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?

  • Adam

    The ceiling would be pretty low IMO. To make 50k a year which by my experience is bare bones to live comfortably. You would have to make 1500$ a week(unless you only took cash) That’s 300$/day 6 days a week, If you include fuel cost. That is a lot of wheeling and dealing. Now if you had some serious networking cap and the ability to find cheap labor(easy). Then you coukd do this on a large scale in multiple cities and potentially make yourself a million dollar business. I woukd say myth confirmed

    • Brian Shaw

      This is most definitely a real business idea.
      I put my mind to it and dedicated my time full time to reselling solely washers and dryers on craigslist.
      The out come was amazing , I have an application on my iphone that runs searches for me and notifies me and i then take my machines and deep clean them and repaint if needed and resell for 150-200 more

      I usually do not pay more than 100 a set.
      1st week sold 6 sets and made 1050, 2nd week I made 1000 in 3 days with 5 sets.
      This is real and can be done

      • Drew Meyers

        Very cool to hear

  • Drew Meyers

    For a savvy college entrepreneur…could def cover beer money as a part time gig.

    • <—-Fuck A Cracker

      People used to do the exact same thing on ebay back in 08… they’d list apple products like ipads/iphones in hong kong or asia then when they had an order order it from another seller (from the states) and make $200-800 per sale. The good ol cow boy days :P

  • Nick Loper

    Just discovered a site called recraigslist — a real life person doing just this!

  • Ann_Arbor_Real_Estate

    Oh yes, very low cost to entry, can be run many different ways. Can find a differential on a product searching Craigslists all over the country with a simple google search, buy and resell on Ebay. Part time or full time. I think it qualifies best as a part time endeavor. Offers a lot of flexibility.