Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to Buy Furniture on Craigslist

If I want to stir a reaction in my Facebook followers, all I need to do is mention that I'm off to buy something on craigslist. I'll immediately get a flood of well meaning warnings...

"Be careful!!" 
"Don't go alone!" 
"Are you sure it's worth it?! I never buy things on craigslist!"

Good gravy, you'd think I was marching off to battle the Huns, not picking up a china hutch from two towns over. So ok, I understand there might be a wee bit of hesitation from the furniture buying public regarding the unknown and possibly treacherous territories of craigslist. Today I'll do what I can to allay those fears and give you some hints to find brilliant antique furniture (which of course you should then bring to me for refinishing)!

Some favorite craigslist treasures that I amazingly did not die while buying.

1. Location, Location, Location

Step one, you need to know where you're located. I trust you can handle that bit. Craigslist has separate regional pages to help narrow your hunting ground. I've had people drive all the way from Philadelphia and Cape Cod to buy things from me. That's amazing and flattering and they clearly had broadened their hunting ground significantly. You do not need to drive four hours to pick up a piece of furniture. Odds are you'll spot something good within a reasonable, drivable distance. Or not, drive four hours. It's your call. I almost exclusively haunt the Hartford, Eastern CT, and New Haven pages.

Choose the location closest to you!

2. Searchable Searching!

Next, you need to know what you're looking for. You know it's one of those tall cupboard-y things with glass doors on the top and a fold down desk thing-y on the base, right? Well take two minutes to search that on google so you know the correct term (a secretary!), and your hunt will go all the smoother. Craigslist offers a handy dandy search function, so unless you're an irascible furniture junkie like me, you don't have to scroll through pages and pages of stuff you're not looking for, just to spot that one perfect antique secretary.

3. Being Choosey

Once you've entered your desired search term, you'll get loads and loads of listings through which to sort. Don't like anything you see, you picky bastard? Try using a different search term. When I'm out stalking a fresh delicious china hutch for the slaughter I'll search 'hutch', 'cupboard', 'server', 'dining set', 'breakfront' etc etc etc.
Now this part should be pretty straight forward. You scroll through the listings, and when you see one you like, you click on it! Note that on the results page you're given an image, a title, a location, and a price for each piece. Some screwballs will list the price as $1 on that title page, but when you click on the link it turns out they're asking $5,000 for their broken washing machine. They're idiots and should be ignored to discourage that behavior.

Wow, look at that stunning painted sideboard refinished by some unknown but highly skilled and likely exceedingly attractive and hilarious craftsperson! I think I'll click on that one!
Obviously you're clicking on that stunning green Midcentury modern sideboard. You have great taste and know an excellent bargain when you see one. When you click on it, a page like this will open-

See all those tiny pictures along the base, you can click on those to see the multiple images this thoughtful poster has included. See all the writing below that- tons of details for you to read as you consider if this is the perfect piece to add style and charm to your dining room! (pro tip: it is).

Spoiler alert: This is my posting and I'm an awesome poster. Let's take a look at a slightly less awesome post to trouble shoot a few things you might encounter on your craigslist journey to furniture excellence.

Ok, so here's a listing with way WAAAAAAY less information. Also, this piece is actually already sold. How do I know that? Because I bought it and refinished it for a client weeks ago. You can see it here!
Our lister has failed to remove their listing, and has left out key information that you might want to know as you consider this piece, you know, like size, and if it's one piece or two (thankfully this behemoth was two). And to get answers to all these burning questions, you're going to need to contact the seller.

"Wow! This vintage Lane cedar chest is like a drop of pure sunlight, and I think it would look perfect
 at the foot of the guestroom bed in my cottage!"

And when you click on that 'reply' button it will drop down this screen-

I, being the thoughtful seller that I am, have included multiple ways for the savvy potential buyer to reach out to me. As you can see I can be reached via phone, text, or email. If phone and text is available, don't be an ass and text that person at 6am or 11pm, be reasonable! On all craigslist interactions, the email is a computer generated address, to protect my privacy, and yours, dear buyer. You can also click on any of those email options for your preferred method of email, and it will automatically populate an email for you, which would look like this-

              Then you just need to type your question, and send that email on it's merry way. Via email, or phone you can then arrange a time to view the piece of furniture, and hopefully purchase it!

And Now, ladies and gentlemen, some helpful hints. 

1. Trust your intuition. If a posting looks creepy or sketchy, maybe it's not the right piece for you. I just scrolled and scrolled trying to find an example of what I'd deem a 'sketchy' post and couldn't find one. At least here in CT people are pretty good, honest, and non-sketchy. A few weeks ago I saw a cedar chest listed up in Bloomfield. The price was right, but in the picture the house looked a bit, shall we say 'Meth-y', and when I emailed the seller he was all but illiterate. And maybe I'm being a judgy pants, but I decided that probably wasn't a good cedar chest to pursue. 

2. Feel free to haggle. You've spotted a great hutch on CL but the price is a bit high. By all means email the seller and ask if they will take less, but again, be reasonable. I ignore all emails that offer less than half the asking price for a listed piece. I mean really, it's a hand painted antique mahogany dining set, not a lawn mower that got left out in the rain.

I had this listed for $395 on CL. Someone offered me $100.
I didn't even bother to respond.

3. Be polite. We're all human here, we have feelings. I know you're emboldened by that internet induced anonymity, but calm your sassy buns right down. I had a gal who wanted to haggle me way way down on a kitchen island about a month ago. When I politely declined the offer she sent me a huffy email saying my prices were way too high and she could get an even better island for half my price. My island was listed for $325. Good luck with that, sister.

4. Communication is key. If you're running an hour late for an appointment, tell the seller. If you're coming alone to pick up a heavy piece of furniture and will need help loading it, tell the seller. If you're uncertain whether or not you want a piece and are really just at the window shopping stage, tell the seller. If you've made an appointment to come see a piece of furniture but have changed your mind and aren't coming, TELL THE SELLER. Seriously on that last one.
I call those 'no call, no shows', and I firmly believe there is a special place in hell reserved for such inconsiderate jerkwads.

5. You are under no obligation to buy a piece of furniture. Sometimes you just don't like the piece when you see it in person. Or sometimes there's something wrong with it that the seller failed to mention. Hey, it happens. Much better to walk away than to feel pressured to buy a piece of furniture you don't love.

6. That being said, do your due diligence to prepare for the furniture purchasing decision. Always always always get those measurements ahead of time. Measure your space, be sure the dimensions are right for you. AND measure your vehicle. Time and again I'll see people trying to cram furniture into a too small car or truck. That's the best and fastest way to damage a piece of furniture. And guess what, if you break that piece of furniture while shoving it into the back of your volvo SUV,
that's on you.

7. Come prepared. You'll want to bring packing blankets, or towels, or a table cloth something, anything to cushion and protect the furniture. Also, if you're transporting in a truck or large van, ratchet straps, invest in a pack. They're like $12 at Home Depot, and worth their weight in gold. Don't bother with bungee cords, they're about as useful as a parasol in a hurricane.

Carl the Furniture Guy demonstrating some level 10 furniture hauling skillz

8. Bring cash, and bring the correct amount. Don't expect the seller to make change for you, they're often not prepared for that. Also, don't bring a check, or a credit card. It's cash only on craigslist. And finally, don't try that crap where you bring less cash than the agreed upon price and say, "Oh I've only brought X amount, will you take that instead?". I send those scoundrels packing. We're here to do business, not play head games.

9. Safety first! I've probably bought and sold around 5000 pieces of furniture on craigslist. I've crawled through damp cellar basements, and picked through the attic of an abandoned Mason's Hall. I've never had a single bad experience. Not one, and I have met many lovely people and made several life long friends through selling furniture on craigslist. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take precautions. If at all possible, bring a friend, after all  they can also double as a furniture hauler! If you can't bring a friend, tell someone where you're going, who you're meeting, and tell them you'll call as soon as the transaction is complete.
And of course, always always wear a helmet when moving furniture.
...I'm kidding about that last bit.

Good luck on your furniture hunting journey! 
I promise it's well worth it.

I scored this entire group of antique mahogany furniture for $100 on craigslist last spring. 


  1. A fine example of why I LOVE this blog...

  2. love this post! Loads of good info here.

  3. Great blog! It gives me more confidence and yearning to find the perfect piece!