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11 secrets to getting the most cash for your Craigslist sales while staying safe

If you live in a city with a Craigslist presence, you can make some money while getting rid of your unwanted stuff.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you've resolved to get rid of your excess stuff and you live in or near a metropolitan area large enough to have a Craigslist, consider yourself fortunate. Craigslist not only lets you buy all types of used items for a fraction of retail cost, but also gives anyone with access to a computer and email the opportunity to make money selling unwanted things.

While it's easy to buy and sell on Craigslist, it can be challenging to navigate the site's nuances to maximize your selling prices. You don't pay anything to sell on Craigslist, but it does have its own etiquette and potential safety concerns. Here are some tips to help you sell your stuff quickly at the best possible price.

Price it right. Search Craigslist for items similar to yours to come up with an appropriate price. Avoid pricing your item on the low side in an attempt to sell it more quickly. Stick to a reasonable estimate based on the condition of your item and what others are trying to get for their similar items. High demand items, such as baby equipment like Pack and Plays and Bumbo seats, may sell quickly if priced appropriately.

Basing your price on how much you paid for it is a bad idea, however. Some used, non-collectible items will sell for a fraction of retail cost, while others may sell for half or more of what they cost new. If you can't bear to part with something at the price it might sell for on Craigslist, you're better off keeping it.

Take a lot of photos. Make sure you have at least one great picture, and taking many pictures increases the odds of ending up with some great shots. You can upload several pictures of your item, but one photo will often do the trick. Use a clear, attractive photo of your item with no background clutter.

Don't use a primary email address. Most free email providers like Gmail and (a.k.a., Hotmail and Windows Live Mail) will let you create an alias - a different email address that links to your existing account. After you create a listing on Craigslist, you'll receive some emails that look legitimate but are actually attempts to get your personal contact information so they can scam you or sell you something. Therefore, you want to use a disposable or at least secondary email address, and give out minimal information in response to a responder's initial message.

Be careful in your email responses. An email that has just one line, like "Is it still available?" probably isn't legitimate, so I generally ignore such responses. Messages that seem more likely to be on the up-and-up warrant a more vague response, such as, "The item is still available. I live near the intersection of Smith St. and Jones Rd."

List duplicate items only once. If you have two similar items, such as baby bouncy seats, take photos of both, but list the nicer one by itself. After it sells, you'll still have people responding to the listing. You can let them know that the item sold, but you have another similar item if they're interested, and offer to share the photo. This can save considerable time in dealing with multiple listings.

Don't accept early offers below your asking price. Some people troll Craigslist looking for inexperienced sellers willing to jump on the first offer they get. Some will just email you with an offer of, say, $35 on an item you listed for $50. Others will send you a sob story about someone in the family having been in an accident or being hospitalized and could you possibly take $25 for this item instead of $40 since they're in such dire straights. I recommend either ignoring these messages or responding with a polite no, thanks.

Re-list every few days. If your item doesn't sell, re-list it so that it stays near the top of Craigslist search results, and consider adjusting the text of the ad and possibly the price. Adjusting the price doesn't mean adjusting it down, though. People tend to equate a higher price with higher value, so make certain you're not torpedoing your sale with too low of a pricetag.

A couple of years ago, I had a very nice brass fireplace cover and tool set that would have cost about $200 to purchase new. I listed it for $50 and had some interest, but no sales. I lowered the price to $45 and again, interest, but no sales. Finally, after lowering the price to $40, I sold it, but felt like I'd given it away. Then, the buyers broke one of the commonly known etiquette rules of Craigslist - they asked to return the set for a refund because it didn't match their decor.

Being a nice person, I agreed, and went back to square one in re-listing the fireplace set, raising the price to $75. Within days, I sold the set to someone else for the full $75. The buyer emailed me the day after the sale to say how much he and his wife loved the set and how nice it looked in their house. Not only did it pay to be nice, but it also paid to go the other direction on price.

Offer to ship nationwide. While people generally expect to pick up their Craigslist purchases locally, you may find some buyers willing to pay for shipping elsewhere, especially for less common merchandise. If an item is easily shippable, especially if you can fit it in a USPS Priority Mail fixed-price box or envelope, consider including in your listing an offer to ship nationwide, and make note of the shipping charge. You'll want to have a PayPal account in order add this option to your listing.

It's not over until it's over. Remember that the item isn't sold until you have cash in hand. Don't accept checks, and don't hold an item for someone, no matter what the reason. Craigslist is first come, first served. Continue answering emails, even if you have someone coming to look at the item. You may tell inquirers that you have a buyer lined up, but if it falls through, you'll let them know, but never say an item is sold until you've got the cash in your pocket.

Exercise caution when meeting strangers. While most people selling on Craigslist never encounter dangerous criminals, it's wise to take some common sense security precautions. If your item is portable, arrange to meet in a public place if you can, preferably bringing someone along with you, rather than having buyers come to your house. If you have buyers come to your house, arrange to have another adult home when buyers arrive.

Know what items aren't worth trying to sell on Craigslist. You probably won't get enough out of clothes to make selling them on Craigslist worthwhile, unless they're specialty items like designer brands or certain high-end Halloween costumes. If you itemize deductions on your taxes, try using the free service to maximize the value of your donations to organizations that accept clothing donations such as Goodwill.

If this article helped you or if you have suggestions that might have others, please comment below.

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