Craigslist: A Green, if Testy, Alternative

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We love Craigslist, but sometimes it feels like a badly behaved lover. Craigslist requires constant maintenance and you never know if you're going to get a call back. But, just often enough, you end up with a real peach.

We've been on the lookout for a dogproof slipcovered sofa. We spied one at IKEA (the MYSINGE) that would do the trick. But why buy one for $399 new, we thought, when we could be a bit more green by keeping the same, albeit slightly used, sofa from going to the dump by doing some searching on Craigslist?

Well, we don't yet have a sofa... but we do have four tips for keeping Craigslist from breaking your heart:

When your lover calls, you need to be there, and fast: arrange transportation in advance. If you're after a bulky item, sign up for FlexCar or another car sharing service, do a favor for a friend, or put the number of the minivan taxi service on speed dial.

Keep your lover from running off with another: use RSS to get the latest listings right away. There used to be a few downloadable programs and websites that would do an automatic search of Craigslist for you... but no more. Apparently the folks over at Craigslist didn't like these programs, so the best thing to do now is to set up an RSS feed. If you're unfamiliar with RSS, there's a video explaining how it works with Google Reader. If you need a step-by-step guide, there's a great tutorial over at Getting Finances Done that shows you how to get a Craigslist search into the program Bloglines.

Your lover needs a personal touch: call, don't email. The more determined you are to get the item, the more likely it will have sold by the time your email reaches the seller. (This seems to be the governing law of Craigslist.) Increase your chances by picking up the phone and calling. Most sellers who are serious about selling will list a phone number.

Lovers like promises: trade exclusivity in return for a full price offer. No matter how many digital photographs you've seen, it's still not the same as seeing the item in person. If it's something you really want, offer to pay full price in cash… on the condition that the seller tells others its sold and that the item meets your approval when you see it. This is a good way to force the hand of someone who may have "forgotten" to mention that strange spot or musty odor that just won't wash out.

What are your strategies for dealing with Craigslist? We'd love to hear any stories: good, bad, or other...

Image via sxc.hu. Lover metaphor via the work of Jennifer Aaker.

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