Negotiating skills are the foundation behind a good life. If you can learn to negotiate effectively to get what you want, you'll see significant improvements in your career, your relationships, and your self-confidence.
I wrote this guide on how to negotiate on Craigslist for that exact reason. Over the course of the next few minutes, you'll learn a patented, four-step formula to substantially improve the outcomes of your Craigslist deals. You'll learn how to save money and minimize your time spent—all while actually improving the other negotiating party's opinion of you and building a strong relationship.
Let's get started.
- 😵 How to avoid bargaining with professionals
- 📱 How to negotiate on Craigslist over the phone
- 📝 The six steps behind any effective negotiation
- 😈 How to psychologically anchor price on Craigslist (warning: unethical)
How to Bargain on Craigslist
Ah, Craigslist. One of the last free bastions of Internet anonymity. Like 4chan, it’s a walking oxymoron; you can purchase everything from prostitutes, to church chairs, to consumer electronics. This wonderful place offers a little something for everybody… especially if you’re a massive bargain hunter.
For those of us on the receiving end, though, bargain hunters can also make our lives very difficult. Here's a common scenario:
You have a product that you want to buy or sell at a certain price. Like a good prospective Craigslister, you perform some cursory research, analyze a few other listings, and create a post for what you think is a fair figure.
Unfortunately, the people pitching you seem to think otherwise. You’re quickly barraged by a sea of emails and text messages for prices substantially lower or higher than what you think it’s worth. This disparity makes you start wondering—is my product really worth what I think it is?
This drags on and on, sometimes taking days of your time. Eventually, you compromise on your initial price because you don’t want to deal with it anymore. You pick the highest pitch, coordinate a meet, buy/sell your product, and get on with your life. And at the end of the day, all things considered, you think that you've made a pretty good deal.
I'm going to let you in on a secret: you didn't. If you're like thousands of Craigslist users every day, you likely just lost between 30%-40% of the value that you could have received during that transaction. Bargaining on Craigslist is not easy for first timers; experienced bargain hunters often make hundreds or thousands of dollars at your expense.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a few simple tweaks, you can learn how to negotiate on Craigslist and start getting what you want. I used to be in your shoes, too, but now I routinely make purchases and sales in my favor and walk out cash-positive. Here's how I do it:
Avoid Bargaining With Arbitrageurs
Here’s something you need to understand about Craigslist: a lot of people make loads of money on it. They buy low and sell high frequently, and some go as far as to use automated algorithms to send sellers instant messages when products are below retail value. This is called Craigslist arbitrage, and many people use it and other websites to make upwards of six thousand dollars per month.
Not a bad chunk of change for sending messages all day. It’s kind of exciting, too, given that you’re selling products like four thousand dollar iMacs or ten thousand dollar vehicles. But it certainly does make an honest buyer or seller’s life a little more difficult.
If you're interested in potentially making a living on Craigslist, I have a whole series of guides coming soon on how to set up a Craigslist business. A few of my associates have made over $6K per month, even during the pandemic, buying and selling random products in their spare time. If that sounds like something you want, stay tuned for updates.
OK, back on topic—the first rule of how to negotiate on Craigslist is to avoid bargain hunters and arbitrageurs like the plague. As a novice buyer or seller, you’ll never get what you want from someone running a Craigslist business — by definition, they will only purchase from you or sell to you if there is enough of a margin for themselves to profit. Meaning that, if you do business with someone attempting Craigslist arbitrage, you are, almost invariably, totally screwed.
4 Ways to Spot an Arbitrageur
Naturally, that begs the question—how do you know when the person pitching you is running a Craigslist business? It's actually quite easy to tell, so long as you keep your eyes open. Watch for the following clues:
- Minutes to the first message. A Craigslist bargain hunter is usually on Craigslist from before work hours to ~8:00pm, scouting for deals. Because of this omnipresence, they’ll usually message you within just one to five minutes of a listing to capitalize on your desire to get rid of or purchase items quickly.
- Hard hagglers. Because they're experts at negotiating on Craigslist, most arbitrageurs will give you a ridiculous figure right out of the gate, attempting to anchor you to that price (more on that here). For example, if your product is listed at $500, they might pitch you at $200—way below what you probably consider acceptable.
- Long, irrelevant sob stories. This usually takes the form of a struggling mother purchasing something for their daughter, or a father out of work that needs this to feed their family. If you've ever bought or sold something on Craigslist for more than ten minutes, you've probably gotten one or more messages describing similar scenarios. Unfortunately, these unethical bargain hunters have dozens of such messages on copy & paste — don’t fall for it! If they really needed help, they wouldn't be buying or selling things. They'd be looking for a job.
- Fast response times. With an email open on one tab and Craigslist open on the other, they’re usually able to respond much faster than your average user. Most people have lives — these peoples lives are Craigslist. If you notice blazing-fast emails every few minutes, they probably know what they're doing a little more than you.
You won’t catch them all, but those four rules are often enough to immediately cut off 80% of expert Craigslist bargain hunters or more. By doing so, you'll be saving significant time and energy while keeping your own price firmly rooted in reality—a necessary prerequisite to our next step.
Negotiate Over the Phone to Maximize Value
The second most important part of how to negotiate on Craigslist is to get the other party on the phone as quickly as possible. This is for two main reasons: one, phone calls imply that you're serious about the deal and will significantly reduce the likelihood of the other person choosing someone else. Second, haggling works best when both parties respect each other as people.
This is due to the fact that, unfortunately, email makes it very easy to be perceived as just text on a screen, reducing your ability to connect and close deals. Over the phone, you stand out. You can project a warm demeanor and explain why you want to buy or sell the product, which helps drive prices where you want them to go.
Additionally, you’ll find that most people are simply nicer when spoken to. They’re usually a little anxious talking to a stranger for the first time — and if they like you because of a warm demeanor and generally friendly personality, they’re usually willing to compromise more on price to make a good first impression.
I start every phone call with a loud, warm voice. I ask them how they’re doing, and whether they’re enjoying haggling on Craigslist so far. It’s kind of cheeky, but it works — a few simple seconds of being a genuine human being can move prices by over 10%, and it's practically effortless.
At this point you've got them on the phone. You've demonstrated that you're a warm and reasonable person, and in all likelihood, if you were to stop here, you'd probably get a decent deal. But we don't want to just run with it, do we? We want to get the best deal possible, and blow away the competition.
So how do you take your negotiation skills to the next level? Simple. It's called Ackerman Bargaining, and I'll explain below.
Learn the Ackerman Bargaining Method
The third, and dare I say most important component of how to negotiate on Craigslist is to use the Ackerman bargaining method. You'll close deals faster for better prices, and all while improving the probability that the other party will think they made a good deal. Who could pass this up?
Ackerman bargaining is a way to streamline the negotiation process to ensure consistency and empathy. It also makes use of a curious mathematical (and psychological) phenomenon to get you the price you want. It's probably the most succesful bargaining method of all time, and the top Craigslist negotiators, finance deal closers, and lawyers use it all the time to get what they want
Here’s how Ackerman Bargaining works:
- Set a target price (one that you’re willing to buy or sell at)
- Set your first offer at 65% of that price (if you’re buying), or 135% of that price (if you’re selling)
- Move your offer in three increments: 85% (or 115%), 95% (or 105%), and then finally 100%. (if you're stuck with crazy decimal points, round them off to the nearest 1).
- Between each movement, be as empathetic as possible in how you say “no”. Get them in your shoes — tell them about how it makes you feel, and how much you think the product is really worth. Never dismiss their counter-offers emotionally.
- On the final offer, don’t give them a round number like $5,000. Change the last few digits to something seemingly concrete, like $5,032. This helps imply that you’re at your limit.
- If they don’t budge, try throwing in a non-monetary item alongside your final offer to imply that you’ve maximized your budget. Ideally this would be something they’ve expressed interest in during the negotiation process that you don’t really care about, but it's up to you.
Whew, that was a lot of numbers. To make things more concrete, here's a simple selling example that demonstrates all six of the above principles (ideally, you would do all of the calculations beforehand).
Ackerman Bargaining Example
Let's say you want to buy a smartphone that's currently listed at $100. You would like to buy the smartphone for $80 instead of $100, since that's what you think it's worth. Using the Ackerman bargaining method, you set your initial price at:
0.65 * $80 = $52
You tell the other party that you're very interested in the phone, and you think it's a great quality product, but you can only do $52. Naturally, at this point, they're probably thinking "there's no way in hell I'm doing that! This is worth at least $90", and that's fine. They'll probably tell you as much right away.
You then calculate the next step on the ladder:
0.85 * $80 = $68
So you bring this to the seller, and let them know that it really is such a nice phone, and you're so very sorry, but $68 is the most that you can do. Really.
At this point, either they accept your price, they stand firm at $90, or they make a small concession (to let's say $85). Any of those three options are just dandy—because remember, you still have a couple of steps to go. You repeat this two more times:
0.95 * $80 = $76
1.00 * $80 + $0.32 (remember, last offers are non-round numbers ) = $80.32
In all likelihood, if you've validated the product and built rapport with the seller correctly, they have probably already said yes. But if not, giving them a seemingly carefully-calculated figure like $80.32 makes it seem like you're at your limit, and significantly increases the likelihood that they close the deal.
Finally, if they're still holding out, your last option is to give them a non-monetary concession of some kind. So your final offer could be something like:
I am sorry, I just can't give you any more than $80.32. However, if it makes it more convenient for you, I would be willing to drive out to pick it up to save you some time. How does that sound?
And that's it. Copy and paste this method to any product you want to buy or sell from here on out, and you'll probably improve your outcomes by something like 30% at the minimum.
The Ackerman bargaining method works. It’s a delicate play on human psychology, and the real beauty of using it is how you get to build positive rapport while negotiating. Unlike most bargaining methods, it also doesn’t make the other party feel like they’ve been ripped off or somehow cheated out of a price. This allows you to continue to negotiate on Craigslist for other products with the same people in the future.
Of course, there are some methods that, while they may help you strike a better deal, definitely do make the other party feel like they've been ripped off. Accordingly, you do not want to use them more than once on the same person, for fear of safety and reputation.
These methods are often referred to as the 'dark arts of bargaining on Craigslist'. I'm going to talk about one in particular, but I am not joking when I say this: be careful applying this method to people that you interact with frequently. You can wind up in some serious trouble, both personally and professionally.
Again: this is only to be used if you absolutely must. But if you're curious (I know you are, you dirty bargain-hunter), read on.
Use Price Anchoring With Multiple Pitches To Fabricate A Good Deal (warning: unethical)
The last, and most unethical method on how to negotiate on Craigslist is optional, and, for many, a little too far. I include it here for completeness’ sake. It involves sending messages from more than one email or phone number to psychologically anchor the price in the prospect’s mind.
As someone looking to sell a product on Craigslist, receiving a single, lonely low-ball offer is usually easy to get over. But when you start getting two, three, or four in quick succession, it can make you think that perhaps their product really isn’t worth the money you're trying to get for it—and it makes you a lot more suggestive to haggles than you would have been otherwise.
This method is relatively simple: pitch a random distribution of offers 40%-50% lower than their listed price. If they want $100, for example, send three emails from different email addresses offering $50, $60, and $55. You then send a fourth offer (your real offer) from your actual email asking for, let's say, $70. At this point, they’ve been primed to believe their product is probably a little cheaper than they initially thought, and that combined with their desire to get rid of it quickly means you’ll likely get the sale at a discounted rate.
There are plenty of services that create quick burner e-mail addresses for you in a few seconds, making this easy. I won't link them here, but a quick Google search should suffice. In addition, there exist similar services for phone numbers as well, and if you really wanted to purchase the product, a few phone calls from friends or family members wouldn't hurt either.
Again, this method is not for everyone, and it can take a fair amount of time to coordinate if you’re doing it often. However, it works exceptionally well. One of the strongest psychological mechanisms human beings fall prey to is social proof—our willingness to make individual decisions based on those of the majority. Combine this strategy with email and the previous three rules, and you’re almost guaranteed to successfully negotiate on Craigslist every time.
So, how do you negotiate on Craigslist? To briefly summarize the techniques we've gone over:
- Avoid professional Craigslisters that runn arbitrage schemes. Be wary of near-instant response times, multiple emails in quick succession, and sob stories—these people will simply waste your time with sub-par offers.
- When you find a deal that you're interested in pursuing, call the prospect rather than e-mailing them. Putting a voice to the name significantly improves your odds of building a good relationship, and allows you to haggle harder using the Ackerman method.
- Speaking of the Ackerman bargaining method—use it, and use it often. If buying a product, start by pitching at 65%, 85%, 95%, and 100% of your desired price. If selling, pitch at 135%, 115%, 105%, and 100% of your desired price. Between each pitch, include a soft rejection that implies that you really want the deal, but it's just not financially feasible for you right now. On the last offer, add a non-round number to show the other party that you're at your maximum, and if they still don't budge, throw in a non-monetary item to seal the deal.
- If you're feeling unethical, send messages from multiple accounts to fabricate your desired price. You can do this with a variety of burner e-mail and phone number services to save yourself time (just be careful who you use this technique on, and mind your reputation).
Many people have used these techniques to save thousands of dollars, trade their products at favorable rates, and ultimately get off Craigslist (and back to their lives) much faster than before. I sincerely hope you can, too.
Pat yourself on the back for finishing this article! You've now taken a deep dive into the nuanced techniques that make professional Craigslisters thousands of extra dollars per month. Don't worry if your first deal isn't absolutely incredible—like anything else in life, Craigslist takes practice. You won’t be perfect the first time you try and negotiate, and it’s a constant learning experience that tests your social, mathematical, and financial skills.
But, like other things, if you persist, you will succeed. Use the techniques you’ve learned in this short guide on your next Craigslist negotiation adventure, and start getting more of what you want!