craigslist furniture hunting

This morning I woke up to this comment on my last post: “What do you look for on Craigslist? How do you decide what will/won’t work in your house?” and decided that the answer warranted an entire blog post! This post ended up being over 1,300 words long, so I was right!

I’m pretty sure these skills apply equally to Kijiji if you live in one of those weird markets where for some reason Kijiji is more popular than my beloved craigslist (I’m looking at you… Edmonton).

I love craigslist. And with a little bit of patience, you can get a whole lot for very little! All the furniture in this image (other than the Urban Outfitters rug and the homemade throw pillows) comes from that great list. And this is just one room!

Before I get into the nitty gritty of my search techniques that have been honed over the last 7 years, there are four things that you should think about.

1. With craigslist, you need to have more time than money (or you just need to have lots of time). Because finding gems on Craigslist takes time. Lots of it. And at some points you are going to want to pull out your hair. And you are going to experience heartbreak (like we did with karl).

2. Do you have a big van, suv or truck? If—like us—you don’t, I highly recommend joining the best car sharing network in your city that has vans and trucks that live near your home. (We usually use modo for big things and car2go for little things) Having regular access to a vehicle big enough to fit a couch or mattress is invaluable for being able to get your furniture home. If this isn’t possible for you, there are tons of independent labourers that advertise on craigslist and will haul stuff for about $40. (But remember, you’ll likely only find one item at a time, so this can add up fast).

3. Limit your search at any given time to an item or two. You risk getting overwhelmed otherwise. If you are furnishing an entire apartment, start with the most pressing items. When we first moved into our new place we already owned a bed so I was looking for a couch and for a kitchen table.

4. It is better to sit on the floor and eat dinner on the floor and spend a lot of time at cafes for a few extra days to get a piece that you love. It may not feel like it at the time, but trust me, it will be worth it!

My search technique: big items

I rarely search from the main page. Instead I go to the local (#1) furniture by owner(#2) page. I search locally (rather than “all vancouver, BC”) because we pay per kilometre for our car. I search “furniture – by owner” because I’m not using craigslist to pay dealer prices! I also report dealers who post in the “furniture – by owner” category, because I want to keep it nice and clean! If you learn the craigslist url conventions (#3) you can easily get where you are going!

I start with generic search terms (e.g. “couch” and “sofa”) and no budget constraints to get an idea of the market: what kind of couches are on the market and what words are people using to describe them? how much are people selling their couches for? I browse this page for several minutes then start refining my search. I:

  • set a budget (#4 on the image) (usually ~$20 more than I’m willing to spend, because everything is negotiable),
  • limit colour (e.g., “grey” or “gray” or “beige” or “off-white” or “tan”), and
  • search for particular keywords (e.g., “midcentury” or “vintage” or “modern” or “tufted” or “pedestal” or “wood”).
  • for furniture, I practically never limit my search to “title only” (#5), though I use this feature a lot for electronics.

As I find pieces that sound interesting, I open them up in tabs behind the main tab. I don’t look at them right away. I keep my searching stage separate from my narrowing-it-down stage. One of my favourite things about craigslist is that is still uses old-school html. That means you know if you’ve looked at something already because the link has turned purple. So. Helpful.

Once I’ve got lots of tabs open, I narrow by closing the tabs of the couches I don’t want. I go through this process several times and if there is a tab or two open at the end, I contact the seller(s) to come check out the item (if it’s something like a couch), or to come pick it up (if it is something like a table). If, after narrowing it down, I don’t have any tabs left I repeat the process about 6-12 hours later.

It takes a lot of time. But boy, can it ever be worth it!

My search technique: little items

If I’m looking for something in particular (lamps) I do most of the same steps above. If I need lots of little things, I search for nearby garage sales (you can get there by either going to the main page and clicking “garage sales” in the “for sale” section or adding “./gms/” to your local craigslist url. Then I make a list on my phone of all the garage sales and hit them up one at a time.

My search technique: free items

If you are on a serious budget (or like serious deals) you can use the free section (“/zip/”). Free items get picked up in a snap so here are some hints:

  • Check back every hour (or more frequently)
  • Follow the seller’s instructions exactly. Do they want an email? Send them one: use good grammar, tell a (short) compelling story, and let them know a handful of times you are available to pick up the item. Don’t ask the dimensions unless it is impossible to find them on the internet (i.e., they don’t say where it came from). You want to be the easiest person to deal with out of the 50-100 emails they are going to get. Do they want an phone call? Call them. Don’t email them. You won’t get a response and will just annoy someone. This was super helpful for our free cheap sofa/bed!
  • It also often pays to search “free” in the regular furniture section. These tend to last a little longer because people aren’t trolling there the same way they are trolling in the free section.

How do I tell if an item is going to work in our space.

There are two sides to this answer. The first is “will it fit?”. The second is “will it look good?”

The most important step to determining whether something will fit is getting its dimensions. The second most important step is using painters tape to mark exactly where the item will go. You know pretty quickly if something is too short/high/wide/deep/etc. when it is marked out on your floor. This step has saved us from buying so many items that are too deep. We’ve got narrow spaces and it’s seriously been so helpful. The one thing I got this year for which I didn’t do this step is a rug from Urban Outfitters. It’s about 1 foot too small on either side. So tape it out peeps!

Determining whether a piece will look good is the hardest part of this whole process. To be right most of the time you probably need an interior designer—and you aren’t reading this post. If you can’t afford a designer or decorator or you simply prefer to DIY you need to know what you like. To do this, I suggest pinning away then reviewing your boards. You can also mash up your room in photoshop if you’ve got some basic skills. You can also go with your gut. If you love something, you’ll make it work. And once you’ve got a bed, a couch, a table and some chairs slow it down. I searched for armchairs (arm chairs, armchair, arm chair, sofa chair) for three months before finding these still to be reupholstered beauts!

And there you have it. A long winded, but hopefully helpful post, about finding furniture and household items on craigslist!

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