Craigslist can be a crapshoot. You can get the creeps who tell five different people to come at the same time for one item so they can start a bidding war, the guy who only photographs the good side of a damaged chair, or you can get the most amazing deal in the world because someone just wants to get rid of that awesome Nelson lamp before they move.
Here are some of my best tips for getting what you want out of Craigslist. Patience and a little OCD goes a long way when you really really want something in particular. And if you're like me, the thrill of a long hunt culminating in an amazing deal can be a pretty great high.
Try searching within the actual category you expect
the item to be in, like bikes, furniture, etc. If that yields poor results, go to the top of the page and select "all for sale/wanted" from the dropdown menu.
Search again with your search term. Let's say you want a woman's road bike, or you want a Specialized Dolce Elite road bike...use both as search terms. You can also try "ladies road bike" or just "specialized bike."
If something has multiple terms, try them all. Sideboard versus buffet versus console versus cabinet. People won't always user the correct or popular vernacular. Sofa, couch, settee, loveseat, davenport, divan...are all basically the same thing. And maybe the person who calls their sofa a davenport is also the person with a pristine Florence Knoll livingroom set.
If a word is difficult to spell or isn't spelled phonetically, try obvious misspellings. Noguchi, Eames, Cadovius...people type quickly or don't read labels carefully. It's worth a shot!
When I was looking for a replacement window for my vintage Mercedes wagon after a thief broke it, I began trolling Craigslists in multiple cities. I found someone who had a fender for my same model and emailed them to inquire if they also had the window. They did! So we made a deal, I paid them via paypal and they shipped the window across the country for me. It never hurts to ask and if you're desperate, some OCD web-searching can really pay off.
Post in the "items wanted" section. I was looking for 55 gallon drums to filter waste vegetable oil and all the barrels listed for sale were 50+ miles away. I posted what I was looking for and how far I was willing to drive from my zip code. Someone responded who was only 3 miles away. That was a win!
I've gotten a lot of great deals on Craigslist, so for karma-sake I like to give back by giving great deals of my own. When I have things that I don't feel like selling or don't want to haul to the local St. Vincent De Paul thrift store, I post a "free" listing on craigslist. Essentially, I take a photo of whatever the item is and tell readers that the first serious person to respond with a time of potential pickup gets the address. Then I haul it out to the curb. If the item isn't gone by the time the person said it would be, I give my address to the next person. It makes it a little less crazy having a parade of strange vehicles passing by or people traipsing down your driveway. Also keeps angry folks from emailing you later upset because they missed something in the free-for-all.
As with eBay, Craigslist requires patience and tenacity. You will encounter some strange folks, but you will encounter just as many wonderful people. Just be safe about letting strangers come to your home and going to the homes of strangers. Try to make transactions in daylight, take a pal if you can. Let people know where you're going before you head out to unknown neighborhoods with large sums of cash.
(Images: Michelle Chin)