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Power tips for buying on Craigslist

Newspaper classifieds are so last century. Today’s bargain hunters looking to deal locally turn to Craigslist, a site filled with sellers offering everything from used cars to dining sets to antique sewing machines.

Unlike those printed ads of yore, Craigslist can be a lot more complicated. Turn yourself into a savvy buyer with our tips for searching, sorting and negotiating your way to successful Craigslist purchases.

Widen your search terms:

Whether you’re looking for a garden trellis or a used VW, one of the quickest ways to find a specific item is to hit up the Craigslist search box. If you’re not getting many results, then try widening your search parameters to include common typos or alternative terms for the same item.

For example, a recent search of for-sale items on the Los Angeles Craigslist site returned 5,647 matching ads for “dining” table, but an additional 422 ads matched “dinning” table. Another famous typo is the “chester” drawers in place of “chest of” drawers. Also, explore synonyms like “nightstand” and “bedside table” or Chevrolet” and “Chevy.”

Looking for a cute vintage chalkboard? Try “chalkboard,” “chalk board” and “blackboard.” Even adding a plural, like “chalkboards” can sometimes generate slightly different results. If you’re really into vintage Danish furniture styles, then try terms like “mid-century modern,” “MCM,” or just plain “mid century.” You just might find that overlooked gem that will complete your living room.

Get new-ad alerts:

You can save time by letting Craigslist do the searching for you. Once you’ve settled on a good search term and chosen your categories, you can save that search and have Craigslist alert you when new matching ads appear. Look for the “save search” link to the side of the search box. You will be prompted to log in or create a new account if you don’t have one. Craigslist will save your search and notify you by email of new listings. Your saved searches can be accessed through the “searches” tab inside your account should you want to edit or delete them later.

Sort by new listings:

Craigslist automatically delivers results based on relevance to your search terms. Look for the drop-down box in the upper right-hand corner to order the results by the newest listings instead.

See only ads from private parties:

It’s not just individuals who sell on Craigslist. Many dealers and retail-store owners also use the site to advertise their wares. You can filter out these dealer listings by selecting “owner” in the upper left-hand side of the search listings. This is handy if you’re one of those Craigslist shoppers who feels you can get better bargains from individual sellers rather than businesses.

Check nearby locations:

Not finding what you want in your town? Choose “include nearby areas” on the left-hand side of your search results to expand your search to places you’re willing to drive to. Checkboxes next to each location let you further tailor the results.


Craigslist can feel a bit like a digital version of a yard sale. Many prices are negotiable, but you don’t have to save your bargaining until the last minute. If you have a certain price in mind, you can try to settle it before you meet to pick up the item so you don’t waste your time or the seller’s time if you can’t come to an agreeable number.

That being said, if an item is different than described or shows undisclosed damage, feel free to continue the negotiations in person if you still want it. If it doesn’t work out for you, you’re not obligated to buy it, so be prepared to walk away if necessary.

You’re now on your way to stepping up your Craigslist shopping game, but this is also a good time for a safety refresher and a reminder to use both caution and common sense. Check out our tips for protecting yourself while using the site.

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