Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tips for Buying DIY-able Furniture on Craigslist

I buy most of the furniture I use for DIY projects on Craigslist. I can almost always find what I want at a price I’m willing to pay. Many people, however, are intimidated by Craigslist. They don’t know what to look for or how to find a bargain. They aren't sure about the rules of the game and they’re afraid of making a mistake. So I put this tutorial together to help alleviate some of that anxiety.  I hope you find it helpful. To give you an idea on what's out there, all of the items shown in this post were listed on my local Craigslist today. 

Vintage Dresser with mirror--$50

1. Know what you’re looking for.
Start by envisioning your finished project.  What are the important elements that you need to make your vision a reality? Pay attention to the overall lines, size, and shape. If you’re looking for a dresser, what size? How many drawers? A dining table? What shape? How many people do you need to seat? Check the space where you plan to use the piece. Measure carefully so you know the maximum and minimum dimensions. Keep these dimensions in mind when you peruse the listings.

2. Decide on a price range.
Pricing on Craigslist is all over the place. Most Craigslist sellers aren't professionals and they have no idea what the things they are selling are actually worth.  Price tends to be driven by desperation. When a seller needs to get rid of a piece by tomorrow before the moving van arrives or the new sofa is delivered, the price will be low. On the other hand, when a seller has owned a piece for a long time and has some sentimental attachment to it, the price will be higher. What this means is that you can find very similar pieces at a wide range of prices. I've seen almost identical dressers listed at $40 and $300. I found the three night stands below on my local Craigslist today. As you can see, although the designs are very similar, they differ significantly in terms of price. If you’re willing to take your time, you should be able to find a bargain. Just don’t jump at the first thing you see. I routinely find solid pieces for under $100. It’s a good idea to filter listings by price so you won’t be tempted to go over your budget.  Some sellers are open to negotiating price, but this is more likely to be the case when you’re buying something for $500 than something for $50.

3. To buy or not to buy?
Carefully inspect the piece you’re considering. Recheck the measurements to be sure it will fit. Avoid anything that seems unstable like wobbly chairs and rickety tables. Also avoid dressers with drawers that don’t slide smoothly. They are almost impossible to fix. On the other hand, don’t be concerned about a finish that’s scratched or a weird color—you’ll be changing that anyway. Do check the construction of the piece and the quality of the materials. Avoid anything with particle board or laminate veneer. I always look for older furniture rather than something more recent. The reason? Most furniture, even less expensive pieces, manufactured before the mid 1960’s were made of solid wood. The quality was much better than the moderately- or lower-priced furniture made today.

4. Closing the deal.
Bring cash and don’t expect the seller to make change. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, when you purchase something on Craigslist, you’ll be expected to pick it up and transport it home.  This includes carrying your purchase out of the seller’s house and loading it into your vehicle. Don’t assume that the seller can or will help you. Always bring someone with you to help (a good safety precaution anyway).  

Solid oak chest of drawers--$90

5. General tips.
  • Communicate with the seller. Ask questions about measurements and condition before you commit to seeing an item. Don’t, however, ask for a price reduction before you actually examine the item. If you do ask for a lower price, be reasonable. Don’t offer $10 for something listed at $75.
  • Be responsible. If you contact a seller and arrange a time to look at a piece, don’t be a no-show. If you change your mind, contact the seller and let him/her know.
  • Use common sense. Don’t go alone to a stranger’s house or reveal too much personal information about yourself. When I contact a seller, I use an anonymous email that I use only for Craigslist dealings. I don’t give my last name or address. If I get a weird feeling about a seller I’m communicating with, I drop it and move on.  
  • Bottom line: don’t get discouraged if you can’t find what you want right away. Be patient—it will come along eventually. Happy hunting! 
Vintage chest $40

Solid Oak Pedestal Table with leaf $99
© Salt Marsh Cottage 2013


  1. thank you, I'm intimidated by Craigslist.

    1. Hi Irene,
      I'm so glad it was helpful. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. This was quite helpful. I've spent some time on Craigslist but get discouraged. Hate to spend more time on Craigslist than I do reading blogs I've subscribed to. When I do find something it seems to be when I'm broke. Boohoo. Ah well I'll read this a few times so I get it in my brain, hopefully find something. I want a buffet or a dresser I can use for a vanity in our bathroom. I'd especially love to find an empire dresser but have never seen one in our area in all years we've lived here, (Grand Junction, CO).

    1. I know! It can be frustrating when you're looking for just the right piece. But keep at it--you never know when one will turn up. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Cottage Furniture CollectionYour blogs are easily accessible and quite enlightening so keep doing the amazing work guys.