A while ago, I had to sell a bunch of stuff quickly to prepare for a move.  I didn’t have time for eBay, so I put it all on Craigslist, and through some trial and error, was able to sell most of my items in a day, with a few taking two days.  Here are some things I learned from the process.

Note that your location makes a big difference in how fast your stuff will sell. I’ve found that if you live in a college town (like Providence, RI where I lived), there are lots of students eager to snap up second-hand furniture. If you live in a small town, it might be more difficult to sell your stuff online.

Also, a lot of the stuff I sold was relatively high-value stuff like music equipment. You need to be realistic about the value of what you’re selling. An old futon won’t get much attention at any price, and you might be better off just giving that away.

Before we begin…

You need to be realistic about how much you can expect to receive for used goods. If you live in an affluent area, probably no one will want to pay for your old couch, no matter how nice it is. If something isn’t selling, you should move it to the “free” section of Craigslist as soon as possible.

1. Take decent photos!!

If you only have time to do one thing on this list, you should take good photos of the product you’re trying to sell.  Photos make a huge difference!

I highly recommend that you use good lighting, specifically natural daylight.  Daylight will bring out the true colors and make the product pop.  Artificial lights will make the product look yellow and old. Just take a look at this example I took using artificial indoor lighting:

Photo in indoor lightPhoto in natural daylight
Photo taken in indoor florescent light (left) vs. natural sunlight (right)

I took the photo on the left using a very good Canon Rebel T2i Digital SLR camera. See how yellow and old it looks?

Just to prove a point, I took the photo on the right using my iPhone 4, but during the daytime using natural light. What a difference!

So, get the product out of the basement or garage and photograph it in your living room, where there are windows and plenty of natural light.  Flash shouldn’t be necessary, but you can use it to fill in shadows.  Don’t use it as your primary lighting though, or else it will cast harsh shadows.

As you can see, you don’t need a fancy camera.  If you use good natural daylight a modern cell phone camera can give you fine results.

My other advice would be to try to completely fill the frame with the product.  Don’t be too far away.  Take some close ups as well:

Closeup of Roland D50 that I sold on Craigslist
Closeup of Roland D50 that I sold on Craigslist

Also, if the product can turn on or light up, then photograph it in the “on” state, with the display lit up and and as many things that can be shown to be working as possible.

Finally, don’t use the manufacturer’s photos of the product that you find on the Internet.  People will see through that pretty quickly.

2. Price it to move

The fact is, people shop on Craigslist to get bargains. Therefore, your pricing needs to be aggressively low if you want to sell it fast.

Most sellers on Craigslist price way too high. OK, I know you paid $500 for that couch, but there’s no way you’re getting $250 for it now!

If you want to move your stuff on Craigslist, you’ll have to price it for significantly less than what you find on eBay. I usually price it for less than what others are selling it for on Craigslist as well, in order to move it quickly.

So, I price things fairly low, but I give myself some negotiating room.  A good number of folks who respond will try to negotiate with you.  Studies have shown that buyers who negotiate and get some discount are actually happier than those who didn’t negotiate but got a lower price. Price low, but higher than the lowest price you are willing to accept in order to give yourself some negotiating room.

If you are not getting inquiries within three days of posting, your price is probably too high, or there is no demand for what you’re selling.  Lower your price and see what happens.

3. Sell in batches and utilize the “more ads by this user” button

If you have more than one thing to sell, put it all on sale all at the same time rather than one at a time.  When someone shows up to buy something, you can show the other stuff you’re selling to them. 

I had tons of interest for my couch, but none for my bar stools.  But, when the buyer of my couch showed up, I showed him the bar stools and he bought them as well.  Sometimes seeing the product in person can make the difference.  Also, once the person meets you and sees that you are a normal sane person, they are more likely to buy more of your stuff.

The way to use this is to check a box labeled “include ‘more ads by this user’ link” when you are setting up the ad here:

Craigslist "include more ads by this user"
Check this box to make a list of your other items for sale show up in your ad

If you check this box, the “include more ads by this user” button will appear right below the map in your ad which will take users to a list of your other postings.

"more ads by this user" button
Clicking this button will take users to a list of your other postings

It’s also a good idea to put some text in your ad describing your other products and encouraging them to click the button to see them.

4. Be specific with your posting title and include keywords

Your posting title is very very important, as it will be the first thing people see as they browse.  Be as specific as you can in your title with respect to the brand and model number of the product.  What would you rather buy, a 40” TV, or a Sony Bravia 40” HDTV?  The second one is more appealing to me.  Even if your product is not a famous brand, mention it anyway.  It’s better than nothing.

This not only applies to electronics, but almost everything.  There are tons of couches on Craigslist, so I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sell mine.  My title specified “Ikea Klippan Couch”, rather than just “Couch”.  I was amazed – I sold it in a day.  If necessary, go online and do a bit of research on your product so you can write the best title possible.

Also, when someone does a keyword search on Craigslist, Craigslist looks for that keyword in the title.  So, try to include as many words as possible that people will be likely to search for in your title.  For example, the word “vintage” is a popular search term.  If your product is indeed vintage, be sure to include that in the title!

5. Find the Accessories

A product is worth a lot more when it has all of the accessories with it, whether it is a vacuum cleaner, music instrument, or whatever.  Scour your home for the original box, manual, remote control, attachments, and whatever else came with it, and mention it in your ad that you have these things.  Include them in one of your photos as well.  This will allow you to get the most money for the product.

Accessories that I included with my Roland D-50 keyboard
Accessories that I included with my Roland D-50 keyboard

6. Clean it up

Before you take photos, clean up the product.  If it’s washable wash it.  Otherwise, wipe it down or clean it however you can.  Get it looking like it belongs in a showroom if possible.  Fix what you can without spending too much time or any money on it.  This will help the photos, but more importantly it will help when the prospective buyer actually comes to take a look at the product.  No one wants to buy a dirty product, even if it can be easily cleaned.  Take a few minutes to spruce up your product.

For example, that black Ikea couch I was selling had accumulated tons of lint.  I didn’t have a lint roller, so I just used some duct tape to pick up the lint and it made it look 100% better.

7. Tell us why you’re selling the item

People want to know why you’re selling the item.  They want to make sure you’re not just trying to dump a lemon on them. Here are some reasons that you are selling an item that people like to hear:

  • You are moving.
  • You just purchased a new version and don’t need this one anymore.
  • You gave up golf, or whatever activity is associated with the product, so you don’t need the golf clubs anymore.

Giving a good reason makes it clear to prospective buyers that you’re not just trying to unload something because it’s broken, defective, etc.  That brings me to my next point.

8. Be honest about defects and condition

If the product has a defect or blemish, be honest about it in your description and photos, and price accordingly.  Be honest about how long you’ve owned it, and how much you’ve used it.  People will appreciate your honesty and enhance their opinion of you.  No one wants to buy something from someone they don’t trust.  It’s better that they see the issue in the photos rather that when they come to your home.  Or worse, if they discover it after they buy it.  After all, they know your email address, phone number, and where you live, right?  Be honest – it’s the best policy. 

9. Provide specifications and dimensions

Do a little bit of legwork and dig up the manufacturer’s specifications and description of the product and post them with your ad. Don’t make the customer do the research to find out the product specs because they probably won’t; they’ll just skip your ad.

For furniture, always provide the dimensions.  People need to know if a piece will fit in their room.

10. Post in the late afternoon

Most people go on the Internet after work or school.  There is a spike in Internet traffic at that time, so the best time to post your ad is around  5PM.  If you post earlier, it could be buried below other ads by the time most people come home and go online.

11. Expect flakes and have backup buyers

Craigslist has a high percentage of flakes. I’d say at least 50% of the time, when someone agrees to buy something, they don’t show up or it falls through for one reason or another.

So, don’t hide your ad as soon as you have an interested buyer. Keep it displayed until you get a few more lined up in case the original buyer doesn’t show up, which, like I said, is about half the time or more.

Also, don’t agree to hold an item for someone who might not even show up. If someone can pick it up right now, let them. It’s first-come, first-serve.

12. Post in college towns – students need cheap stuff

If you live near a big college with lots of out-of-town students (i.e., not a community college) post your items in that area. Students moving in are always looking for cheap furniture quickly. When I lived in Providence, RI (a college town with Brown University), it was amazingly easy to sell cheap furniture, including a cheap Ikea couch.

Ikea couch
I sold this used Ikea couch in about a day on Craigslist in Providence, RI, a college town

In Los Angeles, it’s much more difficult, and I ended up having to give away an expensive leather couch set.

13. Post a new ad for the same item

Ads get the most views when they are first posted. I’ve definitely noticed a lot of interest right after I post an ad, and then it dies down over time as the ad sinks down in the feed.

Therefore, you’ll get more views if you post a completely new ad instead of just renewing an old ad. Try varying the headline and text.

Just a warning though, I would recommend waiting at least 48 hours before posting another ad for the same product. Craigslist could block you if you keep re-posting the same item using different ads too often.

14. Don’t display your phone number

I used to recommend posting your phone number to get text messages. When I’ve done that, I’ve definitely gotten more interested buyers. Furthermore, people who contacted me through text messages were quicker to respond than emailers.

So why am I no longer recommending it? The answer is scammers.

You’ll get way more scammers (from all around the world) contacting you through text compared to Craigslist’s messaging system.

You’ll even get scammers when you’re trying to give something away for free! Recently when I was advertising a free TV, someone texted me and asked if they could send me a code to prove that I was a real person. I went along with it and got a Google Voice signup verification request. That means they tried to sign up for Google Voice using my telephone number; Google then sent me a 2-factor auth code, which is what he was asking for. Of course, I blocked him after that!

15. Do not accept money orders, checks, or cashier’s checks! Cash only!

Let me say this again: Craigslist is full of scammers.

When I tried to sell some higher-priced furniture, I got a ton of texts and emails from scammers who wanted to buy my item by sending a check or cashier’s check. These were suspicious because they mentioned the full name of the item in their message (i.e., “Chateau d’Ax Italian Leather Sofa and Love Seat” instead of “the sofa”) and they were eager to buy without seeing the item. No real buyer would want to buy without seeing the item!

Only accept cash for the items that you sell!  Otherwise, they will give you a bad check which seems to clear at first, but later after you’ve sold the goods the bank will send you a letter saying it’s fraudulent.  See this article for more details on this scheme.

Be Safe

While Craigslist is a great tool, you need to be careful as a buyer or seller. If you meet someone, meet in a public place if possible. If not, bring a friend along. Take commonsense precautions.

I hope these tips were helpful to you.  You can use most of these techniques on ebay or any other online sales channel as well.  Do you have any other ideas?  What has worked for you? Please share!  – Brian

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