Whatever advice you’ve ever been given about buying something on Craigslist, it probably included the phrase “bring a friend or you’ll get murdered” somewhere in the instructions.
To be fair, this is pretty solid counsel. “I’ve met lovely people with no truly harrowing experiences, but let’s just say that one particularly ominous visit to a warehouse in Brooklyn is enough to spook you into always bringing a buddy,” says Ciara Benko, whose NYC apartment is loaded with Craigslist steals. “And besides, it never hurts to have a second set of hands!” While it’s always a good idea to generally keep safety in mind, the idea of the online marketplace being a hotbed for scam artists trying to sell decrepit furniture couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, Craigslist is a treasure trove of bespoke goods and charming antiques; a true virtual flea market, albeit an occasionally overwhelming one. Anyone can find incredible bargains—it just takes a little patience and know-how.
In the hopes of demystifying the platform, we turned to a few experts to get their Craigslist best practices.
Be strategic about when you’re searching
Otherland founder Abigail Stone relied heavily on Craigslist for filling her West Village apartment and she attributes much of her success to knowing when to search. The best time to hunt? The last two weeks of the month. “Often people won’t get around to listing their furniture until right before their lease ends,” she explains. “It can be easier to get a bargain, too, because there’s a finite date for the seller to offload or they’ll have to deal with the hassle of moving it.”
On a more day-to-day basis, photographer Caroline Lee recommends checking back every six hours or so. “New things get posted all the time, and the best stuff gets snagged quickly,” she says.
Shop smarter, not harder
A great deal of the frustration that arises from Craigslist shopping is down to the sheer number of products one must weed through. To eliminate the headache, it’s important to curate your search, and there are myriad ways to do this. Domino executive editor Alex Redgrave recommends searching for the place of origin (think: Sweden or Copenhagen if it’s the Scandi aesthetic you’re after).
If you’re hunting for a certain designer from a particular decade, be sure to include their name. “Know the designers you like; for example, searching ‘Milo Baughman’ will bring up a specific era of design that might be close to what I’m looking for,” says Lee.
However, if your Craigslist search is guided by price rather than style, you might do better with a broader search term “Replace the more specific descriptor with a word to describe the material or style, such as ‘lucite chair’ or ‘marble table,’” advices Stone. The goal is to find the seller who has a hidden gem and doesn’t know it—this is how you get the real bargains.
Download the app
It gives you something productive to do when waiting in line at the DMV or dry-cleaners. This way, you can stay on top of the newest products. “Use your saved search terms feature in the CPlus app, so you can be methodical in your hunt,” says Stone.
“If you find a seller with rad stuff, click the link that says ‘more from this user,’ and it will show you everything they are selling, which may include more rad stuff,” offers designer Jesse Kamm, whose minimalist LA office includes some cool pieces sourced from the marketplace. Rather than start a brand-new search, consider each seller as a mini boutique that specializes in a certain style. This way of searching has a secondary benefit: “Sometimes, you can negotiate a lower price if you buy multiple things at once,” adds Benko.
Go ahead and nitpick
Do your due diligence. Benko suggests emailing the seller to ask for more photos and information if there is only one image on the ad. “Most ads will include a link to the original item they bought, so I always check it out to see the original price and use that as a negotiating tool,” says Benko. “Never pay close to full price; after all, this is Craigslist.”
Also, look for listings that are super-detailed. “If they give specific measurements, those are people who actually want to get rid of stuff,” says Redgrave, who recommends paying attention to the map view to see if the seller has pinpointed a location; this could be a marker that they’re really serious about selling their item. “The less specific it is, the worse it could be.”
Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
Just because this isn’t an IRL flea market doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a little haggling—just be polite about the way you do it. “It’s nicer to negotiate over email and not on the spot, within reason, obviously,” says Redgrave. “Be courteous. After all, you’re going into someone’s home.”
Benko adds that your ability to negotiate the price down may have to do with timing. “Check how long the item has been available. If it’s been up there for a while, I usually will low-ball the price because they’re trying to sell it ASAP,” she says. “OBO (Or Best Offer) means that you can throw in your bid and then negotiate back and forth from there.”
Don’t forget this basic, but important, last step. Think logically: Most Craigslist sellers are not professional retailers and likely don’t have a credit card–reading machine at home. “I’ve started bringing a little extra just in case because you never know what else they’re trying to get rid of that would look perfect in your home,” says Benko.
Sleep on the moving sale section
There’s a hidden gem on the Craigslist website, and it’s parading under the “garage sale” link under the general “for sale” category. This is the moving sale portion and it’s often where you’ll find both the best deals and the widest variety of items. Redgrave is a regular of this portion of the site and suggests checking on a Thursday since people usually hold these moving sales over the weekend.
“I map it, so if there are a few in Williamsburg or Greenpoint, I can walk around and visit a few,” says the Brooklyn local. “Moving sales are where I got all my plants; I have this one from a girl who was moving, and it was planted in her grandmother’s crock pot. She wanted to give it to the right home. It’s a cool idea: People who are leaving the city, passing on their things to the next residents.” Map out a few nearby moving sales and make a morning of it. You never know what you’ll find.
Take too long
“Send a note ASAP to inquire, ask for more photos, or set up a time to see the item,” says Stone. The best stuff often goes quickly, and you don’t want to lose out on your dream furniture piece because you spent too long debating its merits.
Take something at face value
Whether or not you are an avid DIY’er, remember that most things can either be reupholstered, repaired, or repainted. “Get creative about seeing the good bones in something that’s kind of shabby,” says Lee, who says that some of her favorite items are things she got for free or crazy cheap on Craigslist, and then personalized.
Okay, not to sound like your mother, but consider this your final safety reminder. “Make sure that you send the address you are going to someone who loves you—just in case they are axe murderers,” says Kamm. Yes, most Craigslist appointments are totally safe, but if you ever feel weird vibes from a seller’s space, don’t go in. “If it’s a smaller item, have them bring it out front into the yard,” she continues. Or bring a friend. At the very least, they can talk you down from an impulse buy that you don’t actually need in your home.
See more secondhand shopping tips:
How to Get the Most Money for Your Used Furniture
4 Serial Vintage Shoppers Share Their Best-Ever Bargain—and How They Negotiated
The Only Stores Where Domino Editors Shop for Vintage Finds