Whereas eBay is an online auction and store where you’ll never meet the person you bought that Star Wars Lunchbox from, Craigslist is a local site where buyers and sellers meet in person to exchange their goods. Some people are uncomfortable with this, sometimes finding it (somewhat justly) dangerous, but if you do it right you can keep yourself safe and be on the plus side of some really good deals!
Now, let’s talk about how it works.
Just like with eBay, you can go onto Craigslist and post an ad with a picture and description of what you’re selling, or wanting, or offering as a service. That’s where the comparison ends, because you also provide some amount of contact info whether it be just your email address or a phone number. Potential buyers who find your ad will contact you directly. Once you reach an agreement on a sale price or trade, it’ll be time to pick out a place to meet to consummate things.
This is where people get themselves in the most trouble. In fact, the most uncomfortable situation I’ve ever found myself in personally was mitigated by the fact that it occurred at the seller’s house. I’d driven over to someone’s home to purchase a $30 Super Nintendo game bundle. He offered to demonstrate that it worked and I accepted. We were sitting near the doorway, but after a couple minutes he insisted that the TV wasn’t going to work. So, he offered to display it in his basement room. My initial sense was NOT to follow him, but because we were in his home and not my own I went anyway. Everything turned out fine, no funny business, but in hindsight I shouldn’t have done that and either should’ve walked out or bought the items on trust and left.
The first rule you should follow is to never, ever let a buyer or seller meet you at your home. Is it OK to go to someone else’s home? Yes! This is actually the safest thing you can do so long as you let someone else know the address you’re going to, but you should never have them come to your home. There are many reasons for this and they’re all safety-related:
- If the seller comes to your home, and the item you purchased turns out to be a lemon, you won’t know where they live but they will know where you do. That could be a dangerous situation for you later.
- If the buyer comes to your home, and the item you sold turns out to be a lemon, they may interpret it as an intentional act and not hesitate to come back and harass you without warning.
- If the buyer or seller comes to your home and you’re alone, you’re opening your home to a stranger that you may have never otherwise allowed in.
Remember, as much as you may feel your correspondences have built up trust, there are active con-artists on Craigslist and you need to be careful. However, if you play it safe and keep a nose out for suspicious behavior, you’ll be just fine. Just make sure you meet in a public place (no, the alley behind that public place is not acceptable) where there will be several people (witnesses) around. My favorite locations are large parking lots near supermarkets. Never meet people inside a store; stay outside.
The typical meetup is usually very short and involves exchanging goods for cash and perhaps leafing through the individual items. Perhaps a bit of conversation. That’s it. If you’re buying a collectible item, chatting is good as a good report with the seller can net you more opportunities in the future. As a seller, you certainly prefer to sell your items to people you’ve sold to before because of the established trust. In fact, they may even contact you before putting their items on Craigslist in the first place! (i.e. great deals!)
As far as other tips when using Craigslist, here’s what I’ve learned to keep in mind:
- Put more trust in ads that have the pictures taken by the seller and good descriptions. Don’t trust ads with stock photography.
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the items ahead of time. Avoid meeting up unless you’re 99% sure you’ll buy the item, otherwise it’s an unnecessary risk.
- If the item seems like it might be stolen, it might be stolen. (Missing AC adapters, very low prices, stories about the item being recently bought but the receipt is lost, and items that are locked or broken should raise red flags.)
- If the contact info is only a real email address (not a Craigslist masked address) or the person refuses to use email or texting or insists they’ll call you after you email them, it’s an advertising scam. A few times I’ve contacted them about a great deal and gotten a message back saying the item was sold but “I bought the item at Suzie’s Electronics Boutique located at yadda, yadda, yadda!”
- Under no circumstances should you accept a check or even a money order (unless you plan on calling the bank on site). Insist on cash. Don’t worry, it’s expected.
- Never take partial payment with the promise of more later. That should be obvious.
- Try to establish contact with a seller via phone or text so you can verify their phone number. Should the item end up broken or fake, you can track down where the seller lives if you have their phone number. I had to recoup $100 this way one time when a pair of games I bought were forged. It turns out that crooked sellers don’t feel comfortable when you text them their home address.
- If you feel at all suspicious or uncomfortable, TRUST YOUR INSTINCT. Just walk away from it. No deal is worth putting yourself into a dangerous situation.
The best deals I’ve ever gotten have been via Craigslist. Many people even post items they’re giving away for FREE just to clear the space. Plus, they’re way easier to sell. Setting up an account on eBay takes time and new sellers often have trouble establishing trust with potential bidders because of their lack of history. On top of all that, as a buyer, you won’t have to pay shipping costs either.
So, there you have it. Happy Craigslisting!