomplete, unhelpful listing, it narrows people down. Less interest means better prices. Sending an email costs you nothing and opens a channel which fosters trust. The seller has invested in you if they’re responding.

4. Meet somewhere public—you’re like a cop walking up to a freshly pulled over car.

Imagine getting to the seller’s apartment and the inside is lined with plastic…that would be a bummer.

5. Tune out any nonsense about other offers or people looking at it.

If someone has already made an offer, and you throw out a number that's the same or even less—and you're near an ATM or have cash—you’re good. The seller knows that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. If the seller can end all this hassle now, he might do it.

6. Look for flaws in the object.

Look for reasons why you should pay less besides the fact that you don’t want to. Rust, paint chips, weird software, unexplained stains, etc.

7. If it has a power button, TURN IT ON.

And if the "battery is dead," run away. You don't want a motorcycle-shaped boat anchor.

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8. Don’t say any more than you have to, if that.

Take Travolta’s advice. The seller will probably talk as you inspect. Let them. You might hear the sound of a hole being dug. You didn't come to Craigslist to make friends and have conversations. Unless, well, you did.

9. Bring an expert. 

When meeting a stranger, it never hurts to take a spare 225 pounds of muscle with you, but if that muscle knows about what’s being bought, you’re at a huge advantage. Good cop, bad cop can work. You want to buy, but he’s holding you back. If your friend's new boyfriend is a mechanic, definitely bring him along.

10. When it’s time to make a counteroffer to the ludicrous figure listed, be tactful.

Do it in a non-confrontational way: “This is what I’m willing to pay,” not “This is worth ____.” People can get upset about low-ball offers. Sometimes buyers will even try negotiating a little over email at first because the seller might warm to the "lowball" offer once the indignation wears off. Also an email is hardly an inconvenience, so no one should actually be upset about that.

11. Bring cash, obviously.

There’s two ways to do this. Here's the first: you can ask to see the item over the internet, act like you’re just looking and then offhandedly throw out an offer, saying you have the cash right here and this can be over right now. Selling is a hassle, and you’re offering the buyer an easy way to end the trouble, get the whatever off his hands, and get guaranteed cash. You can generally get pretty low this way, but you have to be willing to walk away.

The other option is to say to the buyer via email that you can come by at the earliest possible time with cash in hand. You just flat out offer a lower price, and if you sound reliable, there’s a good chance they’ll take it because the hassle will be over.

12. Walk away quickly, then slowly.

Show the seller that you don’t need to buy his stupid thing. But then give him time to change your mind. Fumble for your keys, etc. Because now they have to find a new buyer, set up a new time, and go through it all over again.

13. Say you’ll take really good care of the thing.

If they’re selling something sentimental, you might be able to appeal to their humanity by saying you’ll treat their prized possession with great respect. People love to project personalities on material objects, and you should use that to your advantage. But don't be a liar and treat your new purchase like crap.

14. Ask them to throw in something.

If they are really firm on a price and it doesn’t sit well with you, it can’t hurt and you might get some sweet accessories.

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15. "Be nice."

—Patrick Swayze

Ethan Wolff-Mann is an editor at Supercompressor. He has overpaid for things on Craigslist in the past, but doesn't anymore. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.