Still Earning A Living on Craigslist in 2014 Ask Me Anything

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ryangarage
It’s time to do a new ask me anything. It’s been three years since the last one, and a lot has changed in three years. I’m still earning a living on Craigslist, though a few of my side projects such as ApplianceSchool.com are doing quite well. I’m working from home, have 5 incredible kids and still very happily married to my wife of almost 10 years now. I’m still mostly buying and selling appliances, and it’s an industry I have really grown to love. So ask me anything! Here are a few recent questions to get things started.

Send me your questions via email to ryan@recraigslist.com and put AMA in the subject, or simply respond to this post. You can also tweet at me to @ryanfinlay

What was the funniest appliance delivery you ever had?

I had a washing machine delivery where I was helping some college kids move their broken washer out of the laundry room, and it was full of about 30 gallons of water. I have no idea what the other guy or myself were thinking at the time. Somehow we got the machine to his door going into the garage from the laundry room, and we thought we could tip it slightly his way to get it over the threshold. We both underestimated how much water was still in tube because about 10 gallons came gushing out straight on the guy in like a couple seconds. He was completely drenched from the waist down and not happy at all. I think it was mostly how ticked off the guy was, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

So then in haste he says to me to just keep going and get it over with. That was not the correct decision. As soon as we started moving the rest of the water started pouring out and dumped all over the stairs and into the garage. It was an incredible mess but the guy was the one in charge of that operation and I was just trying to help him out.

What has been your weirdest transaction?

One immediately comes to mind. I went to buy some appliances from a guy that was moving. I show up and upon welcoming me into his kitchen, he starts immediately apologizing for the mess in the house. Now things weren’t that bad and I was starting to wonder what he was talking about. Then he tells me that the oven is down in the basement and to be careful and to watch my steps going down there. When I looked down I saw exactly what he was talking about. Hundreds and hundreds of .22 bullets covering all the stairs. The basement looked like a hurricane had gone through it and at the end, it was like someone had sprinkled a few thousand more bullets on top of everything. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I wasn’t worried about the guy, and he had told me something about a crazy roommate had just moved out. Anyway, I bought the oven and fridge and went on my way.

Should I accept credit card payments for Craigslist transactions using Square or one of the other providers?

I generally don’t take credit card payments on local Craigslist transactions for a few reasons. One is that you will lose another 2.75-3.5% of the sales price. That comes out to $5 or so on an appliance. Imagine that times each appliance you sell and it adds up quickly, especially over the course of a year. Most people already expect to pay cash for things on Craigslist, so I see no reason to encourage people towards other forms of payment.

Second, people could file a charge-back on a washer that they have trouble with even 5-6 months after they buy it from you, and the money would most likely get taken back out of your account. It’s the dark side of accepting credit cards. I’m not saying that would happen very often, but it could and you are pretty much at the mercy of the credit card companies, which always side with the card holders.

Telling people that I prefer cash has cost me maybe one sale out of thousands. I still think having a Square card reader and account setup is a good idea. Sometimes people won’t have the exact amount of cash, and you can charge the last $20 or so to save everyone some time.

Do you ask for a deposit before agreeing to deliver a appliance?

No. Out of thousands of sales I’ve only had two people not want to pay. First guy was the rental owner that discovered the refrigerator that I had delivered was too wide for his cabinets. This was in spite of the fact that I had clearly included the dimensions of the refrigerator in the ad, and had given them to him again over the phone prior to delivery. After the refrigerator wouldn’t fit, he tried to get out of buying it even though I had already spent the time driving all the way to the place, unloaded it and brought it into the kitchen. He offered the promise of future business, which I have learned coming from landlords is completely worthless. I told him that he could either pay the full price for the refrigerator or $40 for my time and gas on the trip. He ended up buying the refrigerator for use in another unit.

The second time was even crazier. I delivered a washing machine a few months back with my son along for the experience. We went down into this lady’s basement and pulled her old broken washer up and out of the basement and into her front yard. It was a lot of work. We then brought the washer that we were selling down into the basement and hooked everything up. She then wanted to listen to the washer go through a cycle, which was fine with me. This is when things got crazy.

After the washer started agitating, the lady was convinced that a little noise that the machine was making while it was agitating (with no clothes in the washer) was a sign that it was broken. I then told her that all washing machines sound slightly different, as there are all sorts of factors that go into what they sound like. It was a completely different make and model than her previous washer, and somehow she had become an expert at what washing machines were supposed to sound like. I told her repeatedly that there was nothing wrong with the machine and that it functioned 100% as it was supposed to. She was not having it!

At this point, with my son next to me, she told me what was going to happen! She said I was going to leave the washer at her house overnight for further testing. If she was satisfied with it’s performance, she would mail me a check the following day. I told her that she could pay for the washer in cash right now or that I was going to unhook the washer leave. After continuing to argue with her for a few more minutes, I had a moment of clarity. What the heck was I still doing there trying to sell her this machine? I cut the conversation off right then and told her we were leaving with our washer. She promptly stormed off.

As I was driving away, I used the situation to teach my 8 year old son a few things about life. First, I told him that it was good for him to see that not every person you deal with in life is going to be pleasant. I then asked him what he thought would have happened tomorrow, or next week if the lady had finally agreed to pay us for the washer. He immediately said that she would probably call us back and that he didn’t think we should have sold it to her either. I about burst with pride. I told him that was exactly right. I told him that it’s better to lose a sale and a customer than to take on a load of stress that comes with selling to a nightmare buyer.

Second, I told him to remember than as the seller of an item, we are responsible for setting the terms of the deal. If the buyer doesn’t like those terms, then they can buy from someone else. I told him to not to cater to the occasional demanding customer and go against already established terms. It was a great experience for him.

All this to say that 99.9% of people will pay as agreed upon you showing up to deliver items, even without getting some sort of deposit beforehand.

What is the best way to keep your ads on Craigslist fresh so they stay on top of the category you are running them in as long as you want them?

There is gravity on Craigslist, and once posts go up, they very quickly go down the list. This you really cannot control, but there are a few things you can do to help your chances of your ad being seen. First, post your items either mid morning or early evening so they get the best chance of being seen by buyers. Also, if you have similar items, stagger the posts and mention the other items that you are selling. Lastly, the listings will come up for renewal every few days and you have to manually log in to your Craigslist account and click renew for each of your ads. Staying on top of renewals is very important. Then you just have to be patient.

Hi,  you have a great newsletter, very informative and interesting. My wife and I  do  a lot of garage sale treasure hunting on the weekends, and  our question is,  what are the best things to sell on  Craigslist  that we can hunt for.  We do not have room in our house for  large appliances or furniture, but mostly smaller treasures. 

Anything you can make a good profit on. I know that sounds simplistic, but the best thing to hunt for is any under priced item, or item that you can add value to that will make you a profit. Smaller well known name brand items tend to be good profit makers. They are in high demand, they hold their value well and tend to sell pretty quickly. The best way to spot really good deals is to walk through new retails stores and pay close attention to how much everything costs new. Then when you see the item for 50-80% off at a garage sale or on Craigslist, you know you have found a good deal. I think it helps to focus on one niche at a time and really learn it inside and out. It makes decision making much easier, cuts your risk and ultimately makes you more profitable in your buying/selling venture.

My primary complaint is the flakiness of the majority of people that contact me to get my address and say they will be at my house to look over what I am selling. They never show up. It’s very annoying and causes me not to post ads. Any thoughts on that?

This post I wrote a few years ago should help. 6 Tips to Avoid Craigslist Flakes

Another complaint is people try to negotiate a lower price over the phone before they have seen in person whatever it is I am selling! (Yes, I post photos.) Sometimes I say that I am flexible on the price and they still don’t show up! Do you have a standard response for “not viewing in person” price negotiators?

Here is a post I wrote last year on How to Negotiate on Craigslist

What do you think about communicating with potential buyers with text messages or email vs. phone calls? 

People that text tend to flake out the most. Then email and lastly phone calls. So phone calls are the best, then emails, then text messages, in that order. All can be good, but from my experience of thousands of transactions, these are just the trends I have seen.

Any tips or recommended links about selling a car on Craigslist?

Don’t put your phone number in the ad unless you want a hoard of used car dealers calling you non-stop asking if you will take 25% of your original asking price haha. Seriously. Let people email you and ask normal questions. Normal questions equal normal buyers, in general. Pick and choose who you want to respond to judging by how serious they appear, how normal and if they are local (always better) People that want to buy your car but live in another city, or state will often ask you to hold it for them for a week and then often flake out when the week has passed. Tell them if you still have the car the night before they are able to show up, then you will hold it for them. Cash only, no cashiers checks, checks or credit cards. Go with your gut and only sell to someone that you are comfortable dealing with. Also be dead firm on your price, at least for a week. Then very slowly drop the price. Write down before hand the price drop schedule and STICK TO IT. This one tip will probably save you a grand or two. Used car prices are very high right now, so price the car on the higher end of KBB.

What’s the best way to handle the transaction for big ticket items? I’m looking to sell a Eurovan camper for $40+ thousand. It’s not likely the buyer would bring that much cash to the meeting.

I would recommend using an escrow service such as Escrow.com I believe Craigslist and eBay motors both recommend them. Do not use an escrow service that the buyer recommends. You need to stay in control of the transaction, especially with that much money changing hands.

Do you often buy things on Craigslist to resell for more? If so, when someone asks why you are buying the item, do you tell the truth? Some people get angry when you say that you’re going to resell and try to raise the price.

That’s most of my business. I usually buy items and appliances that need to be fixed or other work done on them, and are being sold for very cheap because of this. I’ve bought thousands of appliances and occasionally people will ask why I’m buying the appliances. I tell them that I buy/sell and repair appliances. The response 99% of the time is “cool, that sounds like a great business”. I add value to the item, then sell it for market rate, which is significantly higher than the price I originally pay.

How far are you willing to go to deliver a machine? If someone is say 30 – 40 miles away or even farther, do you tell them it is too far?

30-45 minute drive is about my max, and at 45 minutes, I usually charge extra for delivery. Delivering out too far takes a lot of gas, time, and if for some reason there is an issue with the appliance, it’s a massive pain to go all the way back out. I’ve found it’s just not worth going much further than that. You need to decide before hand, before the calls and emails come in how far away you are willing to deliver and stick to it. People will always try to get you to go further and push your boundary. Don’t do it.

Hey Ryan, How do you determine what you pay for a washer and dryer. Is there a price range you stay within and are there certain criteria that you use to purchase?

Make and model of the machine, how old it is, cosmetic condition, symptoms of what might be wrong with it, how far away the machines are to pick up, whether it’s just a single machine or a set etc. I go over each of these in depth in the ApplianceSchool.com training as well as typical prices I am willing to pay for these machines and how much  they sell for. Another variable is how much you need to hustle at the time, how much inventory you have etc.

Send me your questions via email to ryan@recraigslist.com and put AMA in the subject, or simply respond to this post. You can also tweet at me to @ryanfinlay

21 COMMENTS

  1. I’d like to agree with something you’re implying here. It’s extremely important to establish the details of the product and sale before you see the customer. If you’re firm on a price, that needs to be understood, so the customer doesn’t try to negotiate and detract from a smooth sale. I resale smaller household items from my home and because I’m female, I meet the customer near my home to deliver. I have never once had a disgruntled or demanding customer because they understand what is involved by the time we connect. It’s so important to communicate well and to establish the sale before meeting the customer. If we don’t cover the details and if both parties don’t know what to expect, it opens the door for misunderstandings, negotiations and a waste of time and effort to make the sale.

    • Yeah communication is key. I would like to add that if someone doesn’t ask about a lower price before they view the item, they should expect to pay full price when they show up. If they don’t want to, that’s fine, let them walk. If they really want a lower price, and don’t want to waste their time, they will ask you about price beforehand.

      Side note, this is also another reason I only have people come to my house. I hate wasting my time. If people have to come to you, and want to lowball you upon arrival, just tell them no. That way it only wastes a few minutes of your time if they decide to walk.

  2. Do you think that with so many newer model machines being high efficiency and front loaders that it will affect the future of the laundry resale business? I personally only like working on the standard machines that Whirlpool made for like over 20 years.

    • It could. The encouraging thing is they are still selling the machines that they have been making for the past 20-30 years, which is encouraging. What’s not encouraging is the governments overreach into the appliance industry and all the demands they are making on water consumption etc. It could end up forcing all the manufacturers to change the design of the machines, and I believe it has already started.

      But, we are a resilient people, we can adapt to ever changing business landscapes, so I’m not too worried. Plus, people are becoming poorer in general and that won’t be a good thing for the high end appliance market, so that might ensure things more or less stay as they are currently. We’ll see.

  3. Bullets… What the heck.

    One of the more interesting part about selling appliances is getting to get the inside scoop on how people live.

    • I agree. I have seen everything you could possibly imagine. Been in thousands of homes. Kind of makes me feel like I’m able to keep a pulse on the community I’m living in.

  4. Do you often buy things on Craigslist to resell for more? If so, when someone asks why you are buying the item, do you tell the truth? Some people get angry when you say that you’re going to resell and try to raise the price.

    • Personally I’ve never had that question. I guess it’s all about how you carry yourself… even through emails. I have many years of working close with potential customers so that probably helps.

      If anyone asks I’d tell them. I picked one up yesterday from a girl that has moved 3 times in the last 2 years so I told her the next time she moves and needs another washer/dryer to give me a call because that’s what I do… sell used washes and dryers.

      • It all depends on what you are picking up. If you are buying a broken machine that someone advertised, they will ask almost every time. Also you will get the question if you inquire about the broken machine that is usually still at someone’s house if they are only selling the one remaining working machine. This always tips them off when you are desiring broken appliances.

        When I buy working machines I rarely get asked…unless I have 4 other appliances in my trailer at the time and don’t park around the corner haha

  5. I’ve got another question. How far are you willing to go to deliver a machine? If someone is say 30 – 40 miles away or even farther, do you tell them it is too far?

    • The area I live in is over 9,000 square miles so if I didn’t drive 30-40 miles to make a sell, I wouldn’t sell near as many as I sell. At first I fought all the toll roads but I finally gave in. By the time I drove city streets it not only burned more in gas than if I would have just paid the $2 toll but it also burned time. I’ll deliver anywhere in the US for the right price and even at a discount if there is a good dirt track on the way.

      • That’s a great point. Each person has to decide the distance in time/miles themselves and set a boundary. If I had to drive further to get business, I would do what it takes as well. Right now, in relatively big city that I live in, I can be a little more selective in how far I will drive.

  6. Hey Ryan, How do you determine what you pay for a washer and dryer. Is there a price range you stay within and are there certain criteria that you use to purchase?

  7. Hi Ryan , quick question.
    How do you deal with this situation?
    Delivered a dryer and turns out the circuit breaker was tripped.
    Thanks ,Cheers

    • Well, it depends. If I’ve removed the old dryer, put it in my trailer, and hauled the new one into place and hooked it up, I’ve already done 99% of the agreed upon work. (Driving to the customers house, removing their old machine, setting up the new one etc) So I really don’t feel bad about charging the full price. The seller doesn’t absorb all the risk and shouldn’t. If a buyer doesn’t do their due diligence and find out that something is wrong with the electrical, then it is what it is. They are still getting a new machine that has been cleaned and serviced etc, and they find out exactly what is wrong. I will usually spend some extra time trying to help them track down the specific component that failed, be it the breaker in the panel, or a bad outlet etc.

      Also, if the circuit breaker was tripped, there could be something going on in the dryer to cause the breaker to trip.

  8. hi. it is 2016– are you still making a living on craigslist. in my area of Nevada it has become useless except to the morons who think you will fall for their scam. can’t sell a thing around here. not even for next to nothing.

    • Still earning a living on Craigslist in 2016. There are definitely scammers out there, but there are 1000x more real users than scammers. Hope that helps!

  9. Were do you get all of your appliances i have my own appliance business but lately the lowes that i used to get mine from decided to quit helping me out by letting me take the ones that they got from the houses that they delivered to

    • Lots of them on Craigslist for sale cheap, like in sets where one is broken etc. Also in the free section when they are broken. Transfer stations, or dumps are also a good place, scrap yards, scrappers and new appliance stores are all good avenues. Can you offer to buy some of the machines from where you were getting them?

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