Here's my strategy to getting the used stuff I want at insane prices. I've used this to buy bicycles, motorcycles, home furniture, and kitchen equipment. If the thing you're looking for isn't one-of-a-kind, I think you'll have luck with this approach.
As a brief introduction, here's a story about something I bought recently.
I love two-wheeled vehicles. Ever since I moved to Denver, I've been getting to work on my dual-sport motorcycle, and more recently, my cheap mountain bike. While it's fun to spin my legs at 120 RPM and slam my suspension over curbs, my single-speed, knobby-tire mountain bike isn't quite the right tool for a commute.
I was keeping my eye out for a cheap, steel-frame bicycle for a couple of weeks. Last week, I found this beauty on Craigslist and snapped her up. Meet my new (1989-ish) Nishiki Performance Equipe Sport:
I found this two-wheeled friend listed for about 70% less than comparable bikes on Craigslist. Everything is in great shape. Wheels are true, rust is minimal, and the previous owner upgraded the suicide shifters to indexed shifters on the bars! In short, I love my bike and I got it for a steal.
Enough about me – here's how you can find what you want and spend less than you planned.
If you know me, you know I get obsessed about something I want.
- Two years ago, it was scuba diving.
- One year ago, it was motorcycling.
- This year, it was my road bike.
- My entire life, I'm going to be obsessed with planes and gliders.
If you're obsessed with the thing you want, you'll be spending all your time doing research. Search for what you want on Craigslist, on Reddit, and on thing-specific forums. There are awesome communities out there with FAQs and glossaries of all the technical terms you'll need to know when you buy something used.
Here are a few of the search terms I found useful during my hunt:
- how to buy used road bike
- vintage bikes subreddit
- how wheel sizing works
- steel vs aluminum bike frame
You won't know everything by the time you buy, but you'll keep building on your working knowledge as you go. Just make sure you keep learning and keep an open mind.
Watch the market
If you're like me, you've already had dreams about bicycles at this point. You should be fully invested and want to buy off some rando on Cragislist RIGHT NOW!! But don't do it.
It's time for you to channel your obsession. You're going to watch the market with the goal of figuring out what you want and what it's generally priced at.
My first step was to go to Craigslist and search for road bike. Turns out there are a lot of these. So I started looking through the results like a kid in a candy shop and crossing off the bikes that I didn't want. Either they didn't fit me, or they were too pricey, or they were from a cheap low-quality manufacturer.
After about a week of drooling over used bikes, I started seeing a pattern. You will too. You'll notice that seeing something specific will make you reject the listing completely, or you'll associate a certain brand with a specific price point and quality.
Set your standards
Once you start seeing a pattern, you've started to know what you want instead of just guessing. Now you're going to define exactly what you want.
Set your standards high and be specific. This is where you save your money!
You know what the average price for your thing is – your max should be 75% of that or less. Tons of people on Craigslist want to get rid of their perfectly good stuff immediately, and they're willing to cut a deep discount to do so.
You know what makes the thing you want quality. In my case, specific Japanese brands – Nishiki, Panasonic, Univega – made awesome bikes in the 80s and 90s that often get overlooked today. This means their prices go way down.
Here's what I thought I wanted going into my search:
Road bike. Thin wheels. Frame that fits me. Working.
Here's what I knew I wanted after I watched listings on Craigslist:
Road bike. Thin wheels, reasonably slick, preferably 28mm. 50-54cm vintage Japanese frame, cromoly steel. Drop bars. Minimal rust. Non-suicide shifters. Working. $150 or less.
Now you know exactly what you want. You know you want your high-quality thing at a low price. Unfortunately, this is exactly what other people want too. You'll have to beat them to the punch.
Start by building your Craigslist search. Go to your Craigslist site, enter your search query, and run it. Here are some tips that served me well:
- Use the OR
-operators to specify multiple keywords you want and filter ones you don't. Here's an example Craigslist query for Nishiki, Panasonic, and Univega bicycles that aren't mountain bikes:
- Set a minimum price limit. Jokesters list stuff as $1 to ensure it appears in searches with upper price bounds. You know no one will just give your thing away for $20 – so set your minimum to $20 to filter the noise.
- Set the maximum price limit to that price you set above. It's important for you to stick to your guns on this one, even if you have FOMO for search results. You'll find a deal eventually.
Great! You've got your search dialed in. Now, copy the Craigslist URL for your search. Use it to set up an IFTTT recipe to email you when a new item pops up on Craigslist for a specific search. You can also use push notifications or SMS – they're a bit more urgent.
Jump on it
Why is the notifier important? Because if you've found a good deal, you need to jump on that immediately. Good deals on Craigslist don't last three days. They rarely last one or two days. When you see that notification, excuse yourself from your meeting, lunch, or therapy session, and call the lister immediately.
Craigslist people tend to have a specific code of honor. If you're the first person to call them and set up a meeting, they'll usually tell other interested parties that they have to wait until you swing by and take a look. The quicker you contact, the more likely you are to get the thing. But to take advantage of this, you need to show up that day, so swing by the seller right after work and leave your kids late at day care. (Kidding. Probably.)
If you're doing this right, you might get the thing of your dreams in one to two days. You should find something you love in two weeks, unless the market you're searching is unusually small. And you know that you'll love it because you've been looking for something very specific at a specific price. Congratulations!
What about negotiating?
I'm gonna be honest. I suck at Craigslist negotiating. If I'm saving less than $100, negotiating makes me feel uncomfortable enough that I don't bother. And at the end of my search, I've usually found an item that's way, way under market value, so I feel good enough about the price already.
If you're interested in driving a hard bargain, there are lots of other resources to teach you better than I can.
I hope this guide helps you get the thing you want at a price you love. If any of these tips help you, or if you have other methods you use to find great deals, drop me a line or leave comment on this post. I love hearing from readers!