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Top Tips for Using Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and Other Local Buying/Selling Websites

Our family jokes about my husband being the “King of Craigslist,” and so, I guess that makes me the Queen by marriage (?!). He’s a cheapskate and bargain hunter at heart (yes, he really did use a coupon on our first date) and so he got “into” Craigslist a long time ago, starting with buying an electric guitar for one of our daughters and progressing to the point where two of our cars were purchased via the site, as well as lawn equipment, TVs, computer accessories, bicycles, furniture, sports equipment, small kitchen appliances—and pretty much all have turned out to be great buys.

While I, too, love a good bargain, I also like the reuse aspect of local online selling sites—as well as local consignment stores and garage sales. Oh, the happiness that is to be had–you’re reusing an item rather than it ending up in the dumpster, you’re buying locally and avoiding the carbon footprint made by shipping items from across the country, AND you’re saving money at the same time—often, a LOT of money. And often meeting some really nice people in the process. My favorite online local buying and selling sites are Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Nextdoor and 5miles. They are free to use, you can choose to limit your search to just your neighborhood, or look at items from a broader area.  I tend to use Craigslist as a last resort simply because, in my experience, it’s become a hotbed for scammers (more on that below) and it takes extra time to weed them out.

We’ve also had success being on the other side of the equation– selling stuff through online local marketplaces, which works especially well when you don’t have enough items, and/or time, to host a garage sale. The sites mentioned above charge zero to sell (no fees or percentage of the selling price taken). In addition, you tend to receive higher prices for individual items sold via an online marketplace than at a garage sale. If an item is small (can easily fit into a box to mail), sometimes I’ll list the item on ebay at the same time it’s on a local marketplace, broadening the buying audience and, through ebay’s auction style bidding process, possibly getting an even higher price than expected. I’m willing to put up with ebay’s fees when that happens (the fees are usually pretty small and they only charge if an item sells).

To encourage others to “try secondhand,” here are the steps for buying and selling through online local marketplaces, along with my (and my husband’s) advice for doing so safely:

  1. Head to one of the sites I mentioned above and start searching. You can look for specific items or just browse the latest items posted. Make sure it’s searching in your area, within your specified mileage limit. (Note: sometimes the search feature of Facebook Marketplace does not work well on some mobile devices. You search for something using your phone and every time, it tells you there are no items of that description within a 50-mile radius, or anywhere. That’s likely not true; if you keep getting this message, try the search from a laptop or desktop computer.) (Another note: for those of you that use Facebook and don’t know where to find Facebook Marketplace, it’s on your Facebook toolbar, near the top of your screen if you’re on a computer; click on the little icon that looks like a storefront.) As you search, you will notice that, mixed in with stuff from individuals, are listings for brand new items posted by salespeople from area stores and warehouses. You can tell from the photos, from reading the description and from the address area that’s shown or listed in the description. These tend to not be great deals, in my opinion. Some post low prices in their titles but down in the description, you discover that the listed price is just a down payment toward a higher price. Once you get used to these types of listers you can spot them a mile away and quickly move on. The exception to this is when buying or selling cell phones– avoid buying or selling cell phones from/to individuals through online marketplaces unless you’re meeting at a police station SafeSpot (more info on SafeSpots below). There are too many news items about crimes committed during secondhand cell phone sales. Legitimate, used cell phone stores do advertise on local buying and selling sites and you might find a good deal that way.

2. If something appears to be what you are looking for, your first message to the seller should be, “Is this still available?” I also like to ask if the item is from a smoke-free and pet-free home, if this is not already stated in the item’s description. Some sites list the Respond or Message button as, “Make an Offer,” but ignore that wording–you don’t need to make an offer at this point, just use the button to ask a question. Don’t worry if you don’t hear back. If the item was listed a while ago, chances are they’ve sold it and didn’t take the ad down, and/or they don’t have time to respond, or they’re just not on social media very much. Have patience—sometimes it takes a day or so for someone to respond; others respond immediately.

3. If the seller responds that an item is available, there’s nothing wrong with then checking to see if they will take a lower price (and state the price you have in mind) if you think they’ve set it too high. Most of the time, in our experience, sellers will say yes to a lower price, especially if something has been listed for more than a week (and the sites usually state how long an item has been listed). Note: Legitimate online marketplaces, like Facebook Marketplace, CraigsList, etc. have their own messaging system for buyers and sellers to message each other. ONLY use this way of messaging. An easy way to spot a scam is when, after you ask if an item is still available, the seller messages you back that they’d like to communicate over personal e-mail. They are doing this to avoid falling under the oversight of the selling platform, since they’re a scammer and don’t want to be labeled as such and kicked off the site, or worse, found and prosecuted. If you choose to conduct business primarily outside of the site, you are “on your own,” so to speak. And sure enough, sadly, many of the responses I’ve received from CraigsList sellers, when I ask about an item, immediately ask to communicate via personal e-mail. And, they usually misspell words and have poor grammar, another sign that it’s a scam (just like with e-mail phishing scams). I usually respond with, “Sorry, I don’t message off-site, to avoid scams” and then I don’t receive a response back. As expected. Note that there are NUMEROUS real estate scams on Craigslist as well– never commit to buying or renting a property without first touring a place, no matter how great the deal may seem.

4. Once you’ve heard back that the item is available and you like the price, arrange to see the item. My message to the seller at this point is usually, “Great! When can we come see it and decide if we want to purchase?” For small items, I arrange to meet the person during the day at a safe, public place (one that is open for business) that we have agreed upon, and I park right near the front door. (Mask up, of course, if you’re living in a pandemic!) A bank is a good place for this. In addition, many police stations now offer dedicated parking spots, also known as SafeTradeSpots or SafeStations), that are monitored, for people conducting business through online selling (see a directory of SafeTradeSpots here and Safe Stations here). For larger items, such as furniture, the items usually are available for viewing in someone’s open garage, driveway or on the front porch. Avoid buying furniture from an apartment address unless they can show you the item outside of the home or in an open garage. Ask ahead of time where the item is going to be, go during daylight hours and ALWAYS go with another person when you look. Don’t buy items in high-crime neighborhoods or any place where you don’t feel comfortable. With many sites, such as Facebook Marketplace, you can view the seller’s profile, general location of their neighborhood, as well as reviews from other buyers, and can get a good feel if this person is legit or not (with Facebook Marketplace you can also tell if you have any “mutual” Facebook friends, which, when it happens, is always a bonus). You can also tell a lot about the seller from the way they respond to your questions. I once asked a seller how tall a dresser was. She responded that she didn’t know. Which ended my interest immediately—if someone can’t find a tape measure or yardstick and measure something they’ve got for sale, or don’t care enough to respond with a “I don’t know but I will find out,” then they’re not the kind of person that I want to do business with, no matter how great the deal.  Just always follow the caveat, “if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not.” All this being said, I think my husband will agree that everyone we’ve bought from have been genuinely nice people, such as a young couple redecorating their house, a single woman upsizing and moving to a new home, a growing family needing to sell their minivan, etc. (And speaking of minivan, you of course have to follow your state’s title transfer rules when buying or selling a used car. Never pay for a car without the title in hand!) For large items, usually you’ll have to bring a truck or van to haul them off, and someone strong who can help lift the pieces, but sometimes sellers offer to deliver, or help load.

5. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t like the item once you see it. Say, “I’m so sorry, but it’s not quite going to work.” Thank them for their time. They might bring their price down, but again, don’t feel obligated to buy if there are flaws and it’s not something you can fix, or if it’s just not right for you. It’s the nature of the “business.” Not everyone’s online photographs accurately portray an item. To help you feel better about walking away without buying, be sure you let them know ahead of time you are “looking at the item to see if it’s what you need.”

6. If you like the item, pay with cash or another immediate payment method such as Venmo or Zelle, if you’re more comfortable with that and as long as it’s not asked for in advance of seeing the item (yes, I’ve seen that!). Don’t ever wire money to anyone asking for that form of payment for purchases, or give a credit card number, or write a check—all common practices used by scammers to get personal information.

7. Be sure to leave a brief review of the seller, if the site encourages that.

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Selling something? Take several good photos. (It’s been easiest for me to have the sites’ apps on my phone so I can easily load in photos to the sites.) Put measurements into your post if it’s furniture (but keep in mind that some people just look at the photos and price and won’t read the text, and still ask measurement questions!). Again, for smaller items, pick a public place such as a police station to do the transaction, during the day. Take someone with you. If you have a large item, put it on your front porch, driveway or in your garage. Have the person message you when they’re on their way, give them your address, and have someone alongside you when they arrive. If you never want a buyer to come to your house, haul the item to a public place. Don’t accept any form of payment other than cash or another direct form of payment that can happen immediately, such as Venmo. Some sellers simply leave items on their front porch next to a basket or box in which buyers may leave an envelope with payment– not a bad idea during a pandemic, but very trusting, for sure!

And speaking of the pandemic, be sure to sanitize items as necessary and read online about how long the novel coronavirus can live on certain surfaces. My own rule of thumb is to let something sit in the garage for 4-5 days before cleaning/using.

Do you have a success story (or not so good tale) from using an online marketplace? Please share! And check out more photos of our favorite online marketplace, garage sale and consignment store finds @untrash.blog on Instagram.