How Much Can You Save by Negotiating on Craigslist?

by Kevin on October 30, 2009

Of course that is an unanswerable question. You may be able to negotiate a huge discount or you could negotiate your way out of a purchase entirely.

Nonetheless I want to share some pointers on how you can save a ton of money by not only purchasing on Craigslist, but negotiating the purchases you make on Craigslist.

Search Craigslist for Bargains

Craigslist is the world’s largest garage sale. Local and free classified ads for everything you could possibly want to buy or sell. Literally just about anything you would find on eBay you can find on Craigslist in a decent sized city.

  • Want to buy a car? You can find one on Craigslist.
  • Want to buy a couch? You can find one on Craigslist.
  • Want to buy a microwave? Yup, you can do that on Craigslist.

We have purchased all three of these items off of Craigslist, and saved hundreds of dollars while doing it.

But I’ll tell you the stories of the car and the couch another day. Those were pretty much straight up purchases.

Today is about negotiating.

Simple Teacher Needs

My wife is a music teacher. For the last year and a half one of her schools hasn’t had room for her — literally. They ran out of classrooms. So she carted her music instruments from room to room to teach the kids.

Finally after an extraordinarily long wait the school system hooked up power to an available trailer classroom — it had been sitting there the entire time, but it took 18 months to get it power and handicap access. (Annoying? Yes.)

Of course she and the other teacher that will be sharing the room are really excited about suddenly having a room. She stayed late several days and worked on a Saturday to get the room ready for the kids.

During the week of cleanup and preparation process she came into our office. Do you think I could find a mini-fridge and microwave on Craigslist?, she asked.

As much as it brings back dorm memories for me, I told her of course you could. Why not?

Mixing Negotiation and Craigslist

She hopped on Craigslist and found a few acceptable looking listings. She found a fridge for $45 and a microwave for $30.

She did some price research and found that the fridge would run $90 or so at retail. The type of microwave she was looking at (non-gourmet to say the least) might run her $50-80 at retail.

Assuming those items worked properly she is already ahead of the game to the tune of at least $65. But we both knew she could do better by simply asking for a lower price.

Use the Walkaway

Neither of the listings had phone numbers and to be honest asking via e-mail is pretty pain free. She got out her tiny violin and explained her situation as a teacher, this is for the classroom, and could they lower the price on the minifridge?

The seller countered by offering to lower the price to $40 and also sell us a small table for the fridge for $15. My wife kindly explained she didn’t need the table and $40 was simply too much. (As a seller counter-offering is a good idea, but this was a good idea gone bad. We weren’t wanting accessories. Our main focus was price.)

She walked away and didn’t buy the fridge. If this had been in person it is more likely the seller might try to catch her before she got into the car. How about $35?

But since this was via e-mail she simply let the seller know it was too much and left it at that. You must be willing to walk away.

Simply Ask for a Lower Price and a Quick Sale

I’m not joking here. She e-mailed the microwave seller and offered $15 cash, and we could pick it up the next day.

The seller accepted. (And immediately made me wish she had offered $10!)

Either way that’s a $15 savings and 50% off the asking price.

I’m not foolish enough to think you’ll be able to get 50% off of every purchase, but $15 saved is still $15 saved. (More money for the classroom!)

Never accept what the seller is asking for up front. Smart sellers increase the price just a little bit in anticipation of negotiation.

Even though you are negotiating online you can still save money. Just imagine yourself walking the aisles of the seller’s garage sale. You wouldn’t feel shame in offering $2 for the whole stack of 25 cent CDs, would you? I didn’t think so — so don’t feel shameful here.

Even if you save just $5 that is still $5 you get to keep. And what did it cost you to ask? A few seconds typing an e-mail?

Why wouldn’t you ask?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken October 30, 2009 at 8:06 am

I never thought of negotiating Craigslist. I’ll have to try that. I did negotiate and get a new mattress set $150 below asking price. Could I have gotten it lower? probably.

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Jana October 31, 2009 at 7:31 pm

I bought my 1994 Toyota Camry 130k for $1600. The going price is $3000 in my area. Love, love love Craigslist. Just be careful of stolen goods – lots of ‘fencing’ going on. Usually you can do a search on the email name, and if it comes up selling tons and tons of items, be careful.

Also, I strongly recommend only meeting in public places – coffee shops are good. In the case of an item that cannot be moved (like a freezer) I recommend visiting with a friend in tow. But I’m female and probably more attuned to that concern.

Finally, in my line of work, I strongly encourage my clients to use craigslist to find appliances, etc. Our whole economy would be in much better shape if we pay cash for goods, and buy used locally, instead of buying new imports. However, I’m fine w/ buying used imports, as by this point the money stays in the USA (as happened with my Camry purchase).

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Kevin November 12, 2009 at 8:19 pm

That’s a good idea on the email name. I hadn’t thought of that — I assumed each posting would have a different anonymous email address.

You do have to be wary of stolen items. Not sure what else you can do about it… there isn’t a public database to put serial numbers into or anything like that. Just a risk, I guess? What do you think?

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Financial Samurai October 31, 2009 at 9:07 pm

CL is the best thing since sliced bread! I’ve bought and sold 15 cars in the past 10 years on CL, and I always use CL to sell everything and ANYTHING!

Always be willing to walk away, and take your time in any negotiation process!

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Deb November 1, 2009 at 11:02 pm

When we must make a purchase, CL is our first choice. We’ve yet to pay asking price, we’ve always found sellers to be open to a reasonable offer.

Just some of our purchases: a second hand camping trailer for $400 off asking; a really spiffy ’79 Toyota pick up truck for just $360 ($240 off of his asking price); a gorgeous vintage American made tractor with trailer, mower, rototiller, and scoop – all for just $450 ($200 off asking – the mower deck alone was worth what we paid for all); a brand new cast iron Aspen wood stove – valued at $1,400, for just $250 (down $100 from the original asking of $350).

Seriously – when you make your call about the item, don’t discuss the price on the phone. Bring cash with you, and negotiate there on the spot if you decide you want the item. Trust me, the lure of cash in hand, and getting rid of an unwanted item, is often enough motive to consider a reasonable offer! You may haggle a bit, but be patient and nice, and the end result will usually be a win-win for all parties.

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Kevin November 12, 2009 at 8:30 pm

That’s awesome. I think you have to weigh negotiating in person heavily though. For me it would depend on how far away the item is from you — I wouldn’t want to drive 20 minutes to haggle over a $5 price difference only to walk away. That’s a lot of driving for nothing.

But I can also see how it could be very effective!

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Jenna November 3, 2009 at 9:06 pm

I sell a great many items on craigslist and I never allow negotiations.
I price my items very fair. If you don’t want them for a fair value price I will just keep them.

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Kevin November 12, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I think that is the difference. Some people don’t price their items fair. And some sellers are motivated because they are moving or need the cash. I don’t think there is anything wrong with trying to negotiate it. If they say no, that’s fine. But if they say yes…

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Mary December 27, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I have to say, I’m with Jenna on this. I put up a set of Revereware pots and pans on CL and asked just $45 for them. These were nice pans with a retail price of 4 times what I was asking. There was a lot of email interest in them but I contacted the first person first (I think that’s only fair) and waited 2 days for him to come get them, only to have him offer me $30 when he arrived. I told him the price was $45 firm, that I had plenty of other interested parties and that it was RUDE of him to try to get a better price when my asking price was more than fair. He pulled a $100 bill out of his pocket and then wanted me to come up with the change. I sent him next door to Rite Aid to break his hundred, LOL.

More recently, I went to test-drive a minivan off CL. It was priced at Kelly bluebook and not a stupendous deal but I needed wheels as I was starting a new job the following Monday and my car had been totaled by someone who turned left in front of me. I arrived with my dad, we drove it, and decided it was do-able. We got back and told the couple we could have a cashier’s check from my credit union for them first thing the next morning (the CU had already closed for the day) and then hemmed and hawed and then said, well…we have someone coming to look at it Sunday (it was Thursday evening) and we need to give them first shot at it as they are out of work, need a car, blah blah blah.

Um, then why did you have me come look at it before them? Duh. My dad just shook his head and we walked away – they told me they’d call me Sunday if the other person didn’t want it but I told them I’d have something by then, even if just off a used car lot.

There is a lot of room for improvement in etiquette on CL, that is for sure!

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Kevin December 30, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I think to avoid people trying to talk you down off of a really good deal you just need to put “price firm!” either in the title or description. Personally if I see something like that then I wouldn’t dare try to negotiate it. As you mentioned that would be rude.

You run into all types on CL just as in life. He might not have known they were priced at 25% of retail. Who knows.

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Mary January 7, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Sorry, but you don’t buy off craigslist without knowing the “value” of what it is you are buying – that man knew full well what he was getting. I owned a children’s resale shop and that is where he picked up the item. I’m in the business of “reselling” and I always put “price firm” in my listing. I ask a fair price and I HATE haggling with buyers…unless I’m in the mood for it!

My view is – this isn’t India, folks, and you aren’t buying a clay pot from me, so if I’m asking $45 FIRM, either accept it or look elsewhere. To try to knock down the price by a full 1/3 once you are there to pickup is RUDE, no excuse for it in my book.

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