Buying electronics on Craigslist
May 2, 2013 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a TV off of Craigslist?

I am looking for a 40-50 inch newer TV. I don't care if it's plasma or LED. But I don't really want to spend more than $500, which puts TVs that size pretty much out of my price range. But there seem to be a ton of them on Craigslist - would it be a bad idea to buy one? If I were to buy one, what would I need to look for/be aware of when buying a TV from someone on Craigslist to minimize my chances of getting scammed? I assume that I would need to plug it in and try before I buy (and of course I would not go alone) and I would make sure they have the owners manual and all the parts that came with it.

What else would I need to look for? I know pretty much nothing about electronics or buying things off Craigslist so any suggestions welcome. Thanks.
posted by triggerfinger to Shopping (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can research the model of TV online first. If it's not specified see if they can tell you what model it is. (It usually says on the back.)

They probably want cash, so have cash in hand if you do want it. See if they can keep their cable or a DVD player hooked up or something and let them know ahead of time that you want to test it out. (With that big of a TV I doubt that they want to meet in public and drag it out.)

I sold my TV on CL and it went smoothly, although I have not bought one.

One tip is to see how much info they have listed about the TV and how good the photos are. That generally means the person is more knowledgeable and sometimes more approachable/easier to make plans with. And why they are selling, for me I got a bigger one and I made that clear in my ad.

Personally when I got responses of people asking about my TV, and they had horrible grammar/were rude, I would sometimes wait for a better email. Therefore if they have a nice listing, they are probably more professional people. I also wouldn't respond to things like "roommate wanted" ads if they had horrible grammar and/or vague information.

The only BAD situations I've been in with CL is someone not showing up to buy an item, being late, or too much back and forth to meet up. But I have successfully given away an old Ihome, sold concert tickets, sold my TV with a free rug as an add-on, and sold a necklace, found roommates, and found an apartment on CL.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:54 PM on May 2, 2013

This isn't a very appealing option, but something to consider:

During the two major TV sales, a brand new TV that size and usually a nice one, can sometimes be had in your price range. Sometimes much less. Those two times of year are 'Black Friday', the day after Thanksgiving, and then in late January, the weekend before Super Bowl Sunday. It's not an appealing option, of course, because Thanksgiving is like 7 months away.

Those times are also very great for searching on CL, because a lot of people who go to buy a new TV those days want to get rid of their 'old' TV the next weekend.

I spent a lot of time perusing ads on CL before buying my new TV, and they very much ranged from sketchy and scammy up to polite and earnest. Read a bunch, and you'll pretty quickly get a hang of what the scammy-sounding ones have in common and also an idea of what earnest ads tend to sound like. Spelling and grammar matter. Look out for ones that come with the original box (it makes transporting them soooo much easier) and have good pictures. You want to see what the plug-in ports look like, to make sure your computer or your Roku or your DVD player are compatible. Or to see if there are enough ports to connect all three. ;)

Picture of the model number will help too, you can use it to search a site like amazon to see what the exact specs are for that model.

When you plug it in, make sure you look closely to see if there are dead pixels. Bring a USB stick with a few big pictures or a short video on it, and use that to check.
posted by carsonb at 9:23 PM on May 2, 2013

Best answer: I have bought electronics in this range from CL sellers and had no issues, but I want to encourage you to keep an eye on -- they often have deals in this range for new TVs (most recent was 46" LED for $485 shipped).
posted by kalapierson at 9:40 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might also want to keep an eye on Groupon. Recently there have been some really awesome deals on TVs (mostly refurbished) that would put them in your price range, and it would be a surer bet than Craigslist. When I looked at TVs on Craigslist they pretty much all seemed to be scams.
posted by catatethebird at 9:45 PM on May 2, 2013

On Amazon you can buy a 40" plasma or led for @ $500 or a 50" plasma or led for @ $600. This seems pretty close to your budget. For me it would be worth the extra $$ for the peace of mind and warranty.
posted by gnutron at 10:47 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, absolutely! It's not like they're something that gets carried around every day, and as long as they aren't abused there *really* isn't much to fail in a flat screen tv that's decently made. Especially LED lcds.

Every flat screen i've ever owned has come from craigslist. Several of my friends, and my parents TVs are also from there and sourced by me.

I have an extremely nice 50in professional series panasonic plasma that was $$$$$$(like, high thousands) new, it was $250 and included a nice tilt wall bracket, the original cord/remote/paperwork, and some other nice goodies like bolts and cables and such. I've gotten deals like this before, and i've owned mostly the "professional" screens from various companies. You basically just spawn camp craigslist refreshing every few minutes all day at work, and idly when you're at home, and on your smartphone...

I would not be scared off at all if you got nothing but the tv if it was a good deal, even if it didn't necessarily include the remote. A lot of craigslist deals will probably include nothing but the screen.

I honestly think you're aiming a bit high with that price too. $500 will get you absolute cream of the crop on CL if you're looking at 40, 42, or 50 inchers, like the very latest super thin LED stuff. Maybe even one of those ones that has the ability to play netflix/hulu and stream stuff from your computer. I have never, ever spent more than $300 and i've gotten a really nice tv every time. For $500 i'd pretty much only be looking at the really badass stuff, and disregarding almost everything else.

Extra goodies like wall mount hardware are nice, but i wouldn't pay all that much more for them at all. You can get that stuff at marshalls/ross/some other liquidation warehouse store for $20-30 now, or from another craigslist seller and get a fancy schmancy one that was $200 at best buy a few years ago.

Don't buy any plasmas by samsung(they all burn out somehow), and don't buy anything that's some stupid brand like dynes, polaroid, westinghouse, etc. stick to brands you've heard of like panasonic, toshiba, samsung lcds are fine, pioneer, sony, you get the idea.

The main reason i think this is a good idea is that a 400-500 decent new tv in this size range, especially closer to 50in is going to be a bargain model. On craigslist you can pick up one of the ones that was $800 or even more a year or two ago for that price or less. And i don't know about you, but i'd rather have pretty much *anything* in last years solidly mid-upper range model than the brand new bottom end model.

Oh, and while the comments about craigslist after sales are true, i haven't really encountered a bad time to craigslist.. except maybe right around christmas when everyone is busy. Both my tv and speakers came from people who replaced stuff on black friday, but i've gotten awesome deals pretty much all year round. Get huntin'

On preview, i remembered one other thing to check. Around where i live there's a couple "HDTV EXTREME WAREHOUSE!" type places that constantly spams craigslist. They're an actual store, and there's probably at least one similar place in your area. I haven't checked them out, but they regularly offer kinda-new in the box TVs that had a scratch on the plastic frame, or a dent in the metal on the back or something for dirt ass cheap. If you're ok with it having some little mar, you still get the peace of mind of buying it from a shop and being able to return it for X number of days/months/whatever and have someone with an actual business who probably cares about their reputation to take to task if they bone you. I never bothered with that though, as i've always gotten TVs in perfect shape from people who upgraded and just wanted the old ones gone fast for way cheaper than even those hdtv store guys were selling anyways. Might be worth checking out if there's anything like that around your area though, i've seen some "wut" prices for sure. and feeling out the prices in the kinda, secondary market is always a good idea.
posted by emptythought at 1:08 AM on May 3, 2013

Owner's manuals can be found online for most newer products, so I wouldn't worry about that. And there aren't likely to be many important 'parts that came with it,' except maybe the remote, and a stand if the current owner has had it wall-mounted. Cables can be bought cheaply on eBay or Amazon.

I agree with Crystalinne's suggestion that you consider the quality of the ad itself. Also, many of the best Craigslist deals come from affluent neighborhoods, where the sellers just want to get something out of the house and don't care a whole lot how much they get for it.

Another thing you'll probably notice about Craigslist, if you watch it for a while, is that some items are priced well, and disappear quickly, whereas other items are priced not-so-well and get reposted over and over again. There's a significant fraction of sellers whose expectations are ridiculous. When you find something that looks like a decent deal, check what the same model sells for on eBay (completed listings). EBay has seller feedback ratings and a strong buyer protection system, and the stuff you buy on eBay gets delivered to you. CL provides none of that, so I expect most CL stuff to be somewhat cheaper.
posted by jon1270 at 3:40 AM on May 3, 2013

Best answer: If you've never done it and being out the cash would be a significant inconvenience, you're probably better off with the stores. In particular, someone's old plasma could be a headache.

Did you look at the stores? Recently? Because you said "But I don't really want to spend more than $500, which puts TVs that size pretty much out of my price range" and that makes me wonder. We're living in an era of cheap TV's:

40" Magnavox 1080p LCD HDTV at Sam's Club for $298 (8 models below *$400*).

Best Buy, picking 40-59" TV, then $250-$499 range, lists *27* choices.

Being a bit more picky, let's limit ourselves to LED's, because "they're better":

h.h. gregg, 40-49", LED, $200-$499, 4 choices.

Sears, flat panel TV's, LED, 40-49", manually enter $325-$500, 11 choices.

Yes, they're uniformly all low-end models. The tradeoff here is essentially do you get a new model with less features, or do you maybe luck out on Craigslist with a problem-free transaction with a nice high end two-year-old model that someone is upgrading to a larger size or something like that. I'm sure that such deals exist. There's a lot of awesome advice in this thread if you go that route, and you're admittedly reasonably likely to end up with someone's gently used 2010 47 inch LED that originally went for $1500. I just wanted to make sure your choice was fully informed about brand new store options.
posted by jgreco at 4:17 AM on May 3, 2013

Best answer: Go to this link, and on the side, put in the amount of money you're willing to spend. There are plenty of options. Bump the price up to $510 on the max end, and there's a nice Panasonic 47" at the top of the listing.
posted by deezil at 5:13 AM on May 3, 2013

I agree- a used plasma is asking for trouble. They burn in something fierce, and dim significantly over time if not properly calibrated.

Like anything else, avoid too good to be true deals and give the thing a nice once over. A great way to check for image defects is to find something with a completely white screen, and a completely black screen.
posted by gjc at 6:02 AM on May 3, 2013

Best answer: There are 25 40-50" TVs on for under $500. Wait for Memorial Day Weekend and there will be a lot more. I got my regularly $600 Samsung LED for $399 over Memorial Day weekend last year in store (it was $499 online).
posted by magnetsphere at 7:27 AM on May 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, these are all really great answers and the suggestions of websites and what to look for were great and things I hadn't thought of. I will definitely wait until Memorial Day weekend to see if there are any good sales then and use the time until then checking the ads on craigslist to get a better feel of the tv listings.

Thanks also to people who mentioned brand names to look for. I kind of knew samsung was a good brand but when it comes to brands like westinghouse, vizio and others I had no idea.

Thanks again - I'm so excited to get my new bargain tv!
posted by triggerfinger at 10:26 PM on May 4, 2013

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