How to Negotiate on Craigslist: Get What You Want, Every Time
We’ve all tried. Most of us have failed. Here’s a simple guide on how to negotiate on Craigslist and get the price you want, every time. Warning: Rule 4 is not for everyone.
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.
Bargain hunters make your life difficult. You probably have a product that you want to buy or sell at a certain price. Like a good prospective Craigslister, you’ve done some cursory research, analyzed 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?
Eventually, you compromise 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.
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.
So how do you do it? How do you negotiate on Craigslist, find a fair price, and balance your desire to get off of it as quickly as possible? Here’s a four-step guide.
Avoid Craigslist Arbitrage
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.
Rule 1 of how to negotiate on Craigslist is to avoid these people entirely. 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.
How do you know to avoid them? Watch for the following clues:
- Minutes to the first message. 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. They’ll give you a ridiculous figure right out of the gate, attempting to anchor you to that price. For example, if your product is listed at $500, they might pitch you at $200.
- 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. They have dozens of such messages on copy & paste — don’t fall for it.
- 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.
You won’t catch them all, but that’s enough. If someone low-balls you within the first sixty seconds, quoting “financial difficulties” and their “lovely daughter”, don’t waste your time.
Start Calling, Stop Emailing
Rule 2 of how to negotiate on Craigslist is to get them on the phone. Haggling works best when both parties respect each other as people. 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 can project a warm demeanor and explain yourself, 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 a little 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 upwards of 10%.
Use the Ackerman Bargaining Method
Rule 3 of how to negotiate on Craigslist is to use the Ackerman bargaining method. 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 — here’s how it 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 150% of that price (if you’re selling)
- Move your offer in three increments: 85% (or 120%), 95% (or 105%), and then finally 100%.
- 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 final, 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 for.
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 other products in the future.
Psychologically Anchor Your Price With Multiple Accounts
Rule 4 of how to negotiate on Craigslist is optional, and, for some, an ethical gray area. I include it here for completeness’ sake. It involves sending messages from more than one email to psychologically anchor the price in the prospect’s mind. One low-ball is a subjective suggestion — two, three, or four starts to make them think that perhaps their product really isn’t worth the money they’re trying to get for it.
This method is relatively simple: pitch a random distribution of figures 30%-40% lower than their listed price. If they want $100, for example, send three emails from different email addresses offering $60, $65, and $55. You can then send a fourth from your real email asking for $75. 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.
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 summarize:
- Avoid Craigslist professionals running arbitrage schemes.
- Call them rather than email them.
- Use the Ackerman bargaining method. If buying, pitch 65%, 85%, 95%, and 100%. If selling, pitch 150%, 120%, 105%, 100%.
- Send messages from multiple accounts to anchor your desired price.
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.
Like anything else in life, Craigslist takes practice. You won’t be perfect the first time you try and negotiate — 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 four rules you’ve learned in this short guide on your next buy and sell adventure, and start getting what you want!