Tips for Doing Business on Craigslist

Conducting business through Craigslist used to be a pleasure.

Back in the six months after I got my driver's license (2011-2012), I was selling event tickets in considerable volume. Stubhub hadn't gotten too popular yet. Craigslist was my biggest lead generator.

Most weeks I'd do about a dozen deals from there and nobody ever flaked.

(Image credit - Prepper Chimp, edited)
(Image credit - Prepper Chimp, edited)

Now things are different. Whether I used the Syracuse or New York sites, items or real estate, things have shifted from decent volume / decent quality to high volume / low quality.

Example

For perspective, I've been trying to find a new tenant for my current apartment. The landlord and I made a deal where I can get out of my lease 3 months early (moving out at the end of April instead of July) if I can find someone decent to come in.

No problem, right? For New York real estate this place isn't a bad deal, well-located near St. John's, not in the hood or anything.

For this past Saturday and Sunday I scheduled a total of 31 appointments (half hour blocks between 9 and 5).

Here's how they turned out:

  • 13 were just no-shows (41.935%)
  • 4 cancelled (12.903%)
  • 3 showed up between 5 and 15 minutes late (9.677%)
  • 2 showed up 15 to 25 minutes late (6.452%)
  • 3 showed up between 5 and 15 minutes early (9.677%)
  • 6 out of 31 (19.355%) showed up on time (+/- 5 minutes)

If you aggregate no-shows and cancellations, that's nearly a 55% flake rate.

(Image credit - Wizard of Oz)
(Image credit - The Wizard of Oz, edited)

This was the fourth weekend I did showings. Perhaps I shouldn't have been showing so far away from May, as people aren't that serious, but it gave me a chance to experiment.

Here are some tips on (efficiently) doing business with Craigslist.

Minimizing flakes

In my opinion, it starts with the title of your ad.

Lovely Apt. w/ Office - Avail. 5/1 - Right by St. John's (Fresh Meadows)

While the word "lovely" sounds British, I hoped it would weed out meth heads.

By putting "Right by St. John's", with Fresh Meadows after that, so people have a pretty good idea of where it is.

If there's a major point you need to get across, write it all over and consider putting it in the title.

Originally I got a lot of questions about earliest move-in date, as I'd only specified it once.

I re-wrote it three times:

move_in
Yes that's my current bedroom.

No more questions about that.

In addition to taking advantage of Craigslist's built-in tags to get your points across (in the above image, they're in the upper right-hand corner), spacing out your ad makes it easier to read.

ad_whitespace

At the end, I gave explicit instructions for contacting me:

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.31.28 AM

If the person actually contacted me with their name and what they do, I found there was a high probability of them keeping their appointment.

I placed priority on getting back to those people. If there were still time slots to fill, I attempted to do so with the "Hey this is Larry can I see your apartment" responders.

To use some Internet marketing jargon, the ad should be a filter / funnel of qualified leads to you. So then we get into actually communicating -

Communicating high value (text)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, texting to minimize flakes for Craigslist is similar to minimizing flakes for online dating.

Your time is valuable. This Internet stranger should be honored to deal with you.

Focus on logistics, keep language succinct, and using all lowercase seems to help.

No "Hey! Thanks for getting back to me!" or "Have a nice day! :-)" or any of that. You should probably never those anyway, but especially not for business.

succinct_texting

Communicating high value (email)

For email, you can be a little more formal.

Also, and this goes for whenever I'm writing email, I try to space things out so they're easy to read.

I'd say they could see my place Saturday or Sunday...

initial_email
Giving the address, because presumably if they Google Maps it and dislike the area for whatever reason, our interaction ends there.

... usually they'd reply with availability (or say both)...

Sunday I'm available in the morning.

... then I'd look at Google Calendar and tell them a time.

From Friday morning when I drafted this post.
From Friday morning when I drafted.

Whether you're listing a product (where you have a singular meeting time) or real estate (where you could have 8 hours of a day when you're showing), try to control the scheduling interaction.

Don't ask "Okay how about Sunday at 12:30?", say "Let's do Sunday at 12:30. See you then."

That's finality, that's you taking control.

Most people will come back with "Alright see you then" or "Great", it's confirmed and you're good.

If they don't respond at all in confirmation, they're likely not showing up.

Communicating high value (phone)

I don't use the phone much for Craigslist.

I already get a lot of random calls trying to place me into Rails jobs or graduate programs. I can do without more.

In the listing, specify "text or email" as preferred communication. It makes keeping track of everyone easier.

preferred_communication

Plus cutting down on actual phone calls saves time. But what happens if someone still does it?

I screen to voicemail. If they sound like a good lead, I'll still follow up.

Heavy accent I can't understand? Delete.

Work part-time at Burger King and probably can't afford the rent? Delete.

Come across like a serial killer? Delete.

A final point - every person I scheduled over the phone (3 out of 31) was a no-show.

Handling "Craigslist friends"

Sometimes, with really high volume stuff like apartment listings in New York, you'll still get a weirdo who will text you like you're his friend.

This one guy kept texting me days before the appointment we scheduled, asking me all sorts of dumb questions, is it okay to bring his mom along, where am I moving to, etc.

Being totally abrasive and ignoring them could jeopardize your appointment.

Give one word answers, and if they give you an out (i.e. a response that doesn't require an answer) don't respond.

Your time is more valuable than being super friendly with a lonely Craigslist stranger.

(Image credit - FJ)
(Image credit - Funny Junk)

Handling creeps

About as often, you'll just get a plain creepy person.

This one guy texted me around 9:30 one night:

hello randy

He tried calling at 11, then again at 2.

It should go without saying - ignore these. Don't be so desperate for leads that you follow up.

Closing

I used my apartment as an example here but have had similar experiences listing other things.

There was a time when it was really easy to deal on Craigslist. That time has passed - whether because attention spans and reliability are decreasing as a whole or because there are just more people using the site, I don't know.

Poor results are likely if you just wing it.

These tips might help you in selling a product or housing. If you're on there searching for a transexual lover, this post may not have been helpful.