21 October 2013

but here's my number, so call me...craigslist?

In our first blog post, I injected a random comment about the pain and suffering of Craigslist. The time has come to revisit this topic.

Attempting to sell all of our material possessions was a bit of a beat down. It's tough to part with all your stuff, especially in a culture of such extreme consumerism, but actually I remember that I was kind of looking forward to it.

In hindsight, what I was really looking forward to was the sense of liberation from all of our things. What I was not looking forward to - and what I came to downright loathe - was the process of liquidating our belongings. Allow me to elaborate...

Several options come to mind when looking to get rid of your things, but below are the various avenues we went down in order of most painful (first) to couldn't be easier (last).
  1. Craigslist
  2. eBay
  3. Apartment Sale
  4. St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store
  5. Family, Friends and Coworkers
  6. Garbage
Let's dig deeper.

craigslist: proudly introducing you to humanity's not-so-finest since 1999.

Allow me to begin with the most painful: Craigslist. The pain of Craigslist was delivered in a variety of forms, ranging from the pain of frustration in dealing with unreliable and irrational human beings, to the pain of a wooden desk shattering and descending upon my right ankle. All good fun. Let's explore further.

The Craigslist liquidation began back in May. Previously, I had only listed and sold one item on Craigslist, but this time I was going for it all. In total, 156 individual items were posted to Craigslist in preparation for our move to Tanzania which generated 450 unique email conversations between me and prospective buyers. Yikes.

I first began trying to sell our things on Craigslist because there are no listing fees and it caters to local buyers. Given I was looking for cash and the hand-to-hand exchange, this platform seemed to make the most sense.

A few things to consider...

Assuming you actually invest some amount of effort into your ads (descriptive write-up, price, location, photos), it kind of takes a while to actually publish each individual ad. Multiply that by 156 and it's one punch in the brain after another.

On top of that, Craigslist has an undisclosed timer on how frequently you can post ads before you are struck with the below screen shot.

Once you do see this screen, there is another undisclosed timer on how long you have to wait before you can attempt to re-publish your listing. The brain punches continue. Thanks Craig.

Here are some common questions I was asked by societal delinquents...excuse me...prospective buyers:
  • How much?
  • Can I trade you ____ for ____?
  • Where are you located?
  • Can you text or email me photos?
  • What are the dimensions?
In 100% of these cases, the answer could be found in my Craigslist ad. I always wrote a thorough description of the item including condition, age, features and dimensions. I always included the price stating that I was looking for cash only and if I was willing to negotiate. I always included a cross-street so people would have an idea of where I was located since the DFW metroplex is large. I always included quality photos so people had a good idea of what they were getting.

However, there were two other questions that I would often get but these admittedly were not answered in my ads:
  • What's the lowest you'll take?
  • Will it fit in my car?
Answering the first is a gamble. Answering the second is a joke. In every case that someone asked me if it would fit in their car, not once did they tell me what kind of car they had. And even if they did, that wouldn't make it okay. How the heck do I know if it will fit in you car? I gave you the dimensions of the item in my ad and you own the vehicle, so figure it out. Work with me people!

90% of the emails you get from folks on Craigslist will go nowhere, meaning they will email you stating an interest in your item, you will email them back, and then they will never respond. Below are some actual Craigslist email exchanges that I had the pleasure of partaking in.

Autographed Boxing Gloves
Craigslist User: $60
Me: Okay. Can you pick-up today?
Craigslist User: Can't today - maybe tomorrow. Trying to sell this fish tank that I have so I can buy gloves.
...8 days later...
Craigslist User: Will you trade for a saw?

Autographed Football
Craigslist User: Do this come with any COA*?
Me: No COA on this particular football.
Craigslist User: I'm from San Diego but I do plan to be in Dallas on 12/28 for the Cowboys vs. Eagles game. 
...that game was 4 months away from the date of this email...

*COA = Certificate of Authenticity (used to validate the legitimacy of an autographed item)

Autographed Football Helmet
Craigslist User: Is the helmet still available?
Me: Yes.
Craigslist User: I'm outta town for the next two weeks. Follow-up with me when I'm back.
...no, I will not do that...

Autographed Boxing Gloves
Craigslist User: Hi, where is the COA from?
Me: I didn't say I had a COA. Just the gloves.
Craigslist User: Where is the COA from on the gloves?
Me: I just said I don't have a COA. I just have the gloves.
Craigslist User: But I wanted a COA with it.

...1 day later...
Craigslist User: Are they JSA?
Me: I don't know what that means.
...never heard from them again...

Autographed Basketball
Craigslist User: Where are you located and when can we meet?
Me: I am in Uptown Dallas and can meet tonight at 8 PM.
Craigslist User: It will have to be tomorrow and we can do it.
Me: I am traveling tomorrow so the next available for me is Monday evening. Does that work for you?
Craigslist User: Yes.
Me: Okay let's plan on meeting at 7 PM.
Craigslist User: You're going to have to meet me half way or no thanks.
Me: Half way to what? I don't know where you are.
...never heard from them again...

Aside from folks not responding to emails, one of the most consistent and frustrating experiences was agreeing on a time and place to meet to exchange an item for cash, showing up to the specified place at the specified time, the other person not showing up, and the other person never responding to any future phone call, text message or email. Eventually I stopped agreeing to drive anywhere to meet people and insisted they come to meet me on the street outside of our apartment complex.

The things you really have to watch out for on Craigslist are scams. Craigslist is flooded with people or robots trying to scam you. The more valuable the item (higher the asking price), the more likely they will target you. Here is an actual conversation I had with what was most likely some type of pseudo-human being.

Antique Dining Table and Chairs
Craigslist User: Is this still for sale?
Me: Yes.
Craigslist User: Thank for your mail. I'm satisfied with the condition of it as advertised in the listing,i will like to add $100 to your final price for you to keep off from all offer i want to know the total price include the $100,and consider it sold to me alone as i am serious with this.I would like you to know that am really interested in buying this for my father,However, I will not be able to come for inspection, all i need is your word of sincerity that the item is in good condition as described online please let me know if you accept my offer ??payment will be through PayPal and the pick up will be  arranged by me as i will have my agent come down to pick it up...i will be waiting to hear from you,and i will like you to send me the name and email address on the PayPal account to send the payment and send me more pics of this item if available since i would not be seen it in person so i can pay it right away I am a busy at work and do not have much time around me.Make sure you get back to me so that we can arrange for pick up as i will like the item to be picked at your residence,so no shipping Thanks and reply asap.
Me: I'm not clear on what you are saying.
Craigslist User: Get back to me with your paypal credentials.

Any email you get on Craiglist in which the other party asks you to reply to a different email address, mentions the word PayPal, or professes to have an "agent" is most certainly a scam. Avoid them like the plague.

Sadly, the scams are not limited to emails but extend to text messages as well. When trying to sell my car, I received nothing but scam text messages with individuals professing "they are a marine engineer working offshore in Canada and only have access to a pager phone that can email and text but not place or receive phone calls but extremely interested in the vehicle and would like to purchase it sight unseen by way of their agent and would absolutely love to pay my full asking price." Delete such text messages with extreme prejudice. 

At the beginning of this poetic section on Craigslist, I said something casual about a wooden desk shattering and descending upon my right ankle. Allow me to paint a clearer picture. I was selling a three-piece wooden desk set and had arranged time for two prospective buyers to come over one Saturday morning (TV shows anyone?) for an in-person inspection. Naturally, the first did not show and the second arrived two hours late. The desk was tucked away in our study where we had stored the few items we were not selling, so to make it easier for the prospective buyer to evaluate, I decided to move the desk into our living room. The first two pieces went rather swimmingly. However, the third piece was significantly larger, quite awkward in shape to move, and would not fit through the study doorway, so I decided (with the assistance of Ashley) to rotate the desk and angle it through. Cue pain. The desk, which was pieced together like a jig-saw puzzle, broke into eight pieces that fell from the heavens in mid-rotation.

this is going to hurt

Thankfully, not one piece touched Ashley. Unfortunately, several pieces found me. WARNING: mildly graphic content ahead. The impact seemingly burst all of the blood vessels in my right ankle, tore off chunks of skin, bruised the entire region, and caused blood to stream out of my pores in the most peculiar fashion. Reconstructing the desk in this condition was pleasant. Having the people who showed up to purchase the desk tell me they were no longer interested was not. Moving on.

so is the "b" supposed to be capitalized or not? I can't keep this straight.

The eBay experience was short lived. I had previous history selling items on eBay. The merits of this platform include 21st century-looking web design (in contrast to Craigslist), buyer protection, secure payment, and overall you just kind of know what you are getting into. However, eBay has listing fees (albeit small) and can be difficult to find local buyers. Given I did not want to pay listing fees or ship 156 individual items, I really only used this platform on a couple of pieces to no avail, so I stuck with Craigslist despite the physical, emotional and spiritual pain.

In theory we would have preferred to execute your traditional neighborhood garage sale, but living in an apartment complex complicated matters. We contacted our Leasing Office about coordinating some type of "garage sale" amongst the apartment units, but that didn't take so we took matters into our own hands.

All of the items we were looking to part with were sprawled across our living room and dining room floor, grouped into categories, and affixed with a Post-It Note price tag. Moving Out Sale signs were printed and taped in high-traffic areas throughout our apartment complex advertising the day, time and unit number, along with a highlight of some of the items we would be selling. As expected, the maintenance staff in our complex immediately began tearing down our signs. Since we anticipated this, we had back-up copies which we re-taped all over.

The apartment sale ran for five hours on a Saturday and three hours on a Sunday. In total, about 17 people made their way through. While most bought nothing, the few that did bought some big things which really helped, so it was worth the effort. Oh, and one shady character tried (we think) to scam us with a fake check and a fake phone number to get our antique dining room table and chairs. Not cool.

like the Jesuits, the Vincentians are pretty awesome.

All of the items we had no intention of selling or storing, or were unable to sell, were grouped into a donation pile which went to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store. This was process was smooth and easy. There were two basic means of donation: (1) drop-off ourselves at a bin in our church parking lot, or (2) arrange a free pick-up through the thrift store. We did both and it worked splendidly.

these are not actually our family, friends or coworkers...and I don't know why the one lady is wearing a Santa hat.

Various items that did not find their way through the above channels were pawned off on family, friends and coworkers. While we did aim to sell or donate most of our stuff, some items we held onto for long-term storage or for family members. Other items we gifted to friends and coworkers, or sold to them at a discounted price.

It's amazing how much stuff we accumulate as human begins, especially as Americans. I can't tell you how many times we laboriously went through all of our belongings and made donation or trash runs, yet it still appeared that we hadn't made a dent. A ton of stuff was just garbage: expired medicine, random toiletry items, tattered clothing, questionable food products, and other various odds and ends. All of it was loaded up in garbage bags and tossed into the abyss of the apartment complex garbage chute.

So that's the brief scoop on how we got rid of our stuff in preparation for our move to Tanzania. All along the way I kept a spreadsheet (of course) which documented every individual item we sold and how much we got for it. In the end, we received way less than anything was worth. This whole process taught me to never, ever, ever buy something thinking it will have good re-sale value. It most likely won't. 

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