Secondary marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp can be great places to save money on furniture, home improvement and more. But while they offer have a wealth of great deals, they can also be mini-nightmares — or at least quagmires that keep you up and searching long after bedtime. Not that I’d know anything about that. Cough cough.
My recent activity
As regular readers know, I recently got a great deal on a new light fixture — and it made me finally get serious about redoing my tiny master bathroom. And I do mean tiny. The room is 4.5 feet wide and from the shower stall to the door is only 5 feet. (The stall itself is 33 inches deep, but since it has frosted glass doors, it visually makes the room smaller.)
So I’m changing pretty much literally everything: IN addition to getting my shower tiled, I’m getting new tile for the floor, a new medicine cabinet, new shower doors, a pedestal sink, a new trash can (since the current ugly one can’t be hidden in the vanity cupboard anymore), new towel ring, a new faucet and a towel hook instead of a towel bar. will be getting my shower tiled.
I’m generally kind of cheap when it comes to home upgrades* and decor, so besides my new love Auction Nation, I’ve been haunting three secondary marketplaces (Craiglist, Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp) to try to find good deals.
And my efforts have yielded some good results — but I’ve also been reminded of some very important things about secondary marketplace buying. So I thought I’d do a piece with some tips when buying secondhand.
* The only exception is things like replacing ceiling fans or most things plumbing/electrical. Those I will gladly pay an expert to do and save me the hassle. I could probably do a ceiling fan myself, but especially now that I’m single, trying to balance on a stepstool while holding up and screwing in a fan does not sound like a good time.
Check early and often (especially on weekends)
If there’s a really good deal, it may go quickly. So you want to be one of the first people who sees the item posted and contacts the seller. While slightly obsessive, I find it’s best to check twice a day during the week.
People may post something in the morning, but they may also post items once they’ve unwound from work a bit. So I try to check early morning and around 7 or 8 p.m.
During the weekend though it’s a whole ‘nother story.
Some people wake up at ungodly hours (for a Saturday/Sunday) and post items immediately. So if you sleep til a reasonable hour, I suggest checking listings immediately.
But other people are normal and don’t post items until 9 a.m. or later. So I also suggest checking around 11 a.m. or noon.
Buuuut some folks may run weekend errands before they get around to posting — either due to priority or because they want to be fully available as soon as it’s listed. So I also try to check around 2 or 3 p.m.
And I check again in the evening because, honestly, why not?
I have no proof that this ensures I’ll be the one to see the deal first, but at least makes me feel more secure that I won’t miss the perfect deal. Because that concern makes me highly anxious and stressed.
But I guess that’s me and people should take this advice with a grain of salt depending on their own comfort level/need to save.
Know your search filters
Search filters will save you a lot of time.
For Craigslist, you can filter so that you only see “For Sale By Owner.” There are a lot of dealers listing on the site these days, and usually the deals aren’t that impressive. So if you only want to see stuff from regular folks, click “Options” after doing the initial search and click the Owner tab.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to rule out dealers — sometimes businesses surprise you — you can click “Bundle duplicates” under Options. Since stores tend to post approximately one zillion times a day (well, like three to four, anyway), this will let you see which are just the same store posting with different wording.
You can also choose to only see postings with images, which is usually desirable.
For Facebook Marketplace, the default settings will show you items not in your area, but which sellers are willing to ship. You’re rarely going to get a good deal if you have to pay shipping — not to mention most sellers don’t allow returns — so when you do your initial search, go to the Filters option, click Delivery Method and then click Local pickup.
The filters also let you set minimum and maximum prices. Also in that area, the Date listed option lets you choose how old of listings you want to see: all, last 24 hours, last 7 days or last 30 days. Depending on how far you’re willing to drive/how large your city and its suburbs are, make sure you also set the appropriate distance.
On OfferUp, the distance option is right below the search box. If you only want local items, just click to the Pickup tab. Once you perform a search, to the right of the search box there’ll be a button showing an arrow pointing up and one pointing down. Click that to choose how to sort listings: newest, closest, price low to high or price high to low. Next to the Sort option is another box showing two parallel lines (each one with a circle on it). That’s the Filter button, so click that to set the category, price range and/or item condition.
Take a long look at the pictures & descriptions — and in person
If imperfections are going to be a deal breaker for you, be sure to carefully read any description and to take a long look at the pictures to spot any scratches or other blemishes that could make you lose your interest.
Also, feel free to ask the seller questions if the pictures aren’t clear and there isn’t much of a description.
It’s better to learn about defects from the comfort of your couch than after a long drive. Especially if you live some place as big as the greater Phoenix area. (Fun fact: It was a 41-mile drive from Glendale, a western suburb, to the easternmost suburb of Gilbert.)
And once you have driven there, eyeball the item carefully.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes you get so excited about the deal — especially if you’ve been looking for ages — that you forget to check. I did, anyway.
I went and got a $15 medicine cabinet of Facebook Marketplace, and because I was in a hurry, I failed to notice a scratch. I also didn’t think to ask/check whether the shelves were adjustable — and these weren’t. (In my defense, literally every listing I saw had adjustable shelves so I didn’t even realized there were permanent shelves in medicine cabinets anymore.)
I can make it work, though I’m watching Auction Nation in case I can snag a replacement cheaply, but if I’d been less rushed, I probably would’ve decided against the purchase. So do better than me, folks!
Be ready to pick it up ASAP
Especially if it’s a newer listing, you should assume other people will be contacting them about the item. And a lot of sellers are of the first-come, first-sold-to persuasion.
I once got a woman to agree in the afternoon to sell me a set of dumbbells the next day. She said her schedule wasn’t firm, so I asked her to text me when she wanted me to come out. I was free after 10 a.m. At 4 p.m. the next day, I still hadn’t heard back. So I messaged her and found out she’d sold to someone else. Grrrrr.
So the moral of the story is: Try to contact them when you’re widely available. Maybe they won’t be able to sell the item the same day you contact them, but if at all possible, try to be ready in case they are.
If you (or they) can’t make the sale the same day, try to be flexible about coming out the next day.
Some people think that if you’re selling, you’re desperate (or maybe they’re just supreme cheapskates) and will try to lowball you. This is not a good tactic.
I remember when I was getting rid of the pool table after the divorce, I put it up for $300 — noting that it had speed cloth (which was about $300) and face billiard balls that had been about $80. Two people tried counteroffers well below what I asked. One asked if I’d take $100.
I was supremely annoyed by this, given that I was already offering an amazing deal. So even if they’d come back with a higher amount, I would have given basically anyone else preference. And I’ve talked to other sellers who have had similar experiences.
Respectful counteroffers are fine
When I see a listing that interests me but it’s on the higher end of what I want to spend, I immediately check the date of the posting. Because the longer it’s been since they posted the item, the more willing they probably are to consider counteroffers.
But even so, I don’t lowball them. Offer something not too much lower than what they’re asking — say $10 to $25 less.
I saw a pedestal sink I liked on Craigslist for $75, and the listing was from a month before. So I emailed the guy and asked whether he would consider taking $60 — and happily he agreed.
Note that I specifically said, “Would you consider…” I think it helps acknowledge that the asking price is fair (but that I figure it’s worth asking) and also that it’s not necessarily my final offer, if the answer is no.
Again, the longer a listing has been up, the more likely the person is to make a deal. That said, a listing doesn’t have to be old for the person to consider a counteroffer.
Monday night, I finally found some shower doors on OfferUp — new in box — that I liked. This was notable because I’ve been looking for shower doors for about four weeks, and no one has had a frameless or semi-frameless set of sliding shower doors with clear glass for a 46″ opening.
But while I was excited to find this offer, the seller was only asking about $40 under retail, which didn’t feel like a great deal to me.
Of course, skipping sales tax would save me another $40. But I guess I was feeling greedy because I messaged the gal — who had only listed the doors 13 hours earlier — and asked whether she would take $375. Which she accepted!
Maybe it helped that I stressed that I could come by the next day to pick them up.
So yeah, it’s okay to ask if the seller will accept less. But if there’s a wide gap between what they’re asking and what you’re offering, you run the risk of souring the person on selling to you at all. So even if you think the seller is charging too much, be respectful when choosing an amoutn for your counteroffer.
The only exception to not offering substantially less than the asking price is when money is so tight that you can only pay a significantly lower amount. In that case, it can’t hurt to ask. But I’d specifically say, “This looks great — exactly what I need — but unfortunately money is really tight right now. I don’t suppose you’d consider $X?” If they know you’re offering all that you can, there’s a much lower risk of pissing them off — which is important in case later you can afford more and want to contact them again.
Have (strong) friends
I’m half joking here. But also I’m not.
Let’s face it, a lot of the stuff we don’t want to pay retail for is large. The need for a bunch of materials is one reason the items’ retail prices are too high for our taste. Think bookcases, entertainment centers, shower doors, dining tables and chairs, etc.
Even if you’re strong enough to lift heavier objects, they may be too large for one person to wrangle. You should have someone — preferably with good upper body strength — who can come with you and help you get it in your car. Because a lot of sellers build the “you get it out your own damn self” into the dollar amount they’re asking for. So you absolutely can’t count on their help and should bring some of your own.
To be fair, you sometimes — sometimes — can get heavy stuff yourself. But it’s usually a huge debacle. For example, I currently have bruises from getting the shower doors into the house. (Scroll to the end of the post for my amusing tale of woe.)
So whenever humanly possible, have a loyal and strong friend (or significant other) you can call on to help you actually get the items into your house.
Ideally, the loyal/strong person in your life has a truck, too. Because as you’ll see from my tale of woe further down, some things just aren’t meant to fit in a sedan — even one with fold-down backseats.
Any tips that I missed for shopping secondary marketplaces?
Here begins the tale I call Shower Doors of the Damned:
Aaron very rudely chose to have pinkeye right now, so I couldn’t ask him to drive out and help me get the shower doors into the house. And the box weighed 99 lbs. Whee.
I lucked out in that the seller was a small-scale liquidator business. So they had dollies and, even, two employees who kindly helped me get the box into the car.
Problem: Since the doors themselves were only 24″ wide and the opening from the trunk to backseat is 28″ at its narrowest, I didn’t ask the seller about the dimensions. I forgot to account for things like styrofoam. So when I arrived, I was greeted with a box that was closer to three feet wide. Hoo boy.
The employees managed to get it crammed most of the way in — it was also taller than expected so a small bit was hanging out of the trunk — and tied the hood down for me (god bless them). And I crept home at 25 miles per hour without incident. Except that there was road work going on — because of course there was — so that only one lane was open for a mile or two. Meaning that even having waved a number of people around me before entering that area, I had a train of at least seven cars behind me when the road finally opened up again. Sigh.
But I finally got home and… realized I was completely screwed. Because I had to figure out how to get the damn thing out of the car. It was wedged in there but good.
Even if I’d been strong enough to actually get noticeable results when tugging on a 99-lb box (and I am not), the box kept getting snagged on the edges of the trunk opening. Because the places where the trunk opening’s edge had bitten into the cardboard on the box’s way in kept snagging on the opening edge on the damn thing’s way out.
So I had to go to the backseat on one side, push that side’s edge down (and would try to push a little to move the box forward (I guess, backward?) so that the spot wouldn’t snag again. Then go to the other side and do the same thing. Then kneel facing backward in the driver’s seat and push the box out. Then go back to the trunk and tug on the box more, wiggling it slightly further out — until it snagged again a couple to few inches later.
No exaggeration: It took me a good 15 minutes to get the box all the way out of the car. And even once that was accomplished, I still had to get the 99-lb box — which was starting to flap open in spots on the underside, by the way — to the door, up over the lip of the doorway and inside. Did I mention the box was starting to fray/open?
By the time I got close to the door — on my hands and knees pushing the box forward — some of the box had torn open. The bottoms and sides of the shower doors (thankfully still in plastic) were visible. When I got the box on its side to angle into the doorway, the front of the box just full-on came open.
I pushed one side of the cardboard back in place but even so some of the bottom part had torn away from being scooted along the pavement, and the edges of the glass doors were exposed.
When I finally let the cardboard drop, this is what things looked like:
I gave up and took out the track parts and other accessories, tossing them through the doorway (because the glass doors were now blocking my way in) and then individually moved each shower door so that they were at a feasible angle to get in the doorway. All while resting the doors against my shins and once having to catch one of the doors as it threatened to fall forward onto the pavement. Then I tugged the top of each door (while having to also make sure the bottom didn’t end up dragging on the ground) up onto the lip of the doorway, then pushed each one in individually — but not too far inside lest they fall — until I could get into the door myself and slowly lower the doors to lie flat on the tile so that I could push them (again, in plastic bags) into a corner of the room where I wouldn’t accidentally step on them.
From the time I got the box fully out of the trunk to the time I got it inside –maybe a 15-foot journey — another 15 minutes had elapsed. And I was not only sweating profusely but had that kind of raw-throat panting that comes only after running as fast as you can.
Oh and since I let the weight of the box/doors rest against the insides of my arms at times, they look like this as I write this post three hours after the ordeal:
In short, I’m seriously reconsidering my previous stance on never marrying again. I just want someone I can rely on to help me lug heavy stuff around. That’s a type of love, right?