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How to sell on Craigslist

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Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s not the Mona Lisa, but selling items on Craigslist is work of art nonetheless. There once was a time when apartment hunting meant hunkering down with the print edition of your local Sunday newspaper, black coffee, and fluorescent highlighter in hand, and vehemently perusing a melange of 2-inch-by-2-inch, paid advertisements until you found the right contender for the job. There was no index for navigation, often no crudely-taken photos using a smartphone and certainly no way to score a sweet vintage recliner upholstered with ’72 shag carpeting (believe me, I’ve seen it). Sadly, those days left us when people like you and I discovered the utter convenience of free advertising.

In the nearly two decades since its inception, Craigslist has become the undisputed powerhouse for snagging a much-coveted discount covering every facet of our lives. Whether you’re searching for new apartment to call home or looking to score coveted tickets to Kanye West’s upcoming show at the Sprint Center, the San Francisco-based classifieds website likely has you covered. However, selling isn’t quite as easy as buying if you plan on doing it right. The perfect ad needs to stand out in all the right aspects, from the first-glance headline and writing itself to the much-sought price tag and photos. It can be a difficult feat, and if you want properly carry out the sale, then you need to arrange a meeting in a location other than the dark, crate-strewn alleyway behind Safeway. The spaces adjacent to any supermarket are no place for a man or woman to linger after dark.

Here’s our comprehensive guide about how to sell on Craigslist so you can make the most bang for your buck quickly and safely. There’s an exception to every rule and tip, but at least we can lay the initial groundwork on which to built your ragtag enterprise. Also, check out our hustler’s guide to selling used gear online and Miss Netiquette’s guide to using Craigslist without acting like a total weirdo — not like you would do that or anything. Pssh.

Setting up the Craigslist Post

To begin, navigate to the Craigslist homepage and click the purple post to classifieds button in the top-left corner of the page. Afterward, select the type of posting you wish to create, either “for sale by owner” or “for sale by dealer,” and choose the proper category corresponding to the item you wish to sell. Then, choose location that best fits your respective region to access the main post editor.

Crafting the perfect Craigslist post

Writing the post title

Much like a proper newspaper headline, the title adorning your Craigslist post should quickly and accurately summarize and briefly specify exactly what it is you’re selling. Keep it relatively short and simple, avoiding unnecessary adjectives whenever possible and refraining from inserting rows upon rows of exclamation points or asterisks. This isn’t an amateur birthday card you’re writing for a close friend, nor is it the kind of flowery, Renaissance-era prose you flubbed in 12-grade English literature class.

Qualifying details, such as color and relative condition, are important, but reserve them for the body of the ad opposed to the first-glance title unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary. Obviously identifying an instrument as acoustic or electric in the title is perfectly suitable, as is including the number of rooms in an apartment or the year and model of a particular vehicle. Your headline is what draws prospective buyers into your post, so it’s likely they’ll click the ad as long as you have what they want listed in the title. And please, for the love of God, don’t use all caps.

Classic examples for road bike posting titles:

How to sell on Craigslist
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Writing the post description

If the headline is the is the hook that snags the buyer, then the copy is the line that pulls them into the boat. Most people like things that are short and sweet, not complex and lengthy posts that rival Faulkner or James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. However, the bulk of your ad’s appeal lies within the content and thus you should choose your words wisely and present them in a manner that is both easy to digest and quick to read. Because people often peruse multiple listing before making a decision, you don’t want to bury the important components an overwhelming amount of text.

In most cases, a simple introduction and a bullet-point list covering the key aspects of the product you’re attempting to sell will suffice. Be upfront and honest about the condition of the item you’re selling, and though you need not divulge every little scratch and scrape, provide enough detail so the buyer won’t be shocked when they actually examine said item. Craigslist goers want the details — and they want them with little fanfare and as quickly as possible. They can always email you if further clarification or questions are required.

Classic example for a road bike posting content:

Craigslist product description
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Choosing the right price

Craigslist is both a buyer’s and seller’s market depending on how you swing the sale. There are two viable approaches to setting a price tag on Craigslist, one of which involves haggling and another that involves setting a firm, nonnegotiable price. Research the item in question on Craigslist, noting the average going rate for your area, prior to setting your initial asking price. Also, make sure you’ve outlined the types of payments you’re willing to accept somewhere in your post. Aside from the occasional exception, cash-only sales are the best transaction method since you will immediately receive your payment sans the loopholes, and potential fraud, associated with credit cards, and checks.

If you opt for the haggling method, set the asking price in the upper echelon, hovering slightly above the current going rate. Although you don’t want to completely rip people off or deter them from inquiring about your ad, equipping your item with a high-end price tag will often elicit responses from people asking if you’ll accept a lower offer. They might manage to talk you down a few dollars, but they’ll feel better about their bargaining skills and you’ll still receive a sizable portion of what you were asking for. 

The other method involves setting a firm price and sticking to your guns. Explicitly telling people the lowest price you’re willing to take will immediately weed out the lowballers while eliciting responses from only serious buyers. You won’t receive as many responses as you would normally — firm prices are rather offputting on Craigslist — but at least the people who do respond are willing to pay the asking price without trying to haggle you down. Also, your firm asking price should also lie somewhere in the higher price range as buyers are often skeptical of items prices extremely low. 

Attaching photos

Posting an ad on Craigslist without photos shouldn’t even be allowed (at least to a certain extent). Granted, photos are not always necessary when selling a pair of tickets or a toaster — nor do we really need to see those littering the posts within the missed connections section — but images are still a necessity when it comes to many items. Many Craigslist users will completely bypass or filter out postings without images, making it incredibly tough to sell a pristine product accompanied by an equal-quality post simply because you negated to snap a couple shots with your smartphone. Utilize the Craigslist uploader tool to attach original photos with your post, and whenever possible, avoid using stock photos and those directly from the manufacturer as to convince potential buyers you actually possess the item you’re attempting to sell. It’s not very convincing if the same photo you uploaded can be found elsewhere on the Web through a quick Amazon or Google search.

Even though larger photos are often guaranteed to provide greater detail, Craigslist is only 850 pixels wide, so keep you images relatively small to avoid unnecessary page scrolling. Also, don’t completely saturate your ad with images and make sure those you do include highlight different key components or flaws noted in the main body of your ad. Typically, one photo showcasing the item you’re trying to sell and several other close-up shots is enough to give potential buyers are idea of what to expect. You can always provide more photos or higher-resolution images via email if requested.

Classic example for a road bike posting:

Craigslist Road Bike Photos
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Initiating contact

Dealing with strangers can be scary thing. Make sure you outline your preferred contact method in the body and opt for the the provided, temporary Craigslist address to maintain your anonymity. As long as your post is active, Craigslist will relay any message or response sent to the temporary address to the poster’s actual email address on file. Although email is the easiest and most casual way to elicit responses, some users will still prefer speaking to potential buyers over the phone. Sure, posting your personal phone number with contact instructions can speed up the transaction and clarification process, but doing so also leaves your personal number open to potential stalkers, surveyors, and others who you’d rather not have contact you. If you sign up with Google Voice however, the service will automatically forward phone calls to your personal number, which you can then block if undesirable. Plus, you can always dispose of a Google Voice number once the sale has been completed.

Choosing a post time

As the saying goes, “time is of the essence.” In spite of the fact that you can post an ad on Craigslist at virtually any moment, there are certain days and specific times when you’re ad is guaranteed to receive greater exposure and traffic. Mondays usually have the highest amount of traffic as far as weekdays go, with the numbers tapering off as the week goes on. Weekends are by far the best time to generate views, so try posting your ad Thursday evening and reposting it if necessary over the weekend to raise its relative position in Craigslist’s chronologically-indexed search results.

Meeting with the buyer

No matter what you might think, Craigslist meetings have been known to end with robbery, rape, and murder. Though meeting with strangers can leave you susceptible to a variety of criminal activity, much of it can be avoided by taking a few painless precautions and implementing effortless safeguards once you’ve agreed to meet. To start, arrange a meeting in a public location with high visibility, such as a bustling coffee shop or popular grocery store, whenever possible. Bring along a friend or two if you can — regardless if you’re meeting in public or at your home — or speak with someone on the phone during the transaction. It may seem rude, but at least you’ll be in contact with someone should anything go wrong.

What do you think of our extensive guide on how to sell on Craigslist? Do you have questions or need further clarification? Let us know in the comments below.

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Brandon Widder
Brandon Widder is a multimedia journalist and a staff writer for Digital Trends where he covers technology news, how-to…
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