Thanks to the endless possibilities of the internet, you don’t have to leave your house anymore to sift through the thrift, as websites like Craigslist make it possible to buy and sell from the comfort of your couch. But as is the case with any secondhand shopping experience, you need to be careful about how you shop online, too; after all, you don’t want to end up overpaying, or, worse, buying something that doesn’t even work.
So, before you start perusing Craigslist for a new set of chairs or a silk chemise or a straight-out-of-the-box smart TV, master all ways to bargain and browse like a seasoned shopper. And for sage advice on shopping secondhand, check out the 15 Things You Should Never Buy at a Second-Hand Store.
Look for furniture in the spring.
Why the spring? That’s when college students need to clear their stuff out for the summer, which means they’re trying to get rid of stuff fast. And for more smart ways to save a dollar, don’t miss the 20 Easy Ways to Stop Wasting Money.
Use hyphens in your search.
Adding a word with a hyphen in front of it to your keyword search will exclude that term from your search results. Just be sure to make like Dave Matthews and put a space between—your keyword and your additional term, that is. For instance, if you are looking to purchase a couch but you know you don’t want anything made of leather, you can search “Couch -leather” and all leather couches will be taken out of your results. And while you’re shopping for new furniture, read up on the 13 Things Your Home Can Reveal About Your Personality.
Misspell words on purpose.
Craigslist sellers aren’t exactly national spelling bee champions, and many will unintentionally list items with quite a few copy errors. If you don’t find what you’re looking for with the correct spellings of everything, do another search using common misspellings, and you might just come across some hidden gems.
“If you want a wider range of results, try variations on your search term—even common misspellings, painful as they are to type, may bear fruit,” says taxidermist and store owner Ryan Biracree, who has used Craigslist as both a buyer and seller. And you’ll want to do quite a few searches if you’re using any of The 25 Most Commonly Misspelled Words in America.
Image via Craigslist
Search multiple keywords at once.
Want to look for multiple keywords at the same time? There’s a shortcut for that. The “|” key essentially acts like an “OR” in your search so that you can look up multiple keywords without them interacting with one another. For instance, you could do the search “apartments | condos” to see results for both apartments and condos at the same time, even if the results don’t contain both keywords.
Use Google to your advantage.
If you’re already a frequent Craigslist shopper, then you know that many posts are just scams. To avoid getting sucked into something fishy, Google a seller’s email address before you buy anything and see what the results lead to. Often times, fellow shoppers will turn to message boards to rant about bad experiences. By reading up, you can avoid one yourself.
Ask for more photos.
If you ever want to separate a scam post from a legitimate one, just ask for more photographs of the item. While scammers won’t have extra photos to share (obviously), real sellers will be more than willing to send you additional photos over email. Plus, having more photos of the item will give you a better sense of what it actually looks like in person, and even might shed light on any potential flaws if it’s not in new condition.
Test electronics before you buy them.
It is possible to successfully purchase electronics on Craigslist, so long as you’re smart about it. When you meet up with a seller, make sure to test out the item you’re buying, and don’t be afraid to take your time. Turn the item on. Make sure it charges. Press all the buttons. And finally, ensure that all of the features that are supposed to work, well, work. And for tips on how to play with your newly functional device, check out the 20 Things You Didn’t Know Your Smartphone Could Do.
Use multiple keywords.
Try to use as many related keywords as you can when searching for something on Craigslist. For instance, if you’re in the market for a dining room table, use keywords like “kitchen” and “eating” for dining room tables that might not specifically be labeled such. And if the keywords don’t help, you can always just take them out and start again with your original search term.
Set up notifications for your searches.
The iPhone app CPlus searches through nationwide listings for the items on your list, and notifies you when postings within your criteria become available. In other words, a beauteous bargain will never slip through your fingers again.
Set the minimum price at a (near) minimum.
Specifically, at $2. Most spam posts and mis-categorized service posts will put their “price” under this amount, so setting it as your minimum price will effectively weed out fake listings.
Image via Craigslist
Get to the point.
“People like decisive responses,” one Reddit user wrote on a thread about Craigslist hacks. “I usually say [something like], ‘I will give you $60 cash tonight right after I get off of work.’ People like that, even if it’s an offer below asking price.” And on the topic of bargaining, don’t miss the 30 Best Ways to Save Money on Clothes.
Pick up the phone and call the seller.
It’s hard to gauge a person based on email correspondence alone. If you want to make sure that the person you’re dealing with isn’t sketchy or suspect, just pick up the phone and give them a call. Their tone of voice and willingness to converse should tell you all you need to know about whether to proceed with the transaction.
Search outside of your city.
It’s entirely possible that what you’re looking for isn’t available in your surrounding area. But if you’re in a crunch and are willing to make a trip, you can use SearchTempest to conduct a search on all of Craigslist. The site especially comes in handy for items that are hard to come by, like a vintage record player or a specific TV model.
And look in multiple categories.
People often put their products for sale in the wrong categories, making them difficult for you to find and impossible for them to sell. For instance, one Reddit user noted that he often looks for video games in both the electronics and toys + games categories, as sellers tend to forget that there is a separate one just for video games. And bonus: If a seller’s item has been hidden away in the wrong category for a long time, they might be more willing to negotiate a good price!
Search for items in gallery mode.
This feature comes especially in handy when you’re shopping for things like furniture and clothing, where aesthetics are everything. At the end of the day, a description just can’t paint a picture quite like, well, an actual picture. And while you browse in gallery view, use these 8 Tips for Shopping a Thrift Store Like a Fashion Stylist.
Image via Craigslist
Always come prepared with cash.
Some Craigslist sellers might accept payment via Paypal or Venmo, but to err on the side of caution, always show up prepared with a pocket full of cash. And just in case your seller doesn’t have any cash on their person, try to break your Jacksons in advance to create exact change.
Make a separate email account just for Craigslist.
If you plan on become a frequent Craigslist shopper, consider making a separate email account just for contacting sellers. Many seasoned buyers say that this helps them keep things more organized, plus prevents sellers from getting their hands on personal information. And if you need to keep this new inbox sparkling clean, don’t miss the 27 Ways to Be a Stress-Free Email User.
Sellers in a hurry will post their items at a great price (and in some cases, will even post them for free). But if you want to snag those sweet deals, you have to be willing to act at a moment’s notice, lest someone else gets it first.
Sellers try to be as detailed as possible in their descriptions, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have more questions to ask. As a consumer, you have a right to know what you’re buying, so don’t be afraid to respond to a listing with questions about a product’s dimensions, condition, or really, whatever crosses your mind.
When shopping Craigslist, the listed price is almost never set in stone. Use the power of persuasion to negotiate, and you just might turn a decent deal into the sale of the century.
Compare your options.
For purchases that are big investments, like a new sofa or a smart TV, it helps to weigh your options. Instead of jumping the gun on the first decent deal you come across, make a spreadsheet of all the items you’re interested in, comparing the price, location, item condition, and brand. After a day or two (items on Craigslist don’t usually last long), decide which item you’re most interested in and contact the seller for more information.
Look for cheap items you can refurbish.
Don’t ignore an item just because it’s not in pristine condition. Many seasoned buyers enjoy buying pre-loved furniture and refurbishing it to add their own personal touch. Just make sure that the pieces you buy don’t have any major damage (like bed bugs or water stains) that render their structures unusable. And if you love sprucing up vintage pieces, then you might find yourself relating to these 15 Signs You’re Old-Fashioned.
It should be common knowledge, given all of the horror stories circulating online, but it’s always wise to meet up with your seller in a public place with lots of cameras, like a coffee shop or a well-trod public park. And if you have to pick up furniture at a seller’s house, make sure that someone knows where you are—address and all—so that if they don’t hear from you, they know where to come looking.
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