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Downsizing Adventure: 10 Lessons Learned Selling on Craigslist

In some ways, it’s hard to believe Josh and I only have 10 more days in our house.

But when I look around and see how much our environment has already changed after a garage sale, countless trips to our storage unit and a multitude of items sold on Craigslist and Ebay, it starts feeling pretty real.

Before we got married, we had lived in separate apartments for years, so we had two entire households of things. When when we moved in together, we ended up buying even more stuff — to fill up space, to store our belongings and to decorate.

I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with owning stuff you don’t necessarily need, but Josh and I are ready for a change.

Plus we have an incentive: we’re downsizing.

We’re editing the stuff in our lives down to 1) the essentials and 2) the things that are really important to us. In the end, we have to be able to fit all our worldly possessions (that previously lived in a a 1,586 square foot house, plus a storage shed and a porch) into a 400 square foot 5th wheel and a 70 square foot storage unit.

Intimidating? Less and less.

Liberating? Definitely.

Along the way, I’ve learned some lessons about selling on Craigslist. But first…

What Should I Sell on Craigslist?

Not every item is a good candidate for Craigslist. If it’s really low-dollar, you might be better to put it in a yard sale or donate it to a charity.

If it’s high-dollar and specialized or light-weight (computer equipment, valuables or collectibles), consider selling it on Ebay where you’ll have a wider audience.

If it’s expensive and heavy or breakable (antique furniture or art), see if a local dealer will buy it or put it on consignment.

Craigslist is awesome for bulky or heavy objects you don’t want to transport, and for mid-price stuff with a good pool of buyers. Camping goods, low-price furniture, bikes, and gently used sports equipment are ideal.

Lessons Learned about Selling on Craigslist

1: List as Early as Possible

As soon as you’re ready to get rid of an item, post it. Alternately, if you need to hang onto it for a few more weeks, you can go ahead and create the listing but not activate it until you’re actually ready for it to go out the door.

We’d had our furniture posted for weeks and weeks before we got any inquiries on some of the pieces. Sometimes it just takes time for the right buyer to come around, so take photos, write descriptions, and get that stuff out there as soon as you can.

2: Research Prices

Take a few minutes to look on Ebay and Craigslist and see what others are charging for your item.

If you’re overpriced, you won’t get any takers. Being under-priced actually isn’t a bad strategy if you’re just looking for a quick sale.

3: Take Good Photos

Clean up the area of your house around the furniture, dust it off, and take photos with ample light and a decent camera. If the photos are easy to see, and there’s not too much clutter, you’ll have an easier time selling. And you’ll get fewer questions about the quality and cleanliness of the items.

4: Disclose Damage

If your item has been banged up beyond expected wear and tear, or if it doesn’t work, make sure you disclose this in the listing. When your buyer arrives, they’ll probably want to look it over for themselves before handing over the cash, so you don’t want it to be a surprise.

When you’re pricing your item, factor in the expectation that they’ll want to negotiate down because of the damage. If you’re really wanting $50 for the item, price it at $60 or $70.

5: List Your Terms

If you only want cash (which I recommend over checks, personal orders, etc.), state that up-front in the listing. If you want someone to pick it up, or if you’re willing to meet at a neutral location, say so.

If you opt for cash, by the way,  you might want to get one of those tester pens that can check for counterfeit money.

6: Try Combo Listings

If you have several items in one category, try a combination listing with all of them. State items and prices individually within the listing, and you’ll widen your reach.

For example, I had three camping-related items I wanted to sell, so instead of listing them all separately, I just made a camping-themed listing and posted them all together. And what do you know? Two of them sold together, too!

7: Follow Your Gut

If a sale doesn’t seem like it’ll really help you out, don’t pursue it.

Our highest-dollar item was a StreetStrider with a base that turned it into a stationary workout bike. I posted it about a month before the move, and within a week I got a nibble. The potential buyer had a lot of questions, and eventually confessed they really just wanted the base. I told him I’d prefer to sell the bike and base together, because they weren’t worth as much separately. He declined to pursue the transaction.

A month later, I finally got my second nibble, which turned into a purchase of the bike and base — at full asking price.

Here’s another story. We had a particle board IKEA chest of drawers we had priced at $40. There were no inquiries for weeks and weeks. Finally, someone offered $20 for it. I ended up giving her a better price than I might have usually because there was no one else who had expressed interest, and time was running out before our move. In the end, I was happy to get rid of the furniture, and she was happy to have it.

In both cases, I was comfortable with the sale, and I was glad I followed my instinct.

8: Don’t Hold Anything for Anyone

Say someone agrees to buy your item but asks for you to hold it for you for a few days until they can buy it. The best course of action is to tell them you can’t promise it’ll still be available.

If you do hold it for them, someone may offer to buy it (maybe even for a higher price!) in the meantime, or your buyer may back out altogether. Both of these happened to me before I learned my lesson.

If you’re getting close to the end of your timeline, have multiple potential takers for an item you’re trying to get rid of and someone tries to haggle with you, say “Goodbye!” and move on to the next person. Trust me, when you’re in a hurry, you don’t have time for high-maintenance customers.

9: Consider Widening the Scope

If you’re not getting any bites, consider posting your listing in nearby cities. You may find someone willing to drive a surprising distance for your item, especially if it’s high-dollar or rare. Just be sure to keep all listings up-to-date and delete them after you sell your item.

10: Be Safe and Smart

Don’t give out your phone number right off the bat, and don’t arrive at a pickup by yourself.

This is an actual inquiry I received for a stained glass window I was selling. I removed the telephone number, but I didn’t change anything else.

“I am interested on see the stained glass window this is my girls E mail and I can not get a massage , please call me ### ###-## ## SANDRA”

Maybe she was typing on an unfamiliar phone and is really terrible with a touchscreen keyboard. Maybe she has a runaway autocorrect. Maybe she can only type with her elbows. But there are scams out there in which Craigslist users can use your phone number to hack into your account, and this message sent off all kinds of warning bells. So don’t give out your contact information unless you feel comfortable with the buyer.

It’s best to use the throwaway forwarding email Craigslist provides you and stick to that as a form of communication. And, again, don’t show up for a hand-off alone, no matter how genuine the seller seems to be. They’re still a stranger, and it’s a tough world out there.

Any other tips? Have you had success selling items on Craigslist as a method of downsizing?

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