This month I sold my inherited 2000 Toyota Camry LE with 140,900 miles for $1,800 to a stranger I met via craigslist. It wasn’t the best price, but I’m happy with the outcome, and I have little experience with selling high-ticket items online and less knowledge about cars. Here is what I learned in the process.
I haven’t used the car often at all — I put fewer than 6,000 miles in four years of driving it, including a few one-off, longer trips. I bicycle and use mass transit and live in a walkable neighborhood. When my car failed to pass inspection, and I was given a $1,100 bill to fix it, I knew it was time to sell it. The car had exterior marks and bumps from street parking. There was clearly some exhaust issues, and some jerk had stolen the Camry brand off the hood. It could clearly be a good car, but I had taken increasingly less car of it as I used it less.
First, I shared my plans on Facebook and an old friend who formerly worked in used car sales offered his advice and was willing to review my craigslist posting and strategy. So I owe big thanks to Anthony Coombs – everyone should be as lucky as to have a friend willing to take a few phone calls and offer experience.
Find here both my original posting and the one I ended up submitting after Anthony’s advice. Here are some specific changes you’ll see I made:
- Headline with exact car model and specific mileage
- Bullet points with car facts and then narrative about why the car sale
- Show quality of ownership: clean Carfax, single family, period of garage-kept, complete records
- Specific service timing to show care and detailed nature
- I dropped the specific costs that I had quoted for fixing my car because, as Anthony reminded me, such costs are relative to wherever they’re done.
Second, I got a handful of emails, suggesting I set a competitive price. I responded to the first of them, exchanged cell phone numbers and set a specific place to meet the next day in a public setting near a title transfer shop. Given my car’s condition, my friend Anthony predicted the buyer would be a West African planning on exporting the car back home to be fixed and sold there — he was right.
I met David, who was from Nigeria and after a half hour, he was only offering $1,500 (he originally threw out the absurd offer of $800), and I remained at $2,500 — not very interested in negotiating. Though I had no urgency in selling, I didn’t want to linger in the process (seeing that as a cost itself) and we began to bond about West Africa — I studied for a summer in neighboring Ghana and had been to Lagos for a few hours between flights.
Here’s where I made a critical mistake — I dropped too low too quickly, offering $2,250 to close the deal. I should have gone down in smaller increments, with the knowledge I had about the price I wanted. After another half-hour of protracted debate, I offered to meet him at $1,800, which was in between our prices (though better for him).
Though I missed the sale price I wanted, once I knew I had agreed to give him a good price, I felt far more comfortable in pushing for everything else to happen on my terms. This helped when I insisted we do a full title transfer — essentially requiring him to purchase an entirely new title so my name was not associated with the car anymore — as opposed to simply having the title transfer agency just notarize the back of my title that the car was now in someone else’s possession. This cost David a lot more (closer to $100 instead of $5). He made a lot of noise about that, but I stood firm.
More generally, here are some pieces of advice.
What I did right:
- I talked to someone more knowledgeable than I was. Given the condition of my car, he thought I should price it at $2,500 (Kelly Blue Book value for good condition, though I required some real repairs) and sell it for $2,200, or $2,000 at the least. So though I failed to hit that number, he did give me a sense of price.
- I wrote a detailed, honest and bulleted description on craigslist.
- I was very clear in my email followup with David.
- I had fun negotiating. Though I made a few mistakes, it has been a long time since I did West African-style, aggressive negotiating and I enjoyed doing it.
- I met in a busy, public parking lot near a title transfer office that was open.
- I demanded that my buyer and I do a full title transfer, rather than just notarizing a transition on the existing title. In Pennsylvania, This frustrated my buyer because he told me he was shipping the car overseas to Nigeria, and the U.S. title wouldn’t matter. My friend Anthony confirmed that that was likely true, but he agreed I couldn’t be sure and it was in my best interest. So rather than just a $5 notary, I insisted David pay for the $180 in sales tax and title transfer. (That’s on top of the $1800 I got).
What I did wrong:
- I dropped too quickly in my price. I knew what I wanted to sell my car for, so I should have more slowly lowered my price, perhaps in $50 or $100 increments at most.
- I gave him too much time. He traveled to meet me (a long subway ride from Upper Darby), and I knew I had a competitive price. I should walked more quickly than I threatened to do. In truth, I was having fun.
- I didn’t explore eBay auction options because I was a little intimidated by the details required and the community around them.