Wednesday, April 23, 2014

WFMW no. 3 - buying on craigslist

This is the 3rd home we are furnishing and unfurnishing on Craigslist.
We are not in the season where it makes sense to buy 'forever' furniture, so what's worked for us the first few years of marriage is buying what we need for where we are and then selling it when we go somewhere else.
A friend of mine recently said, "hey will you find me such and such a stroller on craigslist because I like the idea, but we aren't craigslist people."
And it made me realize... Craigslist is weird and overwhelming, and I've learned a few tips and tricks along the way, so I thought I'd share them.

BUYING. Let's cover buying this week and selling next week. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

1. Look in advance When I know I have an upcoming purchase I might want to use craigslist for, I start looking before I need it. Craigslist isn't Amazon. You're more likely to find a great deal if you keep an eye out for a while.

2. How to search This is the home page for Boston. The tiny abbreviations next to "Boston" are more specific areas in Boston (gbs, nwb, bmw, nos, sob). For something like an end table, I might not really be willing to travel outside of my specific area, so I might click one of those to narrow the search. But for something like the perfect double stroller, I might be willing to drive 30 minutes, so I wouldn't click any of those.

I was looking for a double stroller for a while. So, I clicked the 'baby + kid' section under the for sale heading. This is the first thing I see. Again, you can see the narrower locations as tabs across the top. I'll keep it on 'all boston' for now.

In most of the categories, but especially in the baby + kids section, there is a lot of junk. Someone selling 5 rattles for a dollar or a random 6 month girls outfit. Now don't get me wrong, I am not above garage sale-ing anything for my kid. Almost every item I've bought for my kid(s) is used. But, I don't use Craigslist like a garage sale because it's not worth the hassle to me for the small stuff.  Anyway, moving on.
If you wanted to browse all double strollers, you might type "double stroller" in the search box. I was looking for a specific one - the Baby Jogger City Select Double. If you type all those words, it'll only pull up ads with all those words. This is a main thing to keep in mind because not everybody thinks like you. So even though, that is what I was looking for, I usually just typed City Select.  Baby Jogger is the brand, but this particular stroller is their City Select model. I didn't think everyone selling one would necessarily include the brand. I usually try a few different ways of searching if I'm looking for something specific.
Example: sofa/ sleeper sofa/ pullout couch/ hide a bed/ - all as different searches.
Example: end table/ bedside table/ table - all as different searches.

3. Making contact. Okay so, I've narrowed down my search by typing "City Select" in the search box. And this is what comes up.

I see the stroller I want in black for $450 (top middle) and in white for $400. I will probably contact both of those people since they're only $50 in price difference. People negotiate. We'll get there later.  I click the ad and it takes me to this page. See the tiny "reply" button in the top left?

Click "reply" and up pops this:

If you click the crazy email address listed under "reply by email," it will open your default mail browser, which is probably Microsoft Outlook on Windows (does anyone on the planet use outlook!?) or Apple Mail on Mac (which I equally dislike). I always click 'gmail' and it will open this page in a new tab:

This is a new-ish feature of craigslist and a big improvement, in my opinion. It's super nice that they plug in that crazy email for you (it's to protect seller's private email) and that they include the link to the product for sale in the email already. Way easier than copying and pasting all that, especially when you're emailing several people and spacey and pregnant :)
I usually write the following for my first email (and I write it above the link that's there already):

Hi, is your [blank item] still available? Thanks, Renee

I think it makes a slight difference to say "Hi," format your email like a letter, and include your first name in the signature. But that's just me. This will open an email exchange between you and this other person, but they will not have your personal email unless you give it to them.  In their inbox, your email will appear as a similarly crazy code email to hide your real email. But you will still be able to view this email in your regular gmail inbox. I like that feature too. Way to go, Craig.

4. Negotiating. Think about value for a minute. The value of an item is determined by what people are willing to pay for it. Therefore, a 'good price' is what 2 people agree on. If you see that ad and think "400" is crazy for a stroller and I see it and think it's a good deal, then you won't pay for it, and I will. And the seller will get her $400. It sounds simple, but it's an important concept in negotiating.

Check how long it's been for sale
Here's the ad again. See at the top where it says "posted: a day ago"?
How long it's been up might determine how willing or unwilling the seller is to negotiate the price. If it's been up for 1 day and she's gotten 10 emails from interested people, she probably won't go lower on the price right away. This is why I never mention price in my first email. I only ever ask if the item is still available.

Check out retail value.
She says this retails for over $800 new. I'm skeptical. Check a few websites and ad up the cost of all the parts she's selling. It might come in handy to know current retail value during your negotiations.

Check out comparable listings.
If there are 5 other strollers like this, all around $400, you could maybe swing a slightly lower price. If someone else was selling this for $350 but it was red and I wanted white, I might say at some point, "There is another one for sale for $350 that I would buy, but I like the white a little better. Would you take $350?" [Again, I wouldn't say this in the first email, only after I've heard back from her.]

Check out their selling time frame.
Sometimes people say, "moving, must sell immediately." Or something similar. Obviously, they are a little more likely to negotiate (in general).

Price firm?
Sometimes people specify "price firm" in the ad. If that is the case, I don't usually ask for lower. If it's too much higher than I'm willing to pay, then I don't contact them.  UNLESS the ad has been posted for a while (10 days or more) and it's still available... Then i know they might be more willing to negotiate even though they originally said "price firm."

Lowball offers.
I don't usually 'lowball.' Meaning, I probably wouldn't ask this lady if she'd take $100. That's less than half of what she's asking and it looks like it's in great shape. Plus, as she notes in her ad, the retail value of all that is around $800. If our email exchange led me to think I might have a shot at a crazy low offer, I'd probably do it like this:
[This is a screen shot of an email I received about a mirror I had listed on craigslist to sell. It's a decorative floor mirror, retails for $100 from Ikea, in perfect shape, I was asking $60. I've since changed my mind and decided to move it :) ]

I think, there's no harm in asking to go very low, but be nice and acknowledge that it's low and a slight explanation wouldn't do any harm in that situation.

Know when to negotiate
Lately, I almost always do the negotiating via email. Quite frankly, if that stroller is $400 and I'm not willing to pay more than $350, then I don't want to make the trip out there if she's not willing to come down on the price. So I ask before I go.
My personal rule of thumb is that if we negotiated the price via email, I do not try to negotiate again in person UNLESS the item is somehow different than described. If I'm buying a couch and we agreed on $200 and then I get there and it has some rips or stains, I would either ask for less or decide I don't want it.
Sometimes, it might just be more appropriate to skip negotiating via email and wait to see the item. Maybe if the pictures are blurry and they can't send any better ones but you think it might be worth seeing because you're really interested. Or with an electronic item you'd want to test first. Or with a used car.

5. Less is More.
Remember, you're on the internet. People are weird. They don't need your life story, your social security number, your last name, or your home address. Stick the facts, but don't be cold or rude.

6. Go with a friend.
I almost never go alone to pick something up unless it's at a public location. A recent exception would be buying a stroller actually. I found the double I wanted at a great price, exchanged several emails with the lady, and texted back and forth about her address. We agreed upon a time for me to pick it up and it had to be when it was just me and Addie.  I knew from her address that she lived in a 2-flat on a busy street in a busy part of Boston. She met me outside on the sidewalk with the stroller ready. (I would never enter someone's house alone.) She showed me how to work it, offered to put it in the car for me since I am quite pregnant, and I paid her the money and we left. It was cordial, but not too friendly. And really, still in 'public' because we were outside in front of her apartment building.

And just for some motivation, here are some finds I've had on Craigslist:

this dresser was two tone black and brown; some scratches too;
 $25 on craigslist. removed awkward feet, painted green (primer + 2 coats); replaced knobs 
frame/ gallery wall details here

I think we paid $100 for this desk and sold it for $150 when we were done using it for a year. the smokin' hot husband was free ;) 

Paid $130 for the whole set; it was almost brand new; we used it for 2 years and brought it with us to Cambridge. No room in our apartment for this table. Sold the chairs for $50 and plan to use the table in the next place. 

Bought this desk for $25. It came with a chair. Both were cream colored and fading; the upholstery on the chair was stained and torn blue velvet. I wish I had a better picture of the befores and afters. Painted all white, reupholstered chair, used for 1 1/2 years; sold for $100. Plus the lady who bought it paid me an additional $80 for a dresser we got for free and were selling. :) 

this little basket retails for $50 as a co-sleeper. we borrowed one from a friend with Addie and it was super convenient for bouncing all around with baby. Since we weren't sure where we were going to live and we are sure we'll be traveling some this summer, I picked this one up for $10 on craigslist for baby #2. It'll probably just be her bed for the first few months. Made the sheet with a 1/2 yard of discounted fabric that cost $1.50. Plus $1 for the elastic, bought with coupon.  

Phew. There you have it. I wish I had pictures of all the good finds I've come across on craigslist over the past couple years. But, maybe with this next place I'll remember to take pictures? (It's probably more likely that I'll be in a hazy-newborn-plus-17-month-old-we-just-moved-across-the-country-and-are-trying-to-find-a-dresser-and-living-out-of-boxes-eating-on-the-floor daze and won't take any pictures.)  

So, do you use craigslist? Any great deals you've made? Did I miss anything? What works for you? 

works for me wednesday at we are that family