Monday, March 18, 2013

guest blogger: finding steals on craigslist

Hiii there, Paper + Space readers! I'm Margaret; it's nice to meet you! I'm Lea's youngest and coolest sister. Just so you know. This is me, my sweet little girl, Selah, and my husband, Cory. Photo is, of course, by our talented sister, Carrie

We move around a lot but we currently reside in Birmingham, Alabama. You can check out our adventures over at my blog, a moveable feast. There, you'll find... a lot of pictures of Selah ;)

Today, I'm going to talk to you about something I have a lot of experience with - furnishing your home stylishly but on the cheap from craigslist. If you're reading this, you're probably related to me or you agree with me that interesting home design includes a mix of high and low, new and old. And Craigslist is what I've used to infuse affordable vintage style to my cute (rental) home here in Birmingham.

There's a variety of ways to go about searching for furniture on craigslist, but I'm looking for steals. So this is how I go about scoring cool, inexpensive finds. Under the for sale section on the homepage, there's antiques and furniture. I like to stay in the furniture for sale section mostly because if the person posting the item considers it to be an antique, they like to charge antique prices. 

To save time, I go ahead and narrow down my results by has image and make sure it's set to pic view. It's much easier to hover your cursor over the thumbnails to see if it's really something you're interested in without having to click every single link. 

Again, I'm looking for deals, so I search by owner. Why? Generally, dealers know that grandma's old dresser is actually a midcentury Kent Coffey Perspecta dresser and they know just how much it's selling for elsewhere (around $900, at least). But average Joe Owner thinks it's old and he doesn't want it, he'll sell it on craigslist for $140. Kinda like what happened here, with my bedroom dresser.

And then, I search using various broad keywords, keeping in mind that 'midcentury' and 'mid century' bring up different search results. Trying several terms (antique, vintage, retro, 1950s) ensures the widest selection of results. Take for example, the Thomasville dresser I bought for my daughter's nursery. A quick Google search shows the same exact dresser on One King's Lane for $1200... but I found mine for $200 searching for 'bamboo' on craigslist. 

My goodness, she's cute, isn't she?!
What I'm about to tell you next isn't so much a tip, as much as it is a caveat. In order to be successful buying on craigslist, you're going to need to look often. Yes, it's true that you may look for several weeks and find nothing but a bunch of old pine entertainment centers for sale. But you never know when a gem will pop up in your search! And when it does - jump on it ASAP! I can't tell you how many times I've found something really great and it slipped through my fingers. If it's awesome and newly posted, you should send an email like this straightaway:
Hi! I saw your beautiful [piece of furniture] and I'm very interested. Would it be convenient for you if I came over to take a look at it this afternoon? 
Send a nice, to-the-point email because most likely, they are going to get several emails about it. If you sound like you're not going to buy it or like you're a jerk, they are going to sell it someone else. I've sold enough things on craigslist (remind me to tell you the story of how I married a man who furnished his entire apartment from Sam's Club...) to know. 

Starting off on the right foot puts you in a good position to negotiate fairly. If I want something badly enough, I'll go ahead and pay the asking price. Especially if it's highly desirable - I don't want to risk losing it to someone who agrees to pay the full price when I was just going to save $20. But, if it's something that's been posted for a while and hasn't sold, I'll haggle a little more. (However, please don't insult the seller by offering something ridiculous.) And of course, you're going to need to be prepared to pay cash

Hopefully now you feel inspired to comb through a few thousand craigslist postings... but before you do, here's a few things I learned over the years. 

  1. Don't buy anything that smells like cats or smoke! That stench doesn't come out easy.
  2. Don't think that just because it's secondhand, it's cheaper. It always astonishes me to find used IKEA pieces listed for almost the same price they were bought for 3 years ago. 
  3. Don't buy things you don't have room for or have time to refinish/refurbish. I have 2 awesome Pascoe barstools... and no bar to put them under. 
  4. Don't buy it if you don't absolutely love it. Just keep waiting and searching, I promise you'll find something you really love! And you'll be so glad you waited (and have room for it!). 
  5. Don't buy it if it's not well made. Look for dovetailed joints, solid wood, working drawers, etc. 
  6. Don't be afraid of minor retouching. I found a guy (Birmingham readers, go to Keel Upholstery and Refinishing on 4th Ave S!) who has fixed several things for me, including refinishing one of the banged up drawers on my Perspecta dresser and reinforcing the seat of my Dux lounge chair, for less than $50. 
Happy hunting, y'all!

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