Furniture Shopping on Craigslist and How to Strike Gold

When faced with the task of furnishing a new home quickly and inexpensively, Craigslist is time and again the place I’ve turned to to get the job done. Furnishing a home is expensive! And having furniture that is the right size/scale/style for your home is IMPORTANT. It serves big practical and aesthetic functions.

I love that Craigslist has thrift store prices, but I can shop them from the comfort of my living room. Much like at thrift stores, furniture on Craigslist is mostly junk. You have to shop around and know what you’re looking for, but finding something you love and paying a fraction of what you would pay anywhere else for it is such a great feeling! Makes all that shopping totally worth it to me.

We’ve had several great experiences buying furniture on Craigslist over the years, and also a few total busts.

Here are my tips for successful furniture shopping on Craigslist:

Measure before you buy. Not a Craigslist-specific tip, but a definite do before buying any furniture ever! The thought of bringing something home and it not fitting makes me stressed. Probably because it sounds like something I would do if I didn’t keep this tip in mind AT ALL TIMES! You cannot return Craigslist items, so be sure you know how big you can go before you buy. And always get dimensions from the seller. I usually don’t even reach out if an item’s dimensions aren’t in the listing.

Buy upholstery at your own risk. Obviously upholstery is hard to clean and can have gross things in it (like bed bugs! Oh my!). I’ve only ever bought one upholstered item – and it was leather, so easier to clean – but I’m not necessarily opposed to it. Things I’d keep in mind when vetting used upholstery on Craigslist: 

  • Does the listing specify it’s from a smoke-free/pet-free home? 
  • Does the house/area it’s in look clean?
  • Does it have any funky odor?
  • Is it new-ish/in good condition? 

Get creative with your search terms. Lots of furniture pieces can go by a variety of terms. Since Craigslist doesn’t have the most advanced search function, you should search for all the variations you can think of. Examples would be:

  • sofa/couch/loveseat/sleeper/futon
  • sideboard/credenza/buffet
  • coffee table/cocktail table/end table/side table/small table
  • TV stand/TV bench/entertainment center
  • baker’s rack/pantry/hutch/cupboard/cabinet

I sometimes am also looking for a specific brand (like IKEA). If it’s a bigger brand, you will likely be successful searching for it specifically!

Check daily and act fast. Good finds move really quickly on Craigslist. If you are debating whether or not you want to contact the seller about something, just do it! You can always change your mind later. My love for mulling decisions over for a couple days has caused me to miss out on several really great finds. The best thing to do if you’re hoping to find something really great on Craigslist is to check it often and be ready to act if you see something!  

Keep the price in mind. How an item is priced is a big factor in how I approach the seller. If it’s a more expensive item or one that will be kept longer-term (like a piano or a credenza), I would feel totally comfortable asking follow-up questions and requesting to see it in person before committing. If it’s priced low enough that the seller clearly is just looking to get rid of it, I try to make it as easy as possible for them by basically saying “I have cash, let me know when/where to come get it”.

Do not come across as a Craigslist killer in your message to the seller. AKA, try to avoid your message being cold and solely transactional. While I would say the vast majority of people buying/selling home furnishings on Craigslist are not hardened criminals, that’s definitely something to be aware of as both a buyer and a seller. Writing a message that conveys that you are not a dangerous person and are just looking to furnish your home will increase your likelihood of getting a response by an incalculable number.

For one of my favorite Craigslist purchases to date (the leather armchair and ottoman, originally from Pottery Barn(!) for $30(!!!)), I asked Josh to reach out to the seller. This was his basic message:

Interested. Can I come check it out?

–Josh

Days passed with no response. The listing was still up and I really wanted it, so eventually I asked what exactly he had said in his message. And then the crickets made sense: He had come across as a dude on Craigslist who wanted to come scope out a $30 leather chair and ottoman with no mention of buying. One could understand why a female seller who just wanted that furniture out of her house was not motivated to respond.

This did prompt a moment of Craigslist-knowledge superiority for me, and saying things like, “oh, JOSH, you precious little newborn baby dove. This is not how Craigslist works”. After which, I sent the seller a message that was something like this:

Hi —

My husband and I love this chair and think it would be perfect for our son’s room in our new home! (translation: I am not a creep. I am a wife and mother who cares about her home and will not Craigslist murder you). If it’s still available, please let us know a time that would be good for us to pick it up (translation: we will work around your schedule AND will come pick it up), and we will bring cash. (translation: no checks/money orders/IOU’s that other prospective internet buyers are most likely offering you).

Thanks!
Mandy

She responded immediately! We got the chair and ottoman! And being more likable via Craigslist messages remains a source of bragging rights for me to this day.

If you get any icky vibes, get outta there. Obviously icky internet vibes go both ways. There have been a few occasions – both in vetting listings and in conversation with the seller – that I just haven’t had a great feeling about it. If you get those feelings, drop that listing like it’s hot. (Not trying to scare you out of using Craigslist, but definitely be careful. This doesn’t happen nearly as often as Craigslist-haters make it seem. And usually for me it is something like, “you don’t use the Oxford comma, clearly I cannot trust you to be of sound character or judgement” and not like, “DEFINITE HANNIBAL LECTOR HERE.”)

Don’t be afraid to bail if it’s not what you expected. It is really hard to have cash in hand, ready to buy something, and change your mind. But if you arrive for pickup and the quality is not what you thought it would be or is just not what you wanted or it smells weird or WHATEVER, you are under no obligation to go through with it. My biggest Craigslist regret was being in this exact situation and buying the furniture anyway. It was terrible quality, I never liked it, and it lived in our garage until we moved (at which point we dragged it to the curb). Thankfully, it was cheap. But still too much money to pay to avoid slightly inconveniencing a stranger from the world wide web. 

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