Displacing the Classifieds

What is the most impactful invention of all time? Before some hipster’s smug intervention on behalf of the printing press, most millennials would nominate the internet. It’s difficult to argue that Google, Paypal, Amazon, Uber, Facebook, and Reddit haven’t profoundly altered our daily routines. While one-click ordering the one-hour delivery of a one-carat ring for my one-and-only Tinderella is super convenient, my favorite web service is often overlooked in the race for relevance on the internet. Its “dark horse” status might be attributed to its archaic interface; it might also be the perceived risk of serial killers. Despite these minor obstacles, craigslist has been critical to my survival for the better part of a decade.

Between undergrad, studying abroad, interning, working, and grad school, I’ve moved around a lot. Moving sucks. The first, and worst, part of moving is finding somewhere to move to. This deceptively tricky beast has proven indomitable for many young people seeking to flee the nest. Films have convinced me that people once found housing through a cheerful, yet competent, real estate agent hired via the newspaper. Today, the agent is neither cheerful nor competent at anything beyond ensnaring you in his mediocre catalogue of monopolized apartments that fall just beyond your specified price range. Even on craigslist, he will lure you in with a “condo quality” header before dragging you through units that don’t remotely resemble your specifications. Craigslist does, however, enable peer-to-peer housing. Of the ten places I’ve lived, by far the best were those rented directly from the owners. Craigslist also readily enables subletting, a feature vital to the forsaken transients whose semesters and internships don’t align with an annual lease. Admittedly, I’ve had some awful craigslist roommates, including one who neglected to wake me during a house fire. The majority, though, have been awesome people, including the one I’ve now been dating for four years.

The next part of moving involves stuff. It gets put in boxes and haphazardly strewn into trucks before the process is repeated in reverse. Alternatively, one might plan ahead and hire movers for a few hundred dollars a week beforehand. Better yet, random people can be hired for tens of dollars and tens of minutes notice via craigslist. Even better still, sell all your stuff and buy better stuff when you get there. It doesn’t even require moving. This past spring, my former craigslist roomie and I decided we were tired of our mismatched furniture. We soon thereafter began a summer-long spree in which we upgraded everything in our apartment. Remarkably, we actually made money in the process.

Through a bit of experience and a lot of stubbornness, it’s easy to sell high and buy extremely low. The best opportunities arise from situations in which people are pressured to sell quickly. Email alerts are the key to these ephemeral listings. It’s generally best to avoid experienced sellers, but experienced sellers optimize their listings to maximize visibility. Fortunately, Craigslist accepts Boolean search operators. These can be used to exclude listings containing multiple synonyms for the item of interest, a tactic employed by experienced sellers to increase hits. Most importantly, the value of second-hand furniture is arbitrary, and seller-specified prices are meaningless. There are a host of negotiating tactics unique to craigslist – some dirtier than others – that buyers might utilize. For instance, emails are masked for all parties so parallel offers from separate email handles can be used to drive down prices. With sufficient effort and flexibility, craigslist enables for-profit trial periods of near-new furniture.

It doesn’t end there. I’ve bought a car on craigslist and resold said car on craigslist. I’ve bought and sold phones on craigslist, I’ve hosted rideshares via craigslist, and I avoid Ticketmaster via craigslist. That said, I’ve yet to find a job on craigslist. Chemical engineering doesn’t seem to be their strong point, but there’s still time.