Craig-tiquette: Craigslist Etiquette

The Fine Art of Etiquette During Private Buying and Selling

Have you ever sold something via Craigslist or local classified ads? Have you ever bought anything via Craigslist or local classified ads? It is an adventure for both the buyer and seller to navigate the world of private sales. Back in the day you had ads in your local newspaper or in publications like Thrifty Nickle but now you have sites like Craigslist and with the addition of “For Sale” post types on Facebook there are entire Facebook Groups centered around private sales. Inevitably the conversation comes up about what is the right way to sell and buy via these group and the answer always ends up being… whatever. Here is a series of suggestions for buyer AND sellers to help smooth out a few bumps.


Buyers are often singled out as the primary source of problems during a private transaction. Complaints by sellers range from getting beat up over the price of the item(s) to poor communication to no-showing to appointments. Below are a few things for Buyers to keep in mind.

  • Don’t make an offer if you don’t intent to follow through. It is simply amazing that a person would contact a seller, negotiate with them over price, land on a price, and then never follow through.
  • Be clear. Asking clear questions and setting clear expectations is key to any transaction. If you aren’t going to be able to make an appointment, let the seller know. If you have concerns about the item, get them out in the open for discussion.
  • Don’t be a know it all. Flexing your knowledge of the item isn’t helpful for anyone. If a seller lists something as being from 1947 and you know it to be from 1948, don’t make a big deal about it. Most of all, DO NOT under ANY circumstances contact a seller correcting them if you have absolutely no interest in buying, that is just rude in every way.
  • Assume the item is ‘First Come, First Serve”. Lets not pretend that people selling items are interested in anything less than cash in hand. Unless the ad says otherwise or you work out something specific with the seller treat ALL listings as a “cash in hand” situation, meaning the first person that shows up with cash gets it. Facebook has this unique situation where people post comments under For Sale ads saying “I’ll take it” or “in-line” with the expectation that the comment is all there is to it and the seller must now wait for you to show up at your leisure to pay and pickup. If you post a comment of “I’ll take it” then promptly contact the seller through PM(Private Message) and arrange to quickly go get it and pay for it.
  • The Seller doesn’t HAVE to sell. This last one is the most important. Don’t show up expecting to walk away with the deal of a lifetime by attempting to pray on the sellers assumed need to sell. The fact is that under most circumstances the seller just doesn’t need the item any more and simply wants it gone. If you find yourself needing to use the line “I found it listed for xyz over there” or similar then you are just being unreasonable. Had you actually seen it for such and such a price over yonder, you should have bought it and the seller knows this.
  • Buyer Bonus: For items clearly in high demand, show up with a little extra cash in a separate pocket from your pre-counted and exact purchase price stack. On the off chance someone else shows up at the same time as you and you need to engage said person in a bidding war for the item its better to have the cash on-hand to back-up your bids.


Just because Buyers can be a problem doesn’t mean Sellers aren’t complicit, this is a two party contact of course. To circumvent many common problems there are several things that Sellers can do starting with the writing of the ad all the way down to the completion of the transaction.

  • Write a clear Ad. As a Seller with any experience can tell you writing your ad to address any and all questions as well as outlining your policy on trades, holding of the item, or your position on “First Come, First Serve”/”Cash-in-Hand” are very helpful to buyers. If you will accept trades, say so. If you won’t hold it, then say so.
  • Communicate Clearly. Take the time to clearly discuss the item(s) with buyers. If you answer questions fully and clearly your buyer will know what to expect. For example when selling large items like maybe a vehicle were you might accept a down payment to hold for a couple days for the final amount, offer a contact which can include a clear outline of expectations and ramifications. With smaller items like sneakers or a small collection of baby clothes where meeting the buyer at some mid point location is appropriate offer clear conditions such as how long you will wait, what you are driving, and if you are delayed along the way make sure to update the buyer.
  • Use a Safe Meeting Place. Generally speaking people know the dangers of inviting strangers to their homes or meeting in a dark back parking lot, especially when cash is on hand. Because of that this item might seem like a no brainer however its included here because there is a new development and that is that there some local police stations that are designating sections of their parking lots as transaction centers. Areas outside of police stations that have 24 hour surveillance were you can direct your buyers to meet you and know that all parties are safe. This is a big step forward to taking the danger out of these types of private transactions.
  • Put Everything in the Ad. Sure the ad might end up being a little long but it will always work to your advantage to include everything up front. On the flip side if you were a buyer would you like to show up and find out that the item you thought you were buying in near mint condition actually was damaged quite noticeably and the seller just didn’t bother to mention it? Even if that filters out potential buyers its the right thing to do.
  • Seller Bonus: Consider the principle of “Lowest Common Denominator” and plan accordingly. Instead of making assumptions about your potential buyer make sure to provide EVERYTHING they might need to make an informed decision. It could be as simple of stating in the ad why you are selling the item or in an area where delivery might be a selling point, and its possible for you, include a note that delivery might be available.

You can also go the humor route!

Related: Craigslist scams to avoid in Boise and East Idaho

Jennifer Wilkens

Jennifer has a degree in communications from Utah Valley University and enjoys writing business and financial news articles. She loves snowboarding and spending time with her two kids.

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