“What the heck are we going to do with that 17-foot Greenland kayak hanging under the porch?” my wife said to me last spring.
“I don’t know, craigslist it?“
Nothing demands a good decluttering like uprooting your family, renting out your house, and moving to a foreign country with little more than a few suitcases.
Yes, there are many ways to get rid of unnecessary stuff, but my preferred method is posting such items for sale on craigslist (CL).
I haven’t tried eBay mainly because dealing with the whole shipping thing sounds like a hassle. And yard sales are a waste of time. The amount of time involved in organizing, setting up, and manning a rummage sale is intensive. Garage sales tend to attract folks not looking for anything in particular, but rather just a good deal. At least on craigslist, someone has done some sort of search to find your listing, making them inherently interested.
In the past couple months, I’ve successfully sold over 20 items on this wonderful site and I fancy myself a bit of an expert. In addition to the custom kayak made to my measurements, my List of Craig also includes a car, microwave, 2 sets of hockey gear, rain barrels, furniture, 2 bikes, a printer, among other things.
I thought I’d share what has worked well for me.
1. Create a craigslist account
It makes it easier to edit and manage your postings.
2. Clear, Descriptive Title
You don’t need all the details in the title – just enough to get the person to understand what the listing is and to click to read more. I’d also stay away from using all CAPS and multiple exclamation points anywhere in the post. I take the approach of not coming off as a yelling used car salesman in my posts.
3. Honest Description in the Body
This is where I first provide a bulleted list of the features. After the list of highlights, I like to find the equivalent item on sites like Amazon and just copying those descriptions. That way you’ll be sure to include all the bells and whistles and more likely show up in searches.
A few other call-outs:
- Be honest about the item’s condition. List out any problems, issues, or broken functions. It’s best to be upfront about these things. That way if the buyer chooses to see the item, you know that the blemish or problem spot won’t necessarily be the hang-up.
- Include measurements or other notes about delivery where applicable (“weighs 120 pounds”). Also consider adding the reason you are selling, especially if something is forcing you to part with your beloved stuff (“While I love this car, I’m moving out of the country and cannot keep it”).
- Don’t batch up unrelated items in one post – take the time for separate posts for each.
- Think where you will meet any suitors ahead of time and identify your preferred location (“I will meet you in the Target parking lot on the SW side of town”).
- Call out the full retail price and consider linking to a non-discount site as proof. This helps put your used price in perspective (“Retails for $275”).
- Spellcheck and do not use abbreviations. I find postings with poor grammar and punctuation a put-off. If you can’t take the time or care to type out coherent words, chances are you didn’t take proper care of the item you are listing.
3. Photos, Photos, and more Photos
Craigslist allows an obscene amount of photos to be attached to any listing and I load up my posts with as many as I can. They don’t have to be professional grade, but they should be taken with a decent camera in a well lit area. Photograph the item from different angles as well as any ‘trouble’ spots or blemishes (like a chip in a piece of furniture, for example).
Various photos should include everything that is being included in the sale and nothing additional that is not. Properly “staging” your item for sale can make all the difference. This can be the most time consuming step but when done right, will have the biggest impact as to whether or not you get any interest. People will only reach out when they understand and can see exactly what it is that is being offered for sale and its condition.
I also like to include a photo of the item being used, when applicable. For example, I included the photo above when advertising my kayak that my brother-in-law made for me. I wanted to prove that it could float!
4. Expect negotiation
Every buyer wants to feel like they worked a deal. As a general rule, I list my items about 10-15% over what I think will be the final price. I usually query CL for the exact item I’m looking to sell to see what my competition is and price accordingly. For a quick sale of a popular item include a detailed description, lots of good quality photos, and undercut your competition by just a couple of bucks. I can guarantee you’ll be the first one contacted when the listings are found.
5. Don’t cop an attitude
Have you ever seen those postings on CL that just come off as angry? “Absolutely no trades!” “Serious offers only!” These types of statements do no good and will only turn-off potential buyers. I also don’t limit the ways the person should get a hold of me. I never understand those listings that say something like “Do not contact by email – phone only”. What if it’s midnight and I have a list of questions?
For stuff that resides inside my house, I always include the phrase “comes from a pet-free and smoke-free home”. I also like to remind that I only accept cash as payment.
7. Include Keywords
Including keywords at the bottom of your listing increases the chance of being found in searches. This is particularly useful for car listings where you can name other make/models similar to the one you have for sale.
8. Be Responsive
People are essentially shopping and want to see the item NOW. Delaying only increases the chance of a no-response or of the dreadful no-show. The more emails that are ballied about decreases the chance of a sale.
The most popular email that I receive first asks “is it still available?”. Instead of responding with a simple “yes”, I point out additional highlights of the item, why it’s great, and ask what day/time they’d like to see it. Always put the ball back in their court for follow-up.
9. Provide your phone number
When scheduling a meet-up, I provide my contact information with the request to “email, text, or phone if something comes up and you are unable to meet for whatever reason“. This has done wonders to my no-show’s and have been able to make other plans when people have informed me that they couldn’t make our original meeting.
10. Item Preparation
Have the item available and ready to be sold. That means in good shape, assembled, recently cleaned and located in an easily accessed area (and not tucked back in the depths of your basement).
11. Delete posting when sold
This is very easy to do when logged into your CL account and is just good etiquette. Nothing infuriates me more when I take the time to reach out on a listing only to have the author say it was sold a week ago.
If your item isn’t selling, it could be any of the following reasons:
- Overpriced – our printer wasn’t selling at $25 so I knocked it down to $15 and had it sold within a day.
- Not enough details / Unknown condition
- Too far down the list – like Google search results, no one goes to the second page. When this happens, check your CL account to see if you can “renew” your listing to bring it back to the front and center.
- There just isn’t enough interest. Consider posting on the closest big city craiglist site (I’m in Madison, WI and considered listing my car on Milwaukee and Chicago’s CL sites if it wasn’t snapped up so quickly).
As a purchaser, you can also use craigslist to your benefit to score a deal. Last week I was in the market for a laptop so I perused CL. I came across a poor posting for a Macbook that broke just about every one of my rules. I knew it wasn’t getting a lot of interest despite being a great deal. It had one grainy picture, included very few details, took the owner a long time to respond to queries, and didn’t have the computer wiped clean and ready for sale when I inquired to see it.
Yes, it was a painful experience. But I got a great deal and ended up paying $200 for a couple year old Macbook Pro that had a new battery, keyboard, and upgraded memory. He could have received at least twice that amount by using some of the techniques I listed above.