The Ins and Outs of Craigslist
Published in the winter 2013 edition of Vintage KC
Written by Michael and James Fry
It is a pretty good assumption that if you buy and sell on a regular basis then you have had some type of interaction on Craigslist. Most re-sellers have a least a few stories of their triumphs and tragedies connected with this online marketplace. In our Fall 2012 article “The Art of the (Re)Sell” we touched on the pros and cons of selling on Craigslist. With the selling side covered we thought we should delve into the other half and focus on effective buying.
Let’s start with the basics: Craigslist is the foremost online searchable database of classified ads in the world. Everything imaginable is for sale, from mid century modern to motorcycles; it is listed somewhere on Craigslist. The site is organized into geographical regions; if you live in the KC metro area you would be searching at KansasCity.craigslist.org .
One of Craigslist’s greatest attributes for buyers is that the prices are set and you don’t have to bid against anyone else. If someone lists a vintage red Underwood typewriter on EBay for $50 the bidding system kicks in and the typewriter could end up selling for well over $150. Even though the seller may not have been educated on the value, the system enabled the item to sell for more. If the same owner of the Underwood lists it on Craigslist for $50 and you are actively searching for vintage typewriters, the deal could be yours without the concern of the price being bid up on you.
The quest then becomes how to find those deals and how to find them first. One of the keys is to search regularly. Often a really good deal will be sold within one or two days of it being posted, sometimes within hours. This means that you have a very small window of opportunity to find the deal and searching often will increase your chances. There are two major options to stay on top of your Craigslist searches.
Option one: manually search Craigslist everyday. Search early in the morning or whenever you have a few free minutes. This past winter a friend purchased ten Herman Miller parchment Eames fiberglass side chairs for $450. He got the deal because he took the time to search early one Sunday morning and stumbled across them first. The more often you search, the greater your chances for success.
Option two: if you have a smartphone you can download one of several Craigslist apps (CraigsPro+, Craiglist Mobile) that enable you to setup alerts for custom searches. Say you are always on the look out for antique doctor’s bags, you can create a custom search for “antique leather Dr’s bag” and anytime one is posted in the Kansas City area your phone will alert you to the listing.
Another effective technique is to run searches using common misspellings of a name or brand. If you are on the hunt for Broyhill Brasilia furniture, try searching Broyhil. Also run searches for common variations of words/phrases like mid century, mid-century, and midcentury. Lastly (this is our most time consuming suggestion but possibly the most profitable) cast a wide net by searching with broader terms. If you are looking for Eames chairs try searching with terms like “vintage chair” or “plastic chair” instead of searching “Eames Herman Miller”. A Brown Button regular told us of his purchase of three Carter Brothers Scoop Chairs this past year by running a search only using the keyword “retro”. He purchased all three for $425 and has since sold two for over $400 each.
Craigslist rewards those who put the time (and gas) into hunting down the deals. As with any treasure hunting activity, be safe and use common sense. We wish you well on your Craigslist cruising.