Who doesn’t love a good bargain?
In my previous tv wall mount/wall art post, I hinted at the backstory behind the Craigslist crown jewel of my home, this Paloma II reclaimed wood dining table:
I could see from the listing photo that it was in mint condition. The owner loved it but had to sell because of a sudden work-related move to the West Coast. He was looking to bundle it with four linen slipcovered dining chairs, each of which retail for $219. In a bizarre twist, I already had the matching bench under plastic in my basement, which I had bought earlier on clearance fearing that it might be discontinued. Sure enough, the bench soon disappeared from the showroom. And then the online catalog. For weeks I wondered whether I’d made a mistake. Now, I felt a tingle run up my spine.
With only one weekend left to clear his entire condo, the owner was in the mood to negotiate a quick sale. Sight unseen, my husband and I rolled up in a U-Haul. He knew we came to play.
In the end I paid one-third of what it cost brand new, and that’s not including the additional $150 sales tax and $175 shipping costs we saved avoiding the retailer. (Cost to rent U-Haul van: $19.95 + gas & mileage.)
There are two ways to shop for high-end furniture on Craigslist:
- Spend hours scanning the entire Craigslist universe under the general category of furniture in the hopes that something will jump out at you, and then throw darts at random listings to “see what sticks.” You have no specific items in mind but figure that like pornography, you’ll know it when you see it.
- See yourself as a serious curator. Before you start, create a blueprint that defines exactly what types or pieces of furniture you want, from which stores or brands, and how they’ll mesh with your existing pieces and planned decor. With each criteria you are narrowing your search parameters. You don’t have time to waste scanning every single furniture listing in a single category, so you set up filters and notifiers using a Craigslist mobile app.
I’m a fan of the second way.
When I first saw the Paloma II dining table listing on Craigslist, I gasped. It was a Sunday morning, and my husband and I were barely out of bed when I checked my phone to see if the seller of another furniture set we’d arranged to buy, a white Pottery Barn sofa and chair, had sent me their house address as promised. We were planning to run out and rent a U-Haul van for a few hours, make the pickup, and come back home. And now, suddenly…this. It’s happening. It’s really happening.
Something was in the air. I was entering that rare and magical Craigslist zone where all the pre-loved stars were aligning in my favor.
I fired up an email to the Paloma seller letting him know I was interested, and that we could come see it today. Wait. No. Backspace. Come BUY it today. Feeling bold, I also asked if he’d be willing to knock off an extra $400 if I agreed to take the whole set and arrange delivery within hours.
I sighed, quietly placed my phone in my lap, and closed my eyes. I envisioned myself in my new home, placing freshly-cut hydrangea flowers in a vase, and then placing said vase in the center of my new (to me) Paloma II reclaimed wood dining table:
Claim it, and the universe will respond. All those weekends spent stroking it in the Crate & Barrel showroom have led to this moment. You finally willed it into existence. This table is your destiny. Opening my eyes, I turned to my husband.
Me: Honey, look. LOOK! It’s the Paloma dining table from Crate & Barrel.
Husband (puts on glasses): Huh. Is that the exact same one?
Me: Yes. We have to move fast. I told him we can come get it today.
Husband: What? What about the other couch and chair we’re supposed to be picking up?
Me (mind racing a mile a minute): That’s still happening. We’ll run go get the couch and chair first, then double back…
Husband: But the couch guy is in Ashburn. Where is this table guy?
Me: In Roslyn.
Husband: Roslyn?!? That’s in the opposite direction. You mean we’re going to drive to Chantilly, get the U-Haul, drive down to Ashburn, pick up the sofa and chair, then drive all the way to…
Me: No. We’re going to come back home in between, unload the sofa and chair, then drive up to Roslyn for the table.
Husband (long pause): So we’re going to go…
Me: Yes. Yes. Honey, it’s all going to work out, but we have to move NOW.
This conversation was loaded with risk. My husband did not respond well to sudden changes in plan. And he hadn’t had his coffee yet. If rushed, he could shut down. Hold on, maybe we should just slow down here and take a step back, analyze whether…
I couldn’t let that happen. Paralysis and indecision are Craigslist deal killers, and I was not about to lose this Paloma table that I had been legit stalking for the better part of two years, waiting for it to go on sale or clearance. I had made my peace with an empty dining room long ago. For as long as it took. There was no Plan B.
Because I did my homework in advance and knew (a) how rare to nonexistent this listing was and (b) what this particular table was worth (thus how fast it would sell), I did not commit the fatal mistake of “bruising the seller” out the gate with a lot of back-and-forth email haggling or some ridiculous lowball offer. That’s a strategy for a different set of market circumstances involving commonly held items that come through Craigslist on a regular, or even semi-regular, basis. This was not that time, so instead I calculated the maximum amount he would be willing to take off the price, made a reasonable counteroffer that allowed everyone to win, and closed the deal.
The most important thing: I let him know in my original email that my husband and I already had a U-Haul and were prepared to pick up within 3 hours if we could come to terms. I later found out after the sale that he had another potential buyer who’d been on ice for most of the day waiting to see if our sale would fall through. My email had reached him only an hour earlier than hers.
The biggest mistake buyers on Craigslist make is not outlining for the seller your specific timeline for action. Even after coming to terms with this seller, I texted him with near-hourly updates. I texted him after we dropped off our first furniture haul to confirm his address and say “Leaving now.” I texted him when we were 30 minutes away to say “30 minutes away.” I left no daylight in his mind to entertain thoughts of us bailing. Because when that happens, his natural instinct is to hedge his bets by making shadow arrangements with the next buyer in line. (Ever had a Craigslist seller suddenly go radio silent on you after a promising exchange? Yeah. That’s what it was. He or she pretends to be so busy they can’t respond timely, when in reality they are purposely avoiding contact with you while they wait to see if the other deal falls through.)
The next biggest mistake is not doing enough to convince the seller upfront that you are not a scam artist or assailant-in-hiding. This is less of an issue with furniture resale than it is with popular electronics like laptops and mobile phones, but still. People are nervous enough about strangers showing up to their home to conduct cash transactions. I always include phrasing like “my husband and I” or “my mother and I” when first contacting a seller, because couples and families are not generally associated with crime rings. I make sure my email is detailed, mentions the item by name (spammers send generic cut-and-paste “Is the item still available?” messages), and reeks of transparency. One of the quickest ways for a potential buyer to build trust is to suggest a public inspection area, such as an open garage or driveway within sight of neighbors, or an apartment lobby with a lot of foot traffic and security cameras.
My husband and I spent that entire day circling the DC area in a U-Haul, loading and unloading furniture, but in the end it paid off. On both transactions, we saved a total of $5,000.
Craigslist Power User Checklist:
- Understand your taste in decor. I found that the easiest way to do this was to focus on which furniture stores I most enjoyed shopping or browsing in. That list included Crate & Barrel, Room & Board, West Elm, Restoration Hardware. (All places I usually can’t afford.) For you it might be Pottery Barn and IKEA. Whatever. Write them down.
- Visit your favorite furniture stores, either in person or online, and make a wishlist of specific items across different categories (dining room, living room, master bedroom, etc.). Be conservative, and prioritize pieces that either replace worn items, or fill rooms which are currently empty.
- Download a mobile Craigslist app from the App store. (You may need to register as a user on the desktop version first.) I use cPro, so those are the screenshots featured here. However, a recent check in the App store revealed that this app is no longer available as a download for new users, though it still works great for legacy users. It looks like new apps Qwilo Craigslist Mobil App and CPlus have popped up to fill the void, so give those a try. They all pretty much work the same.
- Create lookup criteria for your preferred furniture stores. In the pictured example, you’ll see that I created a regional area lookup for all furniture listings that have “West Elm” anywhere in the product description. Note that you don’t have to waste time specifying individual items – like bed, table, chair, media unit – because those will automatically get gathered up under the general West Elm filter. Even if it’s just a throw pillow, sellers will find a way to work “West Elm” into the product description because they know that signals a certain on-trend vibe, justifies the price they are asking, and increases their chances of a sale. (On the flip side, if the throw pillow came from Kmart or Target, they will make no mention of the brand, and hope that you don’t ask.)
- Create lookup criteria for specific items. For example, if you are looking for an uncommon item like a California King bed frame, go ahead and create a lookup and alert just for that, regardless of manufacturer. (most mobile apps set a limit on the number of alerts you can have active at any one time, so be selective.)
- Enable the mobile Craigslist app to alert you when new listings are posted. In the CPlus app, for example, you’ll need to click the edit button for the alert and make sure it is set to “Alert on.”
- If you are in an active search, establish a time first thing in the morning to scan all the existing listings across your alerts. Why, Terri? You said the app will notify me. That’s true. The app will notify you. Eventually. In the meantime, though, you want to collect as much data up front. We’re talking about a process that you bake into your day which takes no more than 10-15 minutes. See what related items are being listed for. This allows you to refine your pricing and negotiation strategy on the fly, so that when you’re ready to act on a hot listing with an offer, you can do so with confidence and lightening speed, without making any rookie lowball mistakes (or paying more than you should).
- If you are in a passive search, go about your life and your business as usual. Follow up on alerts at your own convenience.
- Don’t be a jerk. When sending an email bid, consider each word carefully and take pains not to unnecessarily bruise the seller. I know you want to come off as a hardball negotiator not willing to be ripped off, but overplaying your hand here is counterproductive. And premature. And the mark of an amateur. Put yourself in the seller’s position, pretend that the item is yours, and think about how you can allow the seller to save face even when they say things in the listing like “price is firm.” I get that Craigslist can seem like a cold and heartless den of transactions, but that’s all the more reason to stand out by using empathy instead of soul-crushing tactics. Instead of insulting the buyer by pointing out that their price is ridiculously higher than others you’ve seen, you might try saying something like this: “Hi! I respect your *firm/no negotiations* position. If you are unable to get your full asking price for (insert item name) over time and are willing to entertain X dollars (my max budget), I hope you’ll keep me in mind and contact me. I’m looking to buy by (insert call to action date.) If not, best of luck with your sale! Thanks, (your name).”
- Establish credibility by showing up or calling, even when you’re no longer interested in the item. Craigslist “buyers” who blow off set appointment times without advance notice poison the well for everyone else, making it harder to deal in good faith. Pay it forward.
Contrary to what most believe, Craigslist is not a used goods marketplace. It’s a landmine of emotions. People are emotionally invested in their “stuff” and get all kinds of ideas in their head about what it’s worth…not just to them, but others. If your negotiation approach overlooks this, you’re going to lose more bids than you win.
A final note: Understand that mobile apps come and go. Developers discontinue support, new and better apps come online, or a once-stable app undergoes an update causing all hell to break loose. At this writing cPro is the best Craigslist mobile out there that I’ve found, but there are no guarantees about tomorrow. Be sure to check the app store often for the latest and greatest Craigslist mobile apps available.
Go forth and bid. And may the Craigslist gods be with you.