Craigslist: I'm Doing It Wrong

by Alan J. Claffie

Since we started playing with our little toy cars, I've always tried to save a buck or two buying used parts and pieces. For the most part, the transactions have gone well. Some of this should be chalked up to my philosophy of be a nice guy whenever possible. However, when I had the rare opportunity to turn the transaction around and become the seller, I saw the less-fun side of dealing with what must be the typical Craigslist buyer.

The story opens in October when we got "Sloppy", the 2008 Mazda MX-5. It came with two sets of wheels: the original 17x7 wheels that got a new set of all-season tires mounted, and a set of 17x8 Kosei K4R wheels with well-used BFGoodrich Rival S tires for summer fun stuff. The only problem is that I didn't really like the look of the K4Rs: I preferred the more athletic look of Enkei RPF1 wheels and set off to find some of those.

It didn't take long to find a cosmetically-challenged set of 17x8 RPF1s with junk tires on them being sold on the local Craigslist. Some of the tires had curb rash, while one had a pretty good chunk taken out of its outside rim. The seller was realistic about the damage and I, knowing these were going to be the race wheels, didn't really care that they weren't in mint condition. The price reflected the condition fairly, so I emailed the guy and said "I'll take them."

That night I showed up at his place with $450 cash money and ten minutes later I had an ugly set of wheels in the back of my car. The next day I put two of the wheels on the car to take a picture, then yanked them back off until, presumably, spring, when I'd put tires on the wheels and drive them in the summer.

A couple weeks later, I found someone selling another set of RPF1s. These were wider, 17x9, and in the Special Brilliant Coating (SBC) finish. These are the ultimate RPF1s. Being wider, they had a more attractive design with more lip. The SBC finish, kind of a dark chrome, is an order of magnitude better than the blah silver paint that was on the 8-inch wide wheels. The SBCs had tires that could actually be used - though probably not in cold or wet conditions - and virtually no cosmetic blemishes. The seller, in Connecticut, wanted $900 for the set and I thought that was a bargain. He wasn't too far off our route to visit Mom & Dad for Thanksgiving weekend so we made an agreement to meet and bought ourselves what became a fourth set of wheels that would only work on that one car in our fleet.

Obviously, something had to go. Truthfully, multiple somethings had to go. I figured I'd start out with the cheapest of those, the 17x8 RPF1s. I made a Craigslist ad with no less than six pictures and waited for the easiest sale of the year to happen. I priced them at $550 expecting potential buyers to haggle me down to the $450 I had in them, and in no time flat I'd get my money back. But what really happened was that I got beat up by pretty much every one of them.

The conversations all started about the same way: "Are the wheels still available?" My standard response was, "Yes they are, come and get them!"

Two people offered me trades. One offered me wheels from an Infiniti G37X. Another said, "How about 300 a a set of 4 tl wheels that you can sell easly for 200 bucks." He included two pictures of a car with what I assume were those wheels, though both pictures were taken at night and from a significant distance from the subject. In both cases I said I wasn't interested in any more wheels, I have too many wheels already, please just give me cash money.

Most wanted to start price negotiations at around half of my asking price, offering $300. At that point I'd confess that I had $450 in the wheels and that's all I wanted to get out of them. Most people wouldn't go higher than $400. One guy pointed out the curb rash, the bite taken out of the rim, the junk tires... everything I already pointed out in my ad. He said I had to come down more. Like a 50% savings over new wheels isn't coming down already?

Finally I seemed to be making headway with one guy. We went back and forth and he beat me up to the point where I figured $400 was as good as I was going to get. I told him OK, but I was keeping the center caps to use on my 17x9 wheels. He said "Can u give the center cup too come on man pls.." My response: "For my full asking price you get wheels and center caps." He bailed out of that argument. So we tried to figure out the whens and wheres of meeting. I was off for the rest of the week and said so. He offered doing the deal on Thursday afternoon... on Thursday afternoon. A whole week? Good luck with that.

While dealing with the tool above, another party entered the fray. He didn't talk price but wanted to see them in person. I'd already decided that I didn't want any of these tools coming to my house, so I said to meet in the bank parking lot out by the main road. It was probably lit in case it got dark, it was open for business and I knew it always had a police officer inside. I was going to park my car right next to the cop's car and probably be safe. We would meet at 5 on Thursday.

The guy got there and I took all the wheels out of the car. He looked them all over and didn't look too thrilled at the ugly parts - which shouldn't be surprises since they were well pictured in my ad. He asked my price. I told him $450 since they didn't have center caps anymore. He said he was going to offer me $400. I said I already had an offer for $400 so he had to beat it. While he hemmed and hawed I thought about sitting on those wheels for another week with no idea that the guy who first offered $400 was even going to show up. So I asked this guy in front of me if he had cash money, and he did, so I said we had a deal. I got cash, he got wheels, and I drove away before he even had the last wheel loaded into his CRV.

So the ugly wheels are gone. I didn't get what I wanted out of them, but now I have a spiffy set of $50 center caps on my 17x9 SBC RPF1s.

I learned that I must be most Craigslist sellers' dream buyer. I never really questioned the asking prices of stuff I bought. If I thought the price was good, I bought. If I didn't, I usually didn't even bother making contact in the first place. If I had a deal, I bent over backwards to consummate that deal as quickly as possible. Apparently I've been doing it wrong. I guess potential buyers are supposed to beat the seller up on price by starting with a preposterous offer and never really improving that offer as the conversation goes back and forth over the course of a few days. And once a deal is struck, let that deal sit and stew for a full week before finishing the transaction.

Having learned these lessons, it's already time to put them into practice. Those Kosei K4R wheels with fairly usable tires? They're next on the block. I'm going to price them at $4,000 and hope to get $250.

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