The Craigslist Arbitrage Game

In every big city, there is a healthy Craigslist community. Among the many sections of the giant classified ads site is a popular section for free stuff.

craigslist arbitrageOf course, a lot of this stuff is pretty junky but in many cases it still has some value. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?

Last week I posted a dresser to the free section of Craigslist. I probably could have sold it, but it had been through several moves and was pretty banged up. Within 10 minutes I had half a dozen calls from people to come pick it up.

The family that made the first call arrived with a passenger van (seats removed) full of stuff, presumably all from Craigslist as well. It made wonder if they were running this as a business.

Here’s the basic premise:

  1. Find free or otherwise undervalued stuff on Craigslist or Freecycle.
  2. Re-sell it for a profit.

What you’d need:

  • A pickup truck.
  • A garage or other safe place for storage.
  • Cleaning supplies, tools, fix-it know-how, and a nice camera to take pictures.
  • Salesmanship.

For example, today I found an almost-new rowing workout machine listed for free:

“Wife bought, didn’t use. Can you? If so, come & get it. Please.”

workout machine


Brand new, the same item sells for more than $300 on Amazon!

Think you could turn a profit when you’re “cost of goods sold” is zero?

I like this business idea because it’s very simple, requires little to no start-up capital, and can be done without any specialized training or skills.

Be quick and courteous on the phone, grab the goods, clean/fix them up, take some nice pictures and re-post the items for sale.

I’ve actually heard of people doing this quite successfully with used cars (which is essentially what dealers do with trade-ins), but there is a lot more red tape to deal with in the car-flipping business.

As an added benefit, you can donate to charity any items that don’t sell and take a small write-off against your business profits.

I thought semi-seriously about doing this during college when I had a truck but never pulled the trigger. What do you think? Is playing the Craigslist arbitrage game a viable business idea?