Anna Marie Ronning of Minneapolis couldn’t even give away an entertainment center on Craigslist. A little creative marketing was needed. As she and her kids were baking peanut butter cookies, they decided to change the subject line to "Free: Plate of melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter cookies with furniture."
Not only did someone arrive quickly to pick up the cookies and entertainment center, but her ad was chosen as the "best of Craigslist." More than a few responders said they didn’t need the furniture but asked for her cookie recipe.
Most Craigslist transactions like Ronning’s take place without incident. She also has bought more than 75 items through the popular classified-ad website with no problems.
But Craigslist (minneapolis.craigslist .org) also has become synonymous with scams and tragedy, based on news reports of crimes committed using the site’s free classified ads. It’s enough to scare novices away from using the world’s seventh most popular English-language website, which attracts 50 million visitors monthly.
So, for those who have yet to dive in, I asked readers to share their tips and experiences as buyers and sellers on Craigslist. Many wrote that once you ignore the fake, generic responses from people who ask, "Is your item still available?" and the scammers who want to pay you with a money order or wire transfer, the buying and selling experience can be relatively painless.
• Bring another person along when buying or selling to minimize the chance of robbery.
• Meet the buyer at his or her bank for large purchases such as a car. The buyer withdraws the cash and hands it to the seller — or the seller can get a bank check instead — and the buyer takes the car.
• Meet in a public place for smaller items. Bring a cell phone, and tell a family member where you’re going.
• Stick with local buyers and sellers. Anyone who is "out of the country" or "out of the state" is a red flag.
• Avoid anyone who asks for a wire transfer.
• Provide a cell phone number or other number that can’t be searched online for a home address.
• Don’t give your home address to a buyer until you’ve had a chance to talk by phone and the buyer provides a number.
• Don’t include personal information in your ad, such as a home address, e-mail address (use Craigslist’s anonymous e-mail address instead) or landline phone.
• Deal only with sellers who accept cash. Wiring funds via Western Union, Money Gram, PayPal or other services for a transaction is not a good idea.
• Ask if items, especially furniture, come from a smoke-free or animal-free house to avoid odors.
• Negotiate in front of the seller when you’re standing there with the cash.
• Be cautious when buying tickets sold by people who won them from local radio stations. In some such cases, tickets are not issued and must be claimed on the day of the event at the venue by showing an ID, which won’t match up when resold. It’s always best to buy physical tickets only.
• Bring exact change.
• Know spam when you see it. If a potential buyer sends an e-mail asking, "Is your item still available?" instead of mentioning anything specific about it, it’s probably spam.
• Write a specific title. "Must sell" or "Want to sell" are useless. Try "Brown leather sofa in pristine condition for $500" instead.
• Include photos, size, dimensions, color and other pertinent details, even the original purchase price.
• Try a small price instead of "free." One seller had more luck selling an old sofa for $20 than when it was posted as "free."
• Tell buyers that the first person to show up with cash gets it. No holds. Many sellers report frustration with buyers who don’t show when they say they will.
• Tell buyers that the price is non-negotiable for the first day or two (unless you are willing to negotiate).
• Accept cash only. Have directions to the nearest cash machine handy if the buyer shows up with a check.
• Remove sold items from Craigslist immediately to avoid more calls and e-mails.
• Know that most buyers are looking for garage sale pricing. It’s easy to go back into your ad and lower the price.
• If giving stuff away, put "curb alert" in the title before the name of the item. One seller said that nine times of out 10, her items are gone within an hour when she puts freebies outside.
Tips are from Anna Marie Ronning, John Quast, Matt Jung, Ronald King, Pat Watson, Chris Trinh, Laura Bahr, Patrice Lott, Robb Hignite, Steven Rothberg, Alicia Vap, Scott Gurrola, Joe Gangelhoff, Dylan Corbett, Julie Warner and Gregg Quam.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you spot a deal, share it at www.startribune.com/blogs/dealspotter.
John Ewoldt is a business reporter for the Star Tribune. He writes about small and large retailers including supermarkets, restaurants, consumer issues and trends, and personal finance.
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