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First One in Line or First One with Cash?


Buying and Selling Etiquette on Craigslist

There are general rules for good buying and selling etiquette on Craigslist (or even any other private selling marketplace for that matter.) Many of us try to abide by these rules in the hopes of having an easy and pleasant transaction with a stranger. However, for every good egg out there, there are what seems like hundreds of bad ones.

If you’re looking for a good laugh, here is an informal and cheeky guide to the “unspoken rules of the private party sale” from the Best of Craigslist.

I’ve had my good and bad experiences with trying to buy a car on Craigslist. After dealing with endless number of shady and nefarious individuals on Craigslist, I finally found a pristine, low-mileage 1998 BMW E39 540i in an Aspen Silver Metallic color scheme. The car pictured below looked exactly like the one I inquired about. It has the same exact body color and BMW Style 19 rims.

bmw 540i aspen silver metallic - craigslist car buying etiquette

Image from (member: jaw969)

I reached out to the owner right away via email and she replied back about the vehicle. I’m pretty sure I was the first one to ask about the car because I emailed within an hour of the posting. We emailed back and forth and set up an appointment for me to see the vehicle a couple days later. Everything seemed to be going well.

I was getting giddy with excitement, meanwhile lurking the e39 forums for more information about the car. The night before I was scheduled to come see the car, the owner emailed me informing me that someone came to see the car and purchased it. I was pretty pissed because I had an appointment with the seller just the next day and she didn’t tell me that someone else was coming to see the car before me. Now, this begs the question:

Who gets the car first:

the first buyer in line or the first buyer with cash-in-hand?

How I’ve Always Sold Cars

I’ll tell you how I’ve always handled potential buyers when I was selling a car. As soon as my posting was listed, I kept a list of interested buyers in the order that they reached out to me. I made sure to answer everyone’s questions and to let them know whether they were next in line or if I would reach out to them later if the potential buyers in front of them backed out.

I went down the list and arranged for test drives accordingly. If the first buyer was not interested, then I would move on to the next person. I would keep doing that until the car was sold. And as soon as it was sold, I would let the rest of the people on the list know that the car was sold.

Cash is King

Perhaps it is because I’ve always sold cars using the first-in-line method, that I expect the same when I seek to purchase a car. I always felt that it was the most fair way of handling a car sale. However, it has been increasingly apparent that most of the time, this just doesn’t happen.

With the frenzy of buyers overwhelming the seller in an effort to score a deal on a car, I wish there was some order in this crazy marketplace of car buying and selling.

What I’ve Learned

So here’s what I’ve concluded as the best chance of working out a deal on a car these days:

  • As soon as a posting is listed, beat everyone else to the punch to get the attention of the buyer.
  • Schedule to see the vehicle as soon as humanly possible (make sure no one else is coming before you to see the vehicle–hence the phrase ‘as soon as humanly possible’
  • Have cash ready to purchase the vehicle outright in case the bank is not open at the time of purchase.

And… this is how you come out ahead when buying a used car these days on Craigslist. Let’s see if this aggressive tactic works as I look for my next project car.

Scott enjoys fixing and improving cars, motorcycles, and his home in his spare time. He does his best to transcribe his journey as he navigates across unknown territory, finds himself in peculiar predicaments, and figures out how things work in the process.

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