How to Sell Your Items on Craigslist

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The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Kevin Mercadante, who is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry.

This is America, a place where most of us are blessed to have more stuff than we can ever want, need, or use. Sadly, a lot of the stuff that we want to get rid of ends up in landfills. That’s exactly what happens when you put your stuff out for garbage pickup!

But, you can easily convert your junk to cash on Craigslist, while keeping it out of the landfills.

I know – you’ve probably heard a few Craigslist horror stories, and you don’t want to get tied up with it. In truth, Craigslist is really nothing more than the traditional local newspaper classified ads gone cyber. People are hardly reading local newspapers anymore, which is making it almost impossible to either buy or sell through the print media classifieds. That’s why there’s Craigslist!

Whether you love or hate Craigslist, it is quickly turning into the preferred place to buy and sell secondhand merchandise at the local level.

I know this to be true because I have been increasingly working on Craigslist in recent years, and that is on both the buying and selling side. Not only can you sell your used items for cash, but you can also buy good secondhand items for a small fraction of their retail price. And sometimes, you can even buy an item on the cheap and sell it for profit.

Learn what sells on Craigslist – and what doesn’t

As a rule, you can sell anything on Craigslist that you can sell in the classified section of your local newspaper. You can easily learn what types of items sell by perusing the Craigslist site. There you will find everything from books to automobiles.

Common items in good working condition are an excellent start. Higher-priced, more exotic items that you might find on eBay are usually not good choices. There just aren’t enough people looking for those items through the site. But anything like furniture, computers, entertainment equipment, appliances – items of practical everyday use – are good candidates.

Clean up your merchandise and get it ready for sale

If you try to sell junk on Craigslist, you will probably waste a lot of time meeting with prospective buyers but not making the sale. People are looking for items that work and will fill a need in their lives. You can sometimes sell defective items if they have a high value, but simply need some work. But, you will have to disclose that in your ad and price it accordingly.

Whatever you are trying to sell, clean it up as well as you can, and make sure that it is in good working order. If you have the original paperwork and/or manuals that go with it, that will be a plus.

Make sure your title is descriptive and direct

Your title should be as descriptive and direct as possible, and avoid marketing fluff. The reason for this is that your ad will be one among many, and people will scan the titles to determine if they’re even going to click through to your ad. That being the case, your title must describe exactly what it is they’re looking for in as few words as possible.

You can be more explicit in the description section. There you can give more details on the item, as well as its finer points. Just be careful not to overstate your case – people who shop on the site tend to be very practical minded, and will be turned off by too much sales jargon (this is important!).

If you are not sure what to write, check out other ads on the site and see what they have used. Another little secret: go to the manufacturer’s website, look for the product description for the item, and use some of the more factual language from that.It’s worth repeating: people who shop on Craigslist are looking for facts, not fluff!

They also like photos. You can easily take pictures of your item using a digital camera or your cell phone. Craigslist will allow you up to eight photos per ad, and as a rule, eight is the number of photos you should have. Take the pictures from different angles, as well as close-ups of significant features.

Make sure you stay within the posting guidelines! Familiarize yourself with the Craigslist terms of use to make sure you aren’t violating them. For example, don’t call an item “new” if it isn’t, and even avoid using the term “like new”. Be sure to place your ads in the right section. Don’t place furniture in auto parts because you think you’ll get more activity there. If complaints are filed, Craigslist can flag your account. Too many flags can lead to a temporary or permanent ban from the site.

Once your ad is up and running, it will be good for 30 days. After that you can renew it as many times as you like. Best of all, there is no fee for running an ad on Craigslist!

Price your merchandise reasonably

When you’re pricing your items for sale, always remember that the people who come to the site are looking for a bargain. They are not the least bit interested in paying you an inflated price for an item because you need to get a certain minimum amount for it. These are savvy bargain hunters who know how much the item is worth.

Find out what the retail price is for the item you’re selling, but understand that you must price it substantially lower than that. Also check to see what comparable items are going for on the site, and adjust for quality and condition. If you price too low, you would be losing money. But price it too high, and you will not make a sale.

Be available, and be fully prepared to negotiate

Craigslist gives you different options for customer contact. The most common is email, but you do not need to give your personal email in the ad. Once you register with the site, your email will be on record, but a specific site email address will be used to preserve your privacy. You can of course disclose your actual email, but that is entirely unnecessary.

You can also list your cell phone number, but a lot of people don’t for security reasons. I always include my cell phone number, because the easier it is to reach you, the more likely it is that you will make a sale. And for what it’s worth, most of the people will respond by text, rather than with a phone call.

Price negotiations often begin on the first contact – as I said, Craigslist shoppers are practical minded people looking for bargains. In fact, I generally prefer to handle negotiations before meeting with anyone. It establishes the fact that they are serious, and that the price will be reasonable.

In negotiating, you must be prepared to compromise! Wheeling and dealing is part of the process, and you must get comfortable with it. If you insist on getting your asking price you’ll almost certainly come away with no money at all. I generally set my prices 20% to 30% above what I hope to get for the item, and negotiate down from there. However, there have been a few times where I got full price! Just never expect that to be the rule.

Meet your buyers at a safe but remote location

Unless you are selling a large object, such as a large appliance or piece of furniture, it is best to meet prospective buyers at a remote location. There are two reasons for doing this:

  1. You don’t want people coming to your house unless it is absolutely necessary, and
  2. it is usually easier for people to find a common commercial location than a home.

Whenever possible, I try to meet people at Starbucks. For one thing, their stores are all over the place. For another, buyers tend to feel more comfortable at a commonly recognized meeting place. It also means that there are other people around, which minimizes the possibility of anything bad happening. I will usually meet people in the parking lot, but very close to the building. Occasionally I have met people inside the store, but I try to avoid it as a rule.

Payment: Never – never – accept checks!!!

Finally we come to payment, and here is the absolute rule of Craigslist: cash on the barrel only! Never violate this rule because that’s where trouble can happen. If you accept checks – even once – you expose yourself to the possibility of a bounced check. When you’re dealing with strangers, you have no idea if they are the true issuers of the check, or if they are passing you a bogus check from a closed account or another party. If the check bounces, you will not only be out the amount of money that you should have gotten from the sale of your item, but you’ll be hit with a bounced check fee on top. I suspect that this is where Craigslist’s bad reputation comes from. People are overly trusting, accepting checks and get burned. Make sure that all of your transactions are in cash that way there will be no repercussions later. That goes for buying as well. If you write a check to pay for item that you buy, you’ll be turning important personal information over to a potential thief. The check contains your name, address, your personal account number, the bank routing number, and your signature. That will be handing your identity to an identity thief on a silver platter.

How about you all? Have you ever bought or sold on Craigslist? What advice would you give to someone was never done it before?   

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of

About the Author Jacob A Irwin

Hi folks! My name is Jacob. I am the owner and operator of My Personal Finance Journey. I started this blog in January of 2010 and have enjoyed the journey ever since. Since finishing up graduate school in Virginia in 2014, I have been working in biopharmaceutical development in Colorado. You can read more about me and this site here​. Please contact me if you have any questions!

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Leave a Comment:

rjack says May 3, 2013

I'm thinking about selling a car on craigslist. Do you still make it a cash only transaction even when it is thousands of dollars?
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    MyPerFinJourney says May 3, 2013

    My fiance actually sold her car on craigslist for multiple thousands of dollars…she requested that the buyer pay in cash only…he brought cash in 100 dollar bill denominations..she brought a counterfeit marking pen to mark on the bills to ensure they were legit before accepting..It all worked well!
    My recent post How to Sell Your Items on Craigslist

Jenny@FrugalGuru says May 3, 2013

I have mostly had good luck with craigslist. I definitely echo the no checks advice!
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Kevin Mercadante says May 3, 2013

rjack – You're free to accept what ever form of payment you like, but cash is heavily preferred. You can accept a cashier or bank check, but I'd arrange to transfer the car at the bank issuing the check so that the availability of funds can be verified. But I like cash a lot better than that even.

Jenny – I've been working through Craigslist for about a year now, and have no bad reports about it. Common sense eliminates most of the problems.
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Greg @ thriftgenuity says May 6, 2013

I sell a lot on Craigslist. In fact, I am finishing up a bathroom reno, and I have found I can save costs by selling the items I am replacing on Craigslist. One tip I would add is if you are comfortable listing a phone number in the ad, do it. That way, if someone still emails you vs. calling you up, it will give you a good idea of the buyer's commitment level and can save you some back and forth.
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