Craigslist etiquette

I love Craigslist. It’s like garage sales (which I loved as I was growing up) minus the driving time plus a handy search feature.

What I don’t love are people who apparently don’t know how to use Craigslist effectively. Whether I’m buying or selling, I try to follow some basic rules out of courtesy for the other party. I just wish more people would follow my rules too.

1) If you’re selling something, respond to everyone who contacts you about it. If you’ve got a pending sale, send off a quick note to the other interested parties saying, “I have someone coming tonight, but if they don’t show up, I’ll let you know.” If you’ve sold the item, send a quick note saying, “Item sold.” Seriously, even if you got twenty emails about an item, it’s really easy to write two words to each person. Plus, if you do have someone coming and they don’t show up, you’ve kept a few others in the loop, and you’re more likely to sell your item.

2) Respond ASAP to inquiries, preferably within a few hours and definitely within a day. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to email someone about an item I want to buy and get no response for three days. I begin to wonder: Is the item sold? Is a sale pending? Is the email address bad? Do they just not check their email? Should I buy something else?

3) An item is not sold until the seller receives payment for it. This is helpful for both sellers and buyers. Don’t be a seller who holds off on other offers because the first person who contacted you said they’d come get it a week from now. If I’m the second interested buyer in line, I get annoyed because my money is ready, and the item isn’t technically sold yet. If I’m the seller, I get equally annoyed when the inevitable happens and the first person in line doesn’t show up after a week goes by, and then after that everyone else has found something else.

4) Though this may seem to contradict #2, give preference to someone with a definite plan to pick up your item today.  If you have a buyer coming at 6:00 to buy your game console, don’t sell it to someone else at 5:30. That’s just tacky. My mom was a victim of this one. She drove 25 minutes to buy something; she called just before leaving to say she was on her way. When she got to the seller’s home, she was informed that someone else had just bought the item. Tacky tacky tacky.

For anyone who says they’ll come buy something from me tomorrow or later, I inform them that I have other interested buyers and will let them know if the item is still available by that date.

5) Take down your listing as soon as the item is sold. This is actually in Craigslist’s rules, people. No, changing your listing to say the item is sold doesn’t count.

6) Ask the seller how they prefer to be paid. I never carry cash, but some people really don’t like to get checks from people they don’t know (I can’t imagine why). After a few times of showing up without cash, only to find out that the seller would accept nothing else (and then running to the bank), I now always ask before coming.

And as a bonus, I’ll include a tip for sellers. Include pictures. I almost never even inquire about an item unless a picture is in the listing.


  1. The pictures are really important for me. And I’ve even taken listings off when I get several people lined up just because I didn’t want to get more emails. This reminds me that I’ve been meaning to list my wedding dress again… (I’ve been trying to sell it for 3 years now)

  2. Amen to all that. I can’t believe someone sold something out from under your mom like that. How rude.

    And yeah. No pictures means I’m not interested. I figure it must be junk if they’re not willing to show me what it looks like.

  3. I read something recently about how Craigslist has gone downhill as it has become more popular. I think that’s sad but at least somewhat true.

  4. These are very helpful tips. Thank you for posting. I have a few items for sale and was trying to figure out how to respond to several interested parties — your advice is sensible and fair. (So I’m going to respond to some people who want to come see the item today, even though the first responder said they could come “some time this week.”)

  5. I would be inclined to agree with exception of the notion of “selling an item out from under someone”. I’ve had too many flaky buyers say they were coming and stand me up. I tell everyone interested the item is available and whoever shows up FIRST with cash is the one who gets the item. This actually happened to me today. A woman said she wanted an item (inquired about it two days ago and said she’d “try” to come today) Another woman emailed me and twenty minutes later came over and retrieved the item. Meanwhile the other woman was sending ETA emails every hour or so until I finally blocked her.

  6. First of all, great post!

    I totally agree with Bear. First one here gets the item. Too many buyers end up not coming, or deciding not to buy. I thought that was the sensible etiquette (maybe I was wrong). Had someone last night say she’d come tonight. Another person called me this morning and came right over. I sold the items and e-mailed everyone who’d contacted me that they were sold. And I deleted the post immediately.

    Now I’m getting nasty e-mails from the person who said she was coming. I understand her frustration, but I still think I did the right thing. What if I told the actual buyer she had to wait and then the other person didn’t show up?

    Is there a way to ensure that the person who says they’re on the way is going to buy? I don’t think so.

  7. I don’t disagree with anything on your list. Now if buyers would clean up their act. I’m constantly badgered to sell lower or part out things, but probably the most annoying is “Do you still have the item?” And I respond with a yes and there is NO follow-up. Crazy…

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