Tips and tricks for shopping Craigslist like a pro

Recently, I was asked about my favourite source for furniture and the only response that came to mind was “does Craigslist count?”. Over the past few years of my Craigslist obsession, we’ve amassed a lot of great finds and now, the majority of our furniture, lighting, rugs and more have been discovered through trusty Craig.
Before I get into how to find great pieces on Craigslist, I first want to touch on why it’s my go-to:

1. Unique finds

The key to a layered and collected home is vintage pieces that create depth. Even more, there’s nothing more special than knowing you have a piece that can’t be purchased by everyone. I don’t tire of vintage pieces at the same speed as new items purchased in a retail shop, because the only place I see them is in my own home.

2. Budget friendly

You could go to Ikea and buy a dresser, or for the same amount (or often less!) you can buy a vintage dresser with character that is probably better made and more likely to stand the test of time. We moved from a 700 square foot apartment to a 2,100 square foot house and spent a few hundred dollars on Craigslist initially furnishing the extra space. We could have easily spent tens of thousands buying the same amount of furniture from retail stores. Also, factor in that you aren’t paying tax or shipping and Craigslist almost always comes out as a very good deal.

3. Instant gratification

Guys, I like things fast. And nothing fills my love of immediacy like Craigslist, within a day you can have a new (to you) piece in your home.

4. Freedom to try something new

The often low cost means you can try something out and take a risk on something that you otherwise might not try out if the cost was higher. Plus, if you’re smart about how much you pay initially for the piece, you can often resell it for the same amount (or more!) making Craigslist finds essentially free… or so I tell myself.

5. Durability

If it’s a vintage piece that’s been around for 40 or more years, chances are it will stand up to my abuse. The worst feeling is when you get that first scratch or ding on something brand new. But with vintage pieces, those marks just add to the character and patina of the piece.

6. Story

Every vintage piece in our home has a story (my husband is reallllly good at becoming besties with Craigslist sellers) of how it came into your home and that’s great a conversation topic, especially when you have guests over.

7. Environmentally friendly

As a Canadian, I’ve been raised to think a lot about consumption and my impact on the environment. Reusing furniture is a great way to minimize your carbon footprint and keep pieces from ending up in a landfill.

Hopefully I’ve now convinced you to join my love of all things Craigslist, so now it’s time to talk strategy:

1. The most important tip I can give you is to check daily. I can’t even tell you how many times people have told me they searched once and didn’t find anything good. It doesn’t work like that. Most of the stuff up for sale is garbage, honestly. If you want to find great pieces, you have to commit to searching at least once a day. As one of my friends says “Craigslist is a lifestyle”.

2. Use an app to save searches. I use this one (CPlus for Craigslist) and it’s SO much easier to use than the actual Craigslist site. Save searches and set alerts on things you’re actively looking for so you never miss out. You can save items that you might still be thinking about and watch if they don’t sell.

3. When you find something you want, contact the seller immediately and be prepared to be flexible about when you can go see the item. If something is good and priced right, it will sell fast. You need to be the first one to see it, which can sometimes mean moving around your schedule to be the first in line.

4. If something is priced higher than you want to spend (and higher than you know it will sell for), lowball them and if the seller says no, tell them to contact you if it doesn’t sell for what they’re asking. I’ve gotten several pieces this way, because at some point the seller just wants to get the piece off their hands.

5. Don’t forget to browse everything that’s available. A lot of people do a poor job at describing the product they’re selling, so it may not appear in your searches. Think about alternate ways to describe an item and use those keywords in your searches.

6. Don’t limit yourself to only vintage finds. Often, I’ll search for products I’m about to purchase online to see if they’re up for sale, including lighting or bathroom fixtures. People sometimes miss return windows and resort to selling on Craigslist even when things are new in box.

7. Don’t be put off by poor quality photos, some of my best finds have been ones that were so poorly shot but with some searching on google I could find shots of how the item really looks. Bad quality photos are often to your advantage as a buyer since most people won’t stop to look at them.

8. The wider you cast a net geographically, the more you’re going to find. But, of course, you also have to travel that distance to pick it up. Most of our finds are fairly local (within 40 minutes of our house or my husband’s office), but sometimes if there’s something reallllly special, we’ll make a daytrip out of picking it up.

8. Having lived in New York, I know that the bedbug fear is real. Be smart when buying upholstered pieces and inspect carefully. Check the seams for dark marks, which often gives away the presence of bugs. Also think about where the seller lives and their attitude when you’re looking at the piece (e.g. if you’re headed out into the suburbs for the pickup, bedbugs are scarcely a problem).

9. Sometimes what you actually want on Craigslist comes as a set with some other furniture, so consider if you can resell the rest of the pieces to reduce the cost of the piece you really want. For instance, twice we’ve purchased dressers with matching mirrors and have cleaned up the mirrors (either literally by cleaning them or by painting them) and resold the mirror for a significant portion of the original price of both pieces together. In one case we sold the mirror for the same as what we paid for the set. Occasionally you have to accept that one piece may need to be given away for free, which we did with the desk that came with a chair we wanted.

Some of my favourite items to search for on Craigslist include:

  • Dressers
  • Rugs
  • Light fixtures
  • Desks
  • Chairs
  • Bathroom fixtures: faucets, vanities
  • Dining tables
  • Art

And some of my favourite Craigslist finds:

Those sconces and the Serge Mouille reproduction ceiling light are both Craigslist finds.

UM5A1665

Both sets of dining chairs, the IKEA rug and the Milo Baughman glass dining table are all c/o Craigslist.

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That painting (that everyone obsesses over, as do we!) and the campaign dresser, which we refinished in white are both Craigslist.

UM5A1835

That vintage rug is a Craigslist score.

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This Henredon olive burl dresser is from Facebook Marketplaces (same principles apply), the ceiling light is Craigslist (or you can buy your own here).

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This Louis chair was a Craigslist find that we reupholstered in Deconstructed Stripe by Miles Redd for Schumacher.

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That vintage rug is Craigslist.

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Both the brass trunk and pink club chairs are Craigslist – the chairs we had reupholstered.

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The brass faucet was a Craigslist score.

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The faux bamboo dresser was also a Craigslist find.

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And that Milo Baughman brass etagere was also a Craigslist score.

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Happy hunting!

10 thoughts on “Tips and tricks for shopping Craigslist like a pro

  1. Katherine says:

    Were most of your great finds in the city or have you had an equal amount of luck in CT? I live in the area and feel like all the good stuff is in the city but maybe I’m not hunting properly!

    Like

    • erinkestenbaum says:

      I’d say 65% we found locally and the remainder was split between the city and Long Island. I’ve been known to bring things I’ve picked up in Brooklyn or Manhattan home on the Metro North with me… including 9×12 rugs haha

      Like

    • erinkestenbaum says:

      Sometimes it takes some patience, I find that there is definitely some seasonality to it (e.g. when people are spring cleaning there’s usually a lot of good stuff). It can also help to expand the range geographically, or take a break from looking for a few weeks and come back with fresh eyes, since it can often begin to all look the same.

      Like

  2. Carley says:

    Such a great post Erin! I haven’t had as much luck with Craig’s List in Canada as I have with Kijiji but your tips our great! This inspires me to write about Kijiji one day.

    Like

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