The 9 Secrets of Highly Successful Craigslist Sellers

by Paul Michael on 7 March 2011 23 comments
Photo: CHRISsadowski

Most of you have no doubt used Craigslist for the usual reasons. Either you’re looking for something (a home, used stuff, a job, or maybe a partner) or you’ve got something to sell or offer. Either way, there are tips and tricks that you can utilize to make the most of the service. (See also: Craigslist Shopping 101)

In fact, just a little knowledge can make the difference between selling an item in days (or even hours) and seeing it languish in the archives for a month before reposting. Follow these guidelines, and you can get much better results the next time you post something on Craigslist.

Note: These are tips for getting sales results, not general Craigslist tips. You should of course be careful whenever agreeing to meet people, giving your personal information, and so forth. For those kind of tips, please look at Craigslist's safety and scam information, and check out the very helpful Craigslist forums on your local site.

1. Repost to Keep Your Ad on Top

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just hit a button and your ad from last week would shoot to the top of the page today? Well, sorry, that won’t happen. Craigslist has put measures in place to stop that. Mostly it’s to stop spam posters from engulfing the site. But there are workarounds that spammers can’t be bothered with, and you should consider them if you really want to get your ad noticed. Buyers don't want to go through pages and pages of old posts, and if you wait 30 days to repost (the time is takes for your ad to expire), it could take a long time to get it sold. If you haven't had a response within a few days of posting, it's probably time to repost.

The following video will show you everything you need to know, but there’s an abbreviated step-by-step guide below.

Go to the video

  1. Make sure you have a Craigslist account before you start posting ads. You don’t need one, but it makes life so much easier.
     
  2. Post your ad in the usual manner (following the tips below).
     
  3. On the following day, log in again, right click on the ad you'd like to repost and open it in a new tab.
     
  4. Right click on "edit this posting," and open that in a new tab.
     
  5. Right click on the "category" you have your ad posted in, and open that in a new tab. (All of these tabs enable quick back-and-forth editing.)
     
  6. Click on the "post" button to the far right and select a category and location.
     
  7. Go back to the tab containing your original ad and copy and paste each section into the new blank template. When done, click continue.
     
  8. Fill out the annoying captcha code.
     
  9. Now go back to your old ad (it should be on the second tab) and delete it.
     
  10. Your ad should now be reposted at the top of the category.

2. ALWAYS Post an Image a GOOD Image

We’re visual creatures. If you are selling something, whether it’s a house, an old TV, or even yourself in a personal ad, post an image. The majority of people will click on image-based ads first. In fact, when I’m looking for something used, I filter out the ads that don’t have images. My reasoning — if the person isn't posting a picture, there may be something wrong with the item. And when you post photos of the item, make sure they are good, clear, crisp color photos. Don't take a shaky, out-of-focus photo with your cell phone and call it a day. That just irritates the buyer. They'll move on.

rotten photo

Photo credit: Lumachrome

3. Don’t Put a Question in Your Headline

If you’re posting a job, a personal ad, or perhaps a service, it may work to your advantage. People are drawn in by questions if they are appropriate. Questions are really effective for personals. But if you’re selling something tangible, like a home, a car, or an object you don’t want any more, I strongly suggest you keep the headline purely informational. Consider these two headlines:

Phillips 27” LCD TV, Like New, In Box, $230.

How can you resist this gorgeous new 27” Phillips LCD TV? Only $230.

They basically contain the same information. However, the first is a no-nonsense description. The second feels like salesy marketing talk, and that makes me feel like a used car salesman is trying to sell me an old junker with a new paint job. Be direct, just like any listing in a catalog for Best Buy or Target. That goes double if you’re selling a home. Say it like it is, and don’t try to be clever. It will hurt you.

4. Be as Specific as You Can Be

Remember, you’re trying to sell something that people will have to go out of their way to come and collect. Before they spend the time and the gas money to travel to your home or place of business, they want to know as much as they can about the item. I’ve seen listings that had barely one line written about them.

Bookcase. Quick sale. Cash. $25 FIRM.

Yeah, great. But an ad that has photos of the bookcase along with dimensions, type of material, condition, history, maker and location, well, that one is far more enticing. It says a lot about the seller too. One could hardly be bothered to post the ad; the other has done a good job. That may not be a true reflection of the type of person you actually are or the condition the item is that you're selling, but on Craigslist, first impressions are everything.

5. Do Your Homework

And you thought homework was all behind you. Craigslist is vast, and many millions of items are posted on it every year. So if you're selling your old sofa, how do you make sure your offer is more attractive? The best way is to spend some quality time on Craigslist. Search the ads, and see what similar sofas are going for. Do you see a sofa that has been posted over and over? What was wrong with it? Why didn't it sell? Price too high? No pictures or bad pictures? Really dig deep. Once you get the lay of the land, you should be able to write a compelling ad. But then there's the other tricky part...

overpriced?

Photo credit: merfam

6. Make Sure the Price Is Right

Like most negotiations in life, this one is all about compromising between what you want and what the buyer wants. Buyers want to pay as little as possible, and you want to get as much as you can. So post an item with a price that's way too high, and you'll get no bites. Post too low, and you'll lose your bargaining power. Craigslist buyers will always try and knock some money off, and you'd be wise to factor that in. Generally, I take the absolute lowest price I would be willing to accept and add 20-25% to it. That's not applicable for everything (a home or car for instance), but it's a good rule of thumb. Post your sofa for $300, and take no less than $225. Chances are you'll get $250 for it, and everyone's happy. And most important — accept CASH only, preferably in $20 bills or less.

7. Pair Up Items That Go Together

It may seem obvious, but many people will list a crib and a glider in separate posts. But chances are if someone's looking for one, they may very well need the other, too. So pair them up. Offer a discount for taking both off your hands. If you are willing to split them, you can mention that as well. Your single ad could sell two birds with one post.

8. Be an Eager Beaver

I'm not a huge fan of instantly replying to emails or calls. But as a seller on Craigslist, you increase your chances of selling your items if you email or call people as soon as you can. Most people will blast several emails out to different sellers, and the first one to respond gets the sale. Make sure you're first, and be polite and enthusiastic. If you're leaving for a business trip or vacation, post your ad when you return. And if you find yourself responding to a deluge of emails, try Texter to minimize wear and tear on your fingers.

9. Consider Trades

Bartering is alive and well, and it's on Craigslist. These days, people have a lot of stuff they don't want, and a lot of stuff they do. One man's trash is another man's treasure, so if there's something you want that's as good as cash, mention that too.

Following these nine tips should get your items moving faster than sunscreen in a heat wave. And if you have any great selling tips, let us know. Oh, but before I sign off, one final word...

Be a Good Craigslister and Remove Items That Sold!

It's happened to me countless times. I search for something, find just what I'm looking for, and blast off an email. Then I get a reply saying, "Sorry, that sold." Well, why's the ad still up? Even more annoying, as the days go by, you search for that same item, and that ad's still there! Please, littering Craigslist with your old ads is not helping this invaluable community.

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Andrea Karim's picture

OMG, getting people to take down a craigslist ad for sold items is like pulling teeth. I've written back to people who say, "Sorry, it sold" with a note saying "Well, then take down your ad", and I always get a response like "It won't let me."

It just proves that so many people on the internet don't deserve to be on the internet.

Guest's picture

I've bought and sold on Craigslist a number of times and these tips are right on. I would add this to the picture section: post

Guest's picture
Sam

I hate when I filter out by ads that don't have pictures only to find someone who posts their phone number as a picture with no other images in the ad. Really annoying.

Guest's picture
sd

Good article! I have a few additional pointers, though:

- Wondering in which category to post your ad? Pick the most appropriate category. A baby's crib is Furniture, but people looking for them are browsing Baby + Kids. Put your ad in Baby + Kids.

- Combining items in an ad is fine IF they fall into the same category. A crib and a playpen go together fine in one ad; a crib and a silk plant; not so much. It's more work, but you may miss customers by lumping them together.

- Finally, consider your own safety when exchanging money and items. Many people feel more comfortable meeting in a public place; offer this to prospective buyers. If it's not something you can take with you (piano, TV you want to demonstrate), invite people to your home only once you've talked or emailed with them a bit. The vast majority of craigslisters I've dealt with have been just fine. But every now and then there's someone who would be way out there with or without craigslist; be careful.

Guest's picture
Guest

ALWAYS give complete and accurate measurements and any details about the condition of the item (You'll waste your time as well as that of others by not mentioning the details that affect saleability). Size, materials, age, etc. are key factors in determining whether someone wants to buy.

Don't play games and think that making them call or e-mail you to get information will up your sell-through. It won't. People who don't put basic information in an ad are an auto turn-off to most serious buyers.

Also important to know for city dwellers: Whether you're in an elevator building or walk-up.

As both a seller and buyer on craigslist, I've wasted more time with people who don't give complete information. I've learned and I no longer waste time when people either don't include info or don't answer the questions I ask when I email or call them.

Some people simply don't want to take the time to do the work of selling. That said, I've gotten some great stuff and had very positive experiences.

Watch your wording in the ads. It tells the potential buyer a great deal and being wise-ass and demanding about how you will sell something will turn people off.

Guest's picture
Paul

Thanks. Great tip about ignoring ads that fail to mention appropriate details. I will save time from now on and ignore these ads, even if there may be potential because, overall, it's a waste of my time.

Mikey Rox's picture

I use Craigslist all the time, and these are excellent tips. Thanks, Paul!

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for the article, but please reconsider the first recommendation. If the majority of sellers repeatedly posted ads every day they failed to sell, it would inevitably disrupt the service. Unsold items would compound each day, forcing buyers to scan through constantly lengthening lists of unsold items. It also would almost certainly drown out competing posts that are listed less frequently- ideally only once.

This also probably violates craigslist's terms of use (see 7.p. and 7.w.) Admittedly, it's unlikely craigslist will fine the stated $100 per re-post, but it will definitely give regular buyers on craigslist reason to dislike and flag them when they see them.

If the author disagrees with this interpretation, could he please solicit a comment from craigslist itself on the point? Thanks again.

Guest's picture
XJ

THANK YOU. This was my first thought too.
Personally, if someone keeps spamming CL with their ad over and over, I will 1) Flag it and 2) Never buy from them.

All the tips in this post were great, except that miserable "repost often and break the rules of CL" advice.

Guest's picture

Tons of great tips! Throughout University I would bulk buy digital cameras from ebay then resell them locally on craigslist.

Guest's picture
cyberpigue

There is one problem with reposting, however. If your item is one that is of more than local interest value, reposting causes search engines to not keep up with your ad. For example, if you are trying to sell a unique gasoline station sign, once you've posted it for months, it's pretty obvious that nobody locally is interested. If you leave the ad up for awhile, search engines point people to you ad from all over the world. If you keep reposting it, search engines point to the last indexing and likey visitors see "ad deleted by poster" folowing the link and assume it is sold.

Guest's picture
Karen

I use a cool (and free) Android app called Craiglist Seller Tool, which notifies me when my listings expires. It saves me time cause I never have to check on my listings any more! And when my listings expire they are immediately relisted because I get notified. I wish everything would auto-notify me when they expired.

Guest's picture
Ryan

I can't even count how many things I've sold on craigslist and these are all really great tips.

I Actually made a website called mycraigslistadvisor.com that is solely for the purpose of sharing tips and information to help people sell stuff on craigslist and make more money then they otherwise would have. I encourage everyone to check it out because even if it makes you only an extra twenty bucks it's still worth your time. A link in the article would also be appreciated and would be a good resource for your readers!

Keep up the good work!

Guest's picture
Justin

"Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just hit a button and your ad from last week would shoot to the top of the page today? Well, sorry, that won’t happen. Craigslist has put measures in place to stop that. Mostly it’s to stop spam posters from engulfing the site."

Actually, Craigslist now has that exact button.

Guest's picture
Guest

One more thing: Clean up the area before you take a picture of the item. I don't know many people who want to buy stuff that comes from a dirty house or cluttered and dank-looking garage.

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, all of the above are great. I just wish the seller I'm currently interested in buying from would reply to my emails! I know many people probably want the seller's item but at least let me know if it's sold or not, or remove the ad once you've sold it! Now I keep wondering whether or not my emails are getting through!

Could just be my impatient/anxious mind as well..

.. but it's been a few days!...

..kay, now I'm ranting, sorry.

Guest's picture

These are great tips. Wish I would have read this article years ago. And you're all right about the lack of protocol on craigslist. taking down an ad isn't that hard

I believe that we need a community for people who sell on craigslist to learn the business, so I made a blog devoted to this purpose. Join me at http://blog.craigslistfulltime.com/ if youre interested

Guest's picture
Paul

This is a great read - agree with Andrea, getting ads taken down seems too difficult for many. Reposting should be a for sale service at CL. When I read the part on quick responses ("Eager Beaver") if forced me to point out that moredeets.com does provide this now for me - it was in beta I think, but it is quite easy and allows me to get off mail and reply without giving buyers my info (which is the part I really love since many fail Andrea's test:))

Guest's picture
Eline

I have an additional tip to "Make sure the price is right". I'e just signed up to this great new startup called Statricks, which is a great tool to help you figure out what your stuff is worth and what you should ask for an item. I would recommend everybody using online marketplaces to sign up for this site - and good luck trading! http://www.statricks.com/craigslist-used-pricing-tool.html?lrRef=FYHr0

Guest's picture
Nick G.

Great tips. Number 8 is very true. Sometimes you will get an email from a possible buyer, only to notice 6 or 7 other email addresses on the email that also got the same message.

Guest's picture
Guest

Putting your major cross streets in the add or ballpark item location is almost as important to me as the price. There are some items that even if I want them I simply am not going to drive 30 miles to buy. Wasting my time finding out your all the way across town is painful.

Guest's picture
Guest

The secret to a good ad is to have big, high resolution images. You do this by uploading your images to an image host, such as http://craigupload.com

Guest's picture
Guest

Decent tips except that one should be judicious in reposting. There are MANY who abuse the privilege and clog Craigslist with repeat ads. If an item doesn't sell after a few reposts, reduce your price or accept that your item won't sell and remove it as a courtesy to others. If you don't, it becomes fairly easy to know you're the person posting again and again, which leads to instant flagging and/or disregard.

A number of such abusive Craigslisters have become laughing stocks in a couple of cities where I've lived and used the site. Be honest with yourself regarding item value, local market size (Craigslist Chicago is going to bring greater possibility of a sale than Evansville, Indiana or similar, generally speaking) and item value. Also, more often than not you will NOT be able to get Ebay going rate because the audience size and needs are quite different.