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A Word (or two, or 1000) about Craigslist

Posted May 20 2009 1:24pm


One less piece of furniture in the garage, one step closer to Steve getting his garage back!  This is a darling dresser, purchased for $60 from Craigslist, that I repainted.  It's now Grand Central Station for the kids' art supplies in the basement...for now, at least.  It's so lovely I can see it in Eliza's room the next place we move (hopefully her bedroom will be bigger next time) or even in a bathroom, space allowing.


Here is the "before" shot, which still isn't half bad, but the finish was worn, dirty, and chipped, and there was a crack in the front molding.  And, of course, there was the ever-popular formica top detracting from the beautiful lines of the piece. 

I like this dresser much better in blue and white, don't you?


I left the knobs just as they were (I LOVE those knobs!  The paint chipped away just adds to the charm) but the two bail pulls had to be updated.  I don't know if you can see from the photo above, but there was a tacky decal of cartoonish flowers covering the front of the bail pull.  I scraped all that away and then repainted the parts that got messed up, being careful to leave the chipped away paint on the actual handles just as they were. 

It took me as long to paint 2 or 3 coats of the white detail lines all around the piece as it did to prep, sand, and paint the rest of the dresser, but I'm glad I did.  It accentuates the lovely lines this dresser has.  I normally don't pay any more than $50 for a dresser, but this one was in such good shape that it was worth it.

I've had a lot of people tell me that they can't ever seem to find the kind of deals on CL that I have found, or they don't even know how to begin looking.  With that in mind, here are some tips that I have accumulated in the past several months as an avid Craigslist junkie (now reformed, by the way...I don't allow myself to buy any more furniture, as our house is full):

1) SAFETY FIRST!   I personally would never deal with the Personals section on CL or any other site, even if I were single.  Not a good idea, as evidenced by those poor victims of that college guy/murderer.   I only use CL for purchasing furniture, and we have also bought and sold vehicles using CL in the past.

I try to always go see furniture in the daytime, and I find out as much as I can about the location before going.  I googlemap it and look at a bird's eye view to see what kind of neighborhood it's in (for safety reasons and practical planning).  Find out if the seller lives in a house or an apartment/condo (is there convenient parking nearby?), and if the furniture needs to be carried up/down stairs.  Will there be anyone at the house to help you load the furniture in your vehicle if you don't have a helper with you?   What are the dimensions of the piece?  You should make sure it will fit in your vehicle before picking it up (another reason I LOVE my Honda can haul practically anything).  Knowing those things beforehand  can really help you plan better.

By the time you have made arrangements to see a piece of furniture, you will likely have spoken with the seller on the phone.  This is a good opportunity to get a "feel" for what the person is like...and if he/she seems really creepy, cancel the appnt and/or walk away.  Better to miss out on a deal than act contrary to your intuition if you feel you may be in danger.  If you're uneasy at all, make sure you have a friend with you = safety in numbers!   Use your intuition "radar" when you arrive at the seller's location as well...if you feel uncomfortable, just drive away and cancel the appointment.

I always make a point to tell the seller early on that I have a family, a husband, and that people at home know exactly where I will be going and at what time.  If I am selling something, the same information is passed on, and I try to have someone at home with me when the person arrives, or at bare minimum make sure that the furniture I'm selling is in the garage so the buyer doesn't go into the house at all. 

Now, with all these cautionary measures, let me just say that I have never had a creepy or uncomfortable experience with CL.  It's been a very positive resource so far, and the deals I have found are just great!

2) THE SEARCH.  Rather than just open up CL to the furniture category and start reading down the random assortment of things for sale (it's a time waster and a potential money waster, because you'll inevitably find things that you never thought you needed but suddenly HAVE to HAVE!), I use the search function and type in the keywords of specific things I'm looking for.  Be sure to use all words that the seller might list the item as; for example, dresser/ bureau /chest of drawers, etc. 

PAY ATTENTION TO THE LOCATION.  Most sellers will publish the general vicinity that the item is in; if they don't, then ask where they're located.  When I first started searching I wasn't picky about how far away something was, and I'd waste half a day (and a lot of gas) picking up an item that, had I known how far away it was, I wouldn't have bothered.  You have to weigh the convenience factor with the bargain value factor, taking into consideration that if you want something that is really rare or an exceptional value, it may be worth it to you to drive a greater distance.

TIMING is everything on CL.  When you find something you love, you have to be one of the first people, if not the first, to respond to an ad or chances are it will be sold already.  The good deals go quickly, so check CL multiple times a day (as in at least 6) if you're serious about finding a specific thing.  If you use the keyword search function, checking it will only take a couple of minutes each time. 

INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF BUYING A PERFECT FIND by letting the seller know you are not a scammer.  There are countless people out there pretending to be buyers wanting to buy your item, but what they really want is the seller's personal info, bank accounts, etc.  When inquiring about an item, tell the seller a little bit about you or why the item would be so perfect for you to have.  This creates an emotional advantage between you and the seller, as most people tend to want their furniture to go to someone who will love and care for it.  Name the item in your email so that the seller knows it's not a generic form letter.  Scammers don't bother to add personalized info in their emails.  Include a local phone number so that the seller knows you're not scamming from somewhere in Timbuktoo, but don't give out your last name or address.  Until you get to know the seller a bit better, it's not safe to volunteer too much information.

Arrange to see the item as soon as practically possible.  I've had sellers sell things out from under me, even when I had a specific appointment set up, because they received multiple inquiries about the item and had no qualms about selling it to the first person who showed up at their door.  Pretty rotten, but it happens.  Usually people will state if they plan on selling it "first come, first served" or equivalent, but if you have an appnt with someone, make sure to verify that they'll hold it for you until you get there.  Also, if you can't make it to an appointment, have the courtesy to let the seller know.  So many people just don't bother showing up, and it's very annoying to the seller.

INSPECT THE ITEM CAREFULLY.  Make sure that any flaws in the piece are not beyond your ability to repair.  If you're planning on repainting an item, don't let the current paint color or quality of the finish scare you away; pay attention to the size and lines of the piece and try to visualize it in the color you are planning to paint it.  If the piece needs to be stripped and restained, be very aware of what a HUGE job that is!  I personally don't have the patience for it unless it's an easy project. 

A word about painting antiques...if the antique is in good, solid condition and would look fantastic with a new refinishing job, DON'T paint it!  If, however, it is already painted or it's in really terrible shape (ie cracked, broken off veneer, huge gouges out of the wood, etc) that nothing short of a miracle and a really skilled refinisher could successfully restore, then my opinion is to paint it.  Better to patch, fill, and paint the piece than have it end up in a dumpster somewhere.

Make sure that the joints are solid or they can become solid with some TLC.  Make sure you know how to fix the joints before attempting to do so.  Look for termite damage, warping, drawers that stick, etc so that there are no surprises when you get home and really start becoming acquainted with the piece.

SCALE is VERY IMPORTANT.  Scale (or how big a piece of furniture is in relation to the size of the room and the other objects in it) is a critical factor in whether or not a piece will look good in your home or not.  If something is too big, it will make the room feel cramped or awkward.  Too small, and the furniture looks out of place and insignificant.  Decide where a piece is going to end up before you buy it, and measure it out beforehand.  Put tape on the wall to designate where an armoire or bookshelf would go, for example, to make sure it will look and feel right.  Do the same on the floor for a sofa or coffee table.

Don't hesitate to walk away from a piece that is disappointing to you in real life.  Sometimes the photo makes it look much better than it is, and if you realize it's in worse shape than you thought and/or it's not just what you're looking for, walk away or at least try and bargain down for it.  I didn't do this enough at first, and ended up with some things that I really didn't want, or I realized later I paid way too much for the item. 

BE PATIENT.  If you have in your mind's eye exactly what you're looking for, hold out for it until you find it.  I have looked for months to find certain things, but persistence eventually pays off.  At other times I have compromised, only to see the perfect item listed the following week.

If you are unsure about what is a good deal and what isn't, spend some time looking at all the other similar listings available.  The more exposure I had to what was available and what certain items were going for, the more confident I was in determining what was a good price for something.  Some people charge almost new prices for junk furniture, and some people have really high quality furniture that they practically give away.  Experience is the best teacher for that kind of thing, and availability and pricing will vary from city to city. 

IF YOU'RE SELLING something on CL, be sure to include photos!!   You know what they say about pictures.  Also include description, an accurate assessment of the item's condition, and dimensions.

3)  THE PURCHASE.   BE PREPARED to haul it home safely.  Bring blankets, cardboard, rope, a furniture dolly for heavy pieces, etc with you so that you don't damage the item you just bought (we learned from experience on that one, after the old piano we were bringing home fell off the back of the truck during the unloading process... trust me, it's a long story, but think of this: Steve + me + a car jack + late at night = piano disaster! It's a good thing it was only $40 to begin with, but those things are so heavy we had a hard time even giving that thing away.  We have now resolved to buy a digital piano.  Much more practical (considering how often we move), and a lot less dangerous!

Anyway, be sure to have enough  CASH with you to pay for the item - most sellers will only accept cash. 

Well, gee, I think that about does it for my "little" rundown on tips for buying and selling on Craigslist!  If any of you had the patience to get all the way through that monologue, you definitely have what it takes to be a successful CLer.  Happy searching!

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