Craigslist Sale
Three years ago, we moved into our house at the beginning of August. The grass was growing like gangbusters and with the already daunting task of furnishing the whole place (we had ZERO pieces of furniture), unpacking, and our jobs, you can imagine that the growing jungle in our yard was a constant source of stress. This was especially the case because our neighbor on one side was ultra fastidious about maintaining his landscaping (isn’t there always one in each neighborhood?), and the contrast with HIS lawn made MINE look even more hideous! (You can ask Deb, to this day, whenever that neighbor fires up his mower, I get a bit stressed out.)

So not long after we moved in, we bought a used 42” riding mower for the slightly-too-high price of $500. We were eager not to let the grass get too far ahead of us, we were past the midpoint of summer, the best deals on Craigslist were already snatched up, and we were confident this mower was in good condition, so we bought it thinking that we would try it out, and if needed, move up to a zero-turn mower at some point.

Here’s a photo of me trying to make mowing a lawn look good.

Mowing Grass

Last summer, we upgraded to our new current mower: A 52” Hustler FasTrak zero-turn mower that burns through my grass—just without the fire. It’s the mower that’s ranked in our venerable list of “5 Expensive Things We Own”. So since we’ve upgraded, it’s time to sell our old riding mower. And a few days ago, we finally did just that.

We sold it on Craigslist for $350, which means we actually only spent $150 over the past three years for the use of our first riding mower. One way to look at it is that we “rented” a riding mower for $50/season for three seasons. (Yes, yes, we had to pay for the routine maintenance and gas during those seasons, but those are expenses I would have had no matter what mower I had.) This is another example of The Art of Having Our Cake and Eating It Too, but as you will find out below this was one of our weaker Craigslist exploits.

Here’s a shot of our new, upgraded mower.  Ready for the first mow of the season.

Zero-turn mower

We’re no Craigslist ninjas but we’ve bought and sold enough to have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. Here are a few of them that we applied in this recent lawn mower sale.

Tips for Selling on Craigslist

1.  Cash Only – One of the first things we noticed were all the scammers prowling on Craigslist. It seemed that within minutes of posting the listing, there would be all sorts of strange people texting us weird questions. One easy way to weed out the scammers is simply to only accept cash for payment. It requires a physical transaction, and it automatically lets you know who’s actually read your post versus those who are just spamming. You will instantly know that the guy sending you a text about mailing you a check if you will hold the mower for him is a fraud.

While on the topic of scammers, be smart and use Craigslist’s email system that hides your actual email address so you don’t end up getting on someone’s spam list.

2.  Time It Right – We had listed the mower once before during December and had no biters except the scammers. We realized that with everyone’s lawns in dormancy, no one had mowers on their minds. But when we listed it this past week with all the warm weather we’ve been having, we were getting a constant stream of desperate eager buyers. It looks like mowing season is starting to heat up again!

Oh yes, and another point related to timing is that we have found that posting on weekends gets more attention (at least in our area). This might be because everyone is off work and ready to go hunting for deals.

3.  Fix/Clean It Up – With this scenario in mind, we knew that mowers that were ready to go would be more attractive offers, so we fixed up the mower so that it was ready for work immediately for the next owner. We changed the oil and oil filter, made sure the battery was topped up, checked the tires, made sure the blades still cut well, and washed it up both inside and out. (Amazing how a dirty engine bay can be a turn off!)

4.  Take Good Pictures – Related to this last point, be sure to take good pictures. Think of what the main shots prospective buyers would want to see, and make sure to show those areas of the product.  We made sure to get all angles of the mower so people could see all sides of it, the seat, dash, and even inside the engine bay. Also make sure and take unobscured, in-focus, and well-exposed pictures.  You’d think that sort of thing should be self-evident, but it’s amazing how poor many of the photos are on Craigslist!  Here’s a example of what to do vs. what not to do.

Good mower pic
Bad mower pic

Good Photo

Bad Photo

5.  Write A Great Listing – When I listed the mower the first time in December, I had a long bulleted list of all the features of the mower. It read like a spec sheet—you know, typical man-talk. Deb told me kindly to step aside this time and she rewrote the same information in a much smoother prose so it actually sounded like a real person writing instead of a copy-paste from somewhere. Our theory is that bullet-list postings on Craigslist tend to come from dealers and businesses as opposed to private sellers, and so they are subconsciously viewed by buyers as more expensive. So you want to write a personable description that makes it clear this is a for-sale-by-owner listing.

In her listing, Deb mentioned how the mower was easy enough for the wife to maneuver and even had this gem of a line in her copy, “If your grass is starting to grow, this mower is ready to go!”

Interestingly enough, almost all of the callers were looking precisely for a good mower that was ready to mow right away.   Deb hit the sweet spot by being able to articulate exactly what people were looking for, and it made a big difference. So just imagine if you were the buyer and what you would be looking for, then write your copy accordingly.

6.  Price Appropriately – Do some homework on competing products in your local Craigslist market (especially the narrower area right around where you’re located), and try to price your product just a bit lower than the comparable competition. If your listing is up for a while, people assume that it’s not selling because there’s something wrong and they are more likely to pass you by. Typically the culprit is a price that’s too high. Determine the lowest price that you will be willing to go, then list the price with some margin above it. You’ll want to have some wiggle room for negotiating, but you want to be priced competitively enough that you get multiple potential buyers, which leads us to the next point.

7.  Leverage Multiple Offers – Negotiating is easier if you’ve got options in your back pocket. If you have a line of people who are eager to buy, you are less likely to need to go down in price. You know, supply and demand. For example, because we had someone already offer us $350 for our mower, when another person came along offering $300, we didn’t need to even consider it. Whereas if we didn’t have any other offers except the $300, then it would be a tougher decision whether to entertain it or to pass.

8.  Bird in the Hand vs. Two in the Bush –You have to determine whether your priority is to get rid of your stuff fast or if you’re trying to get the maximum dollar. If you’re trying to get rid of it fast, when someone offers to buy it within your acceptable price range, it’s better to sell and get your cash right away rather than hoping for a better price later. But if you’re trying to get more for it, you may need to be a little bit more patient.

For our mower, I was initially willing to price it as low as $300 because I was eager to see it gone. But Deb was holding out for more money. So we listed the mower at $400 and the first person passed on the deal when we would only go down to $375. When the next buyer came around, I convinced Deb to go down to $350 thinking that we best move quickly to lock in a deal. That seller agreed to buy over the phone, but needed us to hold it until he came to pick it up the next evening. In the intervening time, we got 4 or 5 other prospective buyers—one even wanted to come pick it up immediately and it was nearly 11 PM! Deb gave me “the look” and I knew that we probably left some money on the table with all of these interested buyers. But we had given our word already, so we sold the mower for $350.

9.  Pick the Better Negotiator – Related to the last point, we have learned that Deb has more of a knack for closing our Craigslist deals—whether buying or selling. So we’ve decided to let her handle it in our transactions. As you can see in our mower sale, Deb’s better instincts would have yielded us with a greater profit. So if you’re selling with someone else (like a spouse, friend, or family member) pick the right point man/woman to seal the deal. If you’re single, make sure to marry the right man or woman!

Other Craigslist Conquests

To illustrate how these tricks have helped us in the past, here is a list of some of our other Craigslist sales.  As you will see, the sale of our mower isn’t quite as impressive as some of our previous conquests:

  • On a Black Friday a long time ago, we bought a MagicJack PC to phone adapter for $20, half off the MSRP of $40. We never opened it and years later, once our MagicJack was already replaced with newer versions in the lineup, we decided to try selling it on Craigslist anyway. We sold it for $40! DOUBLE what we paid!
  • We bought an upright freezer from Craigslist for $150, used it for a few years and when we decided to upgrade to a larger chest freezer, sold the old one for $170 on Craigslist. That’s right, we EARNED $20 on this one. (Not to mention saved a lot of electricity with the higher efficiency of the new one to boot!)
  • We got a large, round rug thrown in for free when we bought our couches on Craigslist. We sold that rug for $50 shortly thereafter—and it wasn’t a very pretty rug either, I might add!

As you can see, in these other cases we made money on each sale by buying low, using the product in some cases, then selling for a higher price. Talk about having our cake and eating it too! But of course, this is what happens when I let the wife handle the negotiations. 🙂

So what tips do you have for selling stuff on Craigslist? Share them with us!