Craigslist Chutzpah : sellers without shame

My $175 Olympus E-PL1, a good Craigslist find

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If you ever buy or trade electronics or photo gear on Craigslist… especially if you are looking to buy and find a bargain… this is for you. It seems like a lot of people out there think that writing a Craigslist ad over-hyping their old gear is going to allow them to commit the equivalent of highway robbery, selling their cast-offs for far more than they are worth.  I hope that people aren’t falling for it, but just in case… read on, and this is a post you may want to pass on to your friends and family, too.  There is a lot of Craigslist Chutzpah out there as many items on Craigslist are listed at prices that show the seller to have no shame and no honor! (Or at the very least, no common sense, but most of the time I am going to put my chips on the no shame/ no honor!)

This post discusses people who actually have gear to sell and are trying to take unfair advantage of an uneducated buyer. Criminal scams and fraud are another story entirely and won’t be discussed here.

Buying photo gear

The camera above is an Olympus E-PL1. It’s a great camera that is still featured in Olympus’ camera lineup. With the kit zoom lens they currently retail for $379 new, or $299 refurbished with warranty. I purchased the camera and lens above for $175 via Craigslist when I needed a second Micro Four-Thirds body to go with my Olympus E-P1. Paying $175 for this piece of used gear is fair for both buyer and seller. If it was over $200 then you have to start thinking about the used camera’s history and condition, and what the loss of warranty represents because if the camera stops working a week after you get it home you are out of luck. For a savings of $125 (over 40% vs. a refurbished unit) the deal makes sense, and I bought it at the asking price because I knew it was fair.  If the selling price was anything over $200 then the refurb starts becoming more attractive as you get the warranty, and every refurb I have ever purchased has been indistinguishable from new.

Sadly, most deals I see on Craiglist are not like my E-PL1 deal. Here is an example.

I just searched for E-PL1 on my local (Pittsburgh) Craigslist and I see one for $325, used with no warranty. (Fair use screen capture above.)  An extra battery and memory card are included, but the new retail value of them is $30 with a third party battery. The seller claims he has “posted it at this price with extras for a quick sale.” If it sells for this number, it will be quick all right because he is pulling a fast one! You are far better off spending an extra $4 total (including the extras) and getting a refurbished unit that will undoubtedly be in better condition and have that all-important warranty.

Craigslist Chutzpah at its best (or worst!)

Though the deal above is a bad buy for someone, it does not rise to the level of robbery.  If you want the equivalent of trying to rob Fort Knox, the post below definitely qualifies (thanks to PZ for sending me this one.)  It is for a Konica Minolta Dimage A2 camera.

As you can see by the amount of text, there is  a LOT of selling and hyping of the gear going on in this post, though they didn’t bother to post a picture of the actual item and used a generic image instead. The seller is going to need all the help he can get if he wants to sell it for $850. Yes, they are asking almost $1,000 for this out-of-date camera from a defunct camera manufacturer. It’s almost eight years old and Konica Minolta does not even exist as a camera manufacturer any longer. I just checked and this same exact camera is offered on eBay for $149-$199  Buy It Now price.  The Kodak EasyShare Max I wrote about recently would smoke this thing for only $220, brand new with warranty.  The EasyShare Max is superior in every respect and has HD video capture, too.  Given this, the only way a Dimage A2 is worth even $149 is for the nostalgia for someone who owned one before and wants to re-live their experiences.  (And I am cool with that if that is your reasoning, been there, done that, and still do!)  Other than that I’d say $100, maybe $125 tops.

In the post the seller wrote, “SERIOUS REPLIES ONLY.”  To which I say, ” LMAO.”  Fortunately some Craigslist vigilante put out a warning for the unknowing  and it shows under the post:

If you can’t read the text, it says “Sorry, they sell for $200 on ebay.  Try again spanky.”

From my sitting spot this is actually a serious reply.  Looks like the seller got what they asked for!

Old film gear

You will find a multitude of old 35mm film SLR cameras on Craigslist as well.  Most of them are poor values, and many include third-party zoom lenses that aren’t good performers.  If a film SLR is what you are looking for compare asking prices to or the completed listings on eBay to get an idea of what they are really worth.

Summing it up

Be careful when buying used photo gear on Craigslist and as I said, always, always, always compare prices to and completed eBay auctions.  Sometimes better new gear is selling for less and the more the seller hypes their gear, the more cautious you should be.

Buying audio and video gear

The biggest offenders seem to be old-style CRT projection TVs,  audio rack systems,  and video projectors without HDMI and needing a new lamp.  All of these are close to worthless on the resale market and the lamp for an old projector often costs more than an ENTIRE NEW PROJECTOR. (Funny how the sellers never mention that.)  The same goes for obsolete audio receivers that do not have full HDMI functionality, including high-def Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio decoding.

Projection TVs

Here’s some possible Craigslist Chutzpah:

Here is a 4:3 non-HD 52-inch Magnavox CRT projection set for $400.  Given a brand new 50-inch high definition plasma can be had for $100 or $200 more if you shop around, this listing qualifies as a joke.  As a non-HD set it is very old and isn’t compatible with modern gear.  If it is in perfect shape it is worth maybe $150 tops if they can find someone to haul it away. At least there isn’t a lot of hard-core selling going on in the post.  It could be the seller is simply clueless but if you are going to sell something it makes sense to consider the cost of new gear and the age of what you are selling before putting something out there for sale.

Here’s a decent buy:

This one is worth considering.  It’s an old 52-inch CRT projection TV from RCA.  It does not have HDMI but it is widescreen and high definition.  Looks like the seller dropped the price from $300 to $250.  That’s reasonable for someone who wants a big TV in a gameroom but doesn’t have the money for a brand new one, so long as the TV works and the picture looks ok.

Here’s a misleading one:

The reason it is misleading is it says “LCD TV” when it should say LCD projection TV. This TV is bigger and bulkier than a flat panel, is not as sharp or colorful as a good flat panel, and it will also will need an expensive lamp replacement someday.  What’s more, the optical blocks (essentially the imaging guts) of these microdisplay rear projection sets have proven to be troublesome over the long term.  Granted, a stand is included but $600 isn’t worth it, not even close.  A flat panel 60-inch LCD TV with 1080p resolution can be had for $999 these days. 

What would be a fair price for this one? Frankly, I would not buy a used microdisplay that requires a lamp unless it was practically being given away, or was something special like a Sony Qualia. This Panasonic is nothing special.

Rack systems

There are an abundance of used stereo rack systems on Craigslist.  These are stereos with all the components (including speakers) from the same brand, usually Japanese like Sony, Panasonic, or Technics.  There is some real junky junk out there under lesser names such as Soundesign. The best of these are typically middling performers, especially where the speakers are concerned.

Rack system rip-off

This appears to be a rack system minus the rack, with compact components from Kenwood.  At $300 it is priced about $200 above what it should sell for.  You can put together a better, new system with a DVD player for less than $300!


This one looks pretty nice:

A rack system is never the last word in hi-fi, but this one is from Onkyo, one of the better Japanese brands. It also has a lot of components, including a turntable and a cassette deck and everything is said to work.  There is a cabinet and speaker stands, the latter being especially important for good sound. At only $125 and appearing to be in nice shape, if I was after a $125 turnkey solution for background music I’d probably give the seller his asking price and change out the speakers later.  The speakers are always the weakest link in a rack system and replacing the provides speakers with some decent ones can make a huge difference.

Obsolete home theater receivers

Home theater receivers become obsolete every two or three years.  Nine years ago it was Dolby Digital and DTS. Six years ago it was HDMI.  Three years ago it was HDMI with high-def audio decoding. Now it is HDMI 1.4 with 3D support.  I know because I am in this boat as I write this.  I upgraded to 3D in my bedroom and need a new receiver to pass the 3D HDMI signal, and I am pretty happy with the receiver I have now.  I am going to have to upgrade as my 3D Blu-ray collection grows and I am having trouble deciding on what I am going to get.  It’s a pain but the way it is on the bleeding edge.

My advice here?  Unless you are going to use the receiver in a stereo system and are getting it really cheap, I would not buy anything that does not at least have HDMI and high-def audio decoding.  Just because a Dolby Digital receiver sold for $900 nine years ago doesn’t mean it is worth $450 today.  Case in point: the highly regarded Outlaw Audio 1050 Dolby Digital Receiver was over $600 new.  Now the manufacturer sells refurbished units with warranty for $100 on eBay.  Yet I still see people trying to pawn them off on the unsuspecting for $300 or more.  Sigh…

Blu-ray players

New Blu-ray players with WiFi and streaming are well under $100 now.  I wouldn’t buy a used Blu-ray player on Craigslist unless it was a special model like an Oppo or really, really cheap.

Summing it up and going forward

Caveat emptor!  Let the buyer beware.  Do all your pricing homework with web searches and consider what you are giving up by buying used, including the warranty, and how much more it would cost to buy it or something better new or refurbished w/warranty.  Finally, if you really want what they are selling but the price is nutso, go ahead and send them a lowball (to them) offer and explain why their price is out of line and why your offer is fair.  It just may work, especially if they are simply uneducated or have been sitting on the item for a while.  If they don’t accept, you have lost nothing.

Questions?  Have questions about a potential Craigslist purchase? Email Don

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