10 Tips for Buying Furniture on Craigslist


Buying furniture on Craigslist is one way to replace furniture that no long suits your needs or tastes. Never tried it? Here are some tips.

1) What do you want? Just a coffee table or a matching set? Wood or glass?  Traditional, modern or mid-century? Answers to these sorts of questions will help you decide which listings best fit your needs, style and budget.

2) Start by specifiying “for sale by owner” (as opposed to dealer) and use keywords. For instance, don’t search for “coffee table” unless you’re prepared to scroll hundreds of listings. Adding words such as rectangular, wood, modern or even Pottery Barn narrows the search and saves time. Because some sellers provide very skimpy descriptions, use just a few keywords each time. For instance, If a search for “white Billy bookcase” yields little, try “Ikea bookcase” or “white bookcase.”

3) Use gallery mode, which allows would-be buyers to see photos with every listing in their search if the seller has provided a photo. It’s a great way to quickly scan offerings, clicking only on what looks promising. Don’t even bother clicking on listings without photos.

4) Pay attention to the dimensions and ask for measurements if they aren’t included. You don’t want to buy furniture that is too big or too small. Use masking tape to outline the dimensions of the piece on your floor to make sure what you buy will fit and fill the space.

5) What’s the condition, and how old is it?  Nearly all furniture sold on Craigslist is used, so don’t expect perfection.  It’s helpful to know about dings or scratches before you go see it. Request more photos, if necessary.  I always like knowing where the piece in question was purchased. Ethan Allen or Value City? Design Within Reach or Ikea?  Such information affects how much I’m willing to pay, although I don’t expect every seller to be completely truthful.  Is the piece from a smoke-free home? A pet-free home? That might be helpful to know if you’re considering an upholstered piece.

6) Respond immediately if you see something that seriously interests you. Don’t think it over for a day or so because it may well be gone or others may have arranged to see it. In my initial email, I usually say I’m seriously interested and want to see it in person, and then I share contact information. If the seller has provided a phone number, I call or text to arrange a meeting time. You can always cancel if you see something else you like better. Don’t email asking whether an item is still available. That just exasperates the sellers and is a tactic frequently used by spammers. Follow up by seeing the item as soon as possible, even if you know that you will have to return later to pick it up. If you decide to buy, pay the seller or leave a deposit.

7) You can negotiate, but be reasonable.  Many sellers, including me, ignore lowball offers. But offering, say, 25 percent less than the asking price isn’t insulting.  I prefer to negotiate in person, money in hand.  I’ve also received many offers from would-be buyers in their initial email. Sometimes sellers state in their listing that their price is firm.

8) Be prepared to pay cash. Occasionally while buying something for, say, $700, I have written checks for half that as a deposit. I paid the balance in cash when I returned for pickup. Most sellers want cash.

9) Ready to buy? Ask whether the seller lives in a house or apartment building where steps are involved. Bring help. Don’t assume that the seller can help carry a heavy piece of furniture to your vehicle. Bring the right-size vehicle, even if you have to borrow or rent a minivan or small truck. There are listings on Craigslist for people who will pick up and deliver furniture. That may be worth the expense if you’re buying several pieces at once, especially large, heavy pieces such as bedroom furniture.

10) Be picky and patient. I was making do with dining room chairs borrowed from my sister that were too traditional for my taste. I browsed Craigslist from time to time, seeing if anything caught my eye.  Then one day, bam! Four Restoration Hardware chairs with curved backs were listed and I bought them.  New items are added daily.  Hold out for what fits your budget and needs and makes your heart smile. Don’t settle.  It may take time, but you’ll find what you want.


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