May 1, 2008

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Stuck on Craigslist
How not to move online
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Lesson learned: free is better than cheap any day.

How did I come across this rare, precious tidbit of totally not obvious knowledge? Why, Craigslist, of course.

I’m moving again. I don’t think I’ve really acquired that much stuff in the past 15 months, but the new place is smaller. And that’s a whole lot of time for stuff to go obsolete. Using the tried-and-true method of putting small, light things (like a cell phone and a bunch of remote controls) on eBay, where shipping is a consideration, and larger items on Craigslist, where folks pick up your junk locally, I went to work.

First to go were the small electronics. For all of eBay’s onerous fees, the site does excel at getting the transaction done. Seven days after I offered up my unwanted plastic and silicon, there was cash in my PayPal account, addresses ready for shipping labels and the satisfaction of a successful transaction. One buyer even had second thoughts, since a feature she assumed was on my phone for sale actually wasn’t, but she went through with it because, well, that’s how eBay works. You wins the auction, you pays the money.

I also had an old desktop PC, a few too many guitars, a twin bed, a loveseat and a futon to get rid of. For those weighty items, Craigslist clearly looked like the better option. And it probably was — but it was far from trouble-free.

I put the PC up first. It was a dated Frankenbox, built from various rescued parts, with a blazing 500MHz processor and 128MB of RAM. Decent in its day, but in 2008, those are specs that a low-end Pocket PC wouldn’t particularly envy. It didn’t even have an operating system installed. Who’d pay for this?, I thought. I stuck it in the free section. Within hours, over two dozen e-mails had flooded my inbox.

Even with all that interest, though, it still took a couple days before someone was over to pick the thing up. Craigslist gives buyers and sellers a way to connect, but once you make contact, you’re on your own. One person said they’d be right over and never showed; another never e-mailed back when told that, yes, in fact, it was still available.

There was similar interest for the free bed, but since only those with larger vehicles could even consider it, the process was a bit smoother. The guitars went relatively quickly, too, and though I managed to get money for them, the amount was less than I’d hoped.

Which brings us to the largest of the items: the futon and loveseat. As of this writing, I’m still waiting for them to get gone. My mistake, I guess, was setting a price. They very well might find buyers, but likely not by the end of my current lease.

Would eBay have served me any better? Maybe. They do have a local search option, for people to pick things up in their area, but who uses it? And even if the payment part happens more or less automatically, it’s the getting-it-out-of-my-house bit I’m really more interested in.

On the other hand, when I put an ugly old rolling desk chair sporting a “FREE” sign out on the curb in the rain, it was gone within 20 minutes. Maybe this Internet thing just isn’t that great at moving furniture.