If you've just started selling on Craigslist, it can get a little overwhelming. You'll get lowball offers, half of the emails will seem like scams and you might be worried about meeting up with an untrustworthy person.
There are definitely concerns when it comes to selling an item on Craigslist, but you don't want to be too paranoid about what could go wrong. Although bad things have happened on the site, it's hard to name a place on the Internet where someone hasn't taken advantage of another person. With a little savvy and caution, you can easily sell on Craigslist without getting yourself into trouble. I've been selling for a long time without issue. Here are the rules I live by that keep me from getting screwed and out of trouble.
When you can't meet in public, take the necessary precautions
Most people are at least as uncomfortable coming to your house to buy something as you are inviting them, so if you can meet in public you should. Generally a coffee shop or other easy-to-spot location between the two of you is best so you both have a fair, even amount of driving. Public meetings also have the advantage of witnesses — you know, so you're less likely to be murdered by the very rare psychopath looking to buy an iPad.
Meeting in public is a pretty obvious staple of a Craigslist, but it's not always possible. What if you're selling a couch? As much as I'd love to watch you haggle over a sofa outside of Kentucky Fried Chicken, I think we both know that's never going to happen. Some items just don't lend themselves to being sold anywhere other than where they are right now, and if you're selling them on Craigslist that probably means your house or apartment. If you're going to invite someone over for a sale, there are a few tricks to help keep you safe:
- Leave your door open during the sale so if there's a problem you can be heard.
- Have a friend (or two) with you when the sale is being made. If you have to be alone, have a friend call to check in with you during the sale or just keep them on the line during the sale in case something happens.
- If you live in an apartment, give your address but not your apartment number and meet the buyer outside first. (If you live in a house, you can meet them outside anyway.) In the event that you meet them and they're making you very uncomfortable, send them on your way and go back inside. You run the risk of being rude and you lose a potential buyer, but if you are not comfortable talking to a person outside of your home then you should not invite them in. (For the record, it's very unlikely you will ever have to do this, but it's good to give yourself the option just in case.)
Following these guidelines can give you a little extra piece of mind when you've got a stranger in your house. I've met a couple of weird people through the sales, but for the most part everyone has been very nice. (In fact, I've even kept in touch with some of them.) If you're friendly and welcoming, most people will become comfortable too. When you're nice, it's good for everybody involved.
Get a Google Voice number
If you're not using Google Voice already, you should sign up just for Craigslist. The number you receive will forward to your current number and, if any weirdos get ahold of it, you can just block them. It's a really easy way to protect your privacy and still retain the convenience of giving out your number.
Detect and delete scam emails
When you're selling any relatively popular item (like an smartphone or a digital camera), you're almost guaranteed to be contacted by some sort of scammer. When you respond to their emails, there's a chance you'll end up on a list of active accounts that they'll contact again so it's best to avoid replying altogether. But how do you tell if an email is a scam or not? There are two common tells nowadays:
- Vague references to your listing are almost always from a scammer. Some people may contact you asking about your digital camera, rather than the specific model, but a scammer will just refer to it as "your item" (e.g. "Is your item still available?"). If you get a response that could easily be repurposed as an email to virtually any other listing on Craigslist, delete it outright.
- Amazing offers are a dead giveaway. Scammers will offer you more than you're asking. Sometimes this will be to cover shipping costs, and sometimes it will be for no reason at all. No real buyer on Craigslist is going to offer you more than you're asking because they have no reason to believe they need to. Never trust an offer that sounds too good to be true.
You're not always going to avoid scammers, however, as some of them do a better job of disguising themselves than others. You also can't judge by grammar and spelling as many of the people who will email you on Craigslist — regardless of how intelligent they actually are — will sound like they can't write or speak English when writing an email. Unfortunately, email writing ability is not something you can really use for judging scams or you'll weed out most of your potential buyers. Even if you do get caught in an email thread with a scammer, just be diligent and make sure you know who you're dealing with before you make a sale. For the most part, so long as you never ship anything you at least won't get screwed out of "your item."
Accept only cash
I highly recommend only accepting cash. Although I've broken this rule twice and got by just fine, cash-only sales give you a much better chance of not getting screwed. If you accept credit card or debit card payments — or worse, take a check — you're handing over an item without being 100 percent sure you're actually getting paid. Most people understand that Craigslist is a cash-only affair and expect it. You should, however, state it in your listing so that it's perfectly clear. Only take cash unless you have a very good reason to make an exception.
Price your item high
People haggle on Craigslist, and prices that are too low worry some people. If you're paranoid about getting scammed by a buyer, imagine what they're thinking when they see a $200 iPad 3. Maybe someone is legitimately selling their perfect condition iPad 3 for less than half of the retail cost, but aren't you a little skeptical? Doesn't that seem too good to be true, like that iPad might not be an iPad, or doesn't function properly and they're lying, or might be stolen? There's nothing wrong with a fair price, but if you price your item too low you're 1) getting less than you ought to get, and 2) potentially scaring people away.
Additionally, you can almost always expect people to haggle no matter how firm you say your price is. Sometimes they'll do it on email and other times they'll wait to meet you in person in hopes you'll have a harder time saying no. Either way, pick the price point you're hoping to get and add a little on top of that. You'll get lowball offers, or at least hagglers, and you can negotiate to get to the place you want to get. This is expected, so you're often screwing yourself out of money if you're actually asking for the price you want. In fact, there have been times when I've listed an item for a reasonable price and received little interest, but then relisted with a much higher price and suddenly everyone wanted it. Beware listing low. It's usually a bad idea.
Don't write a long ad
If you're actually planning on selling your item, don't write a long ad. People don't like to read when they're trying to find something they want to buy. They may care about the warranty and several specifications, but they'd rather ask you in an email than bother to read it. Yes, this can be kind of annoying because you'll have to answer the same question over and over again, but suck it up. You'll get more interest with a short ad. How short? If it's longer than this paragraph, it's too long.
Hopefully these tips will help you survive the actually-not-so-frightening world of selling on Craigslist. You'll likely discover that it's kind of fun and most people are pretty cool. It just takes a few sales to get the hang of it. You'll be an expert in no time. By the way, if you want to avoid getting screwed when buying on Craigslist then we have a guide for that, too.
More from Lifehacker: