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How to Sell a Used Computer Like a Car Salesman

A normal Craigslist transaction is quick. You establish your interest and confirm the price, place, and time to meet. You meet. The seller hands you the item. If it is electronics, you take a few minutes to test out the functions. You hand over the cash. Shake hands and then leave. 5-10 minutes maximum.

In early May, my sister asked me to buy a desktop computer for her. Her budget was $100, which is totally doable for a used Core i5 desktop.

I found one, a Dell Optiplex 790 with Core i5, on craigslist advertised for $115. I negotiated it down to $100 by text messages. The ad didn’t say anything about a business so I figured it was a private seller.

The address I was given was mapped to the All Green Recycling Center in Tustin, CA. Some sellers do arrange meetings at their work location so I thought nothing of it. When I showed up, it turned out that the business was selling it.

The sales person who met me in the unoccupied reception area was Maria. She told me that someone showed up 5 minutes before me and purchased the computer I wanted. However, they did have another computer with the same specs, but with a 1TB hard drive instead of a 500GB one. The price was $150.

I told her that $150 was quite a stretch from $100 just for a bigger used hard drive. She said she would talk to her manager and disappeared behind the interior office door. 10 minutes later, she appeared. This initiated the trend where she would claim to need to do something and then disappear for 10-15 minutes at a time. Similar to how car salesmen would disappear for long stretches of time in order to wear the customer down.

Once Maria came back, she said that the lowest price they could do was $130, she paused for a few seconds, and then said $120.

I’m not sure what that was about. Was she trying to anchor me at $130 so $120 would sound like a great deal? Or did her manager tell her to start at $130 and only go down to $120 at the lowest? Was she my best friend or my worst enemy?

All I heard was $120. I told her I didn’t really want the bigger hard drive, but $120 was doable if they would throw in the used wireless card that she had indicated were available in the text messages. She said she would ask her manager and disappeared once more.

10 minutes later, Maria appeared and said that they didn’t have a wireless card. I asked her if they could just change the hard drive to a smaller one. She replied that they didn’t do customization, so changing the hard drive was impossible. That the lowest price was $120 and that was it.

I told her, okay, let’s do it. She disappeared for 15 minutes and came back with the desktop. Then she said the price was $131 with tax. I gave her my credit card and ID and then she disappeared again. 10 minutes passed. I thought, how long does it take to charge a credit card and print a receipt? Was she 3D printing a copy of my credit card?

I had time to think and it occurred to me that I was overpaying. $131 was 30% above my sister’s $100 budget. I could have purchased the same desktop off of eBay for $100-$110 with free shipping, and not have had to deal with this very slow, horrible bait-n-switch experience.

I opened the interior office door, flagged down an employee, and asked him to tell Maria to abort the transaction. We didn’t want to buy after all.

I think Maria’s manager overheard because he came out of his office and asked what was going on. I told him that we had agreed by text on the price of $100, but that when I came, they didn’t have the computer I wanted. Instead they had another computer which was more expensive. And now, I decided not to do the deal after all. The manager was concerned and asked me to confirm twice that an agreement was reached before I showed up. He asked me to wait while he went to find Maria.

Within a couple of minutes, Maria appeared and said that they would swap out the 1TB hard drive for a 500GB drive and charge the originally agreed upon price of $100. Looks like you do do customization, I thought. She gave me my credit card and ID back. She promised it would only take a few minutes to swap the drive (which I doubted) and then took the desktop back in.

By this time, I had been there for almost an hour. I think the slow, horrible service is Maria. I don’t know what her deal is but she seems very incompetent at her job. Awfully slow for no apparent reason that I could see. The other employees seemed more friendly and competent because when they saw me waiting, they all immediately asked if I was being helped.

So I waited 15 minutes and still no Maria. Surely it wouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to swap a hard drive; were they also re-installing Windows 10 or something? Finally, another employee came and asked if I was being helped. I told him Maria was helping me, that I had come to buy a computer, and that it had been more than an hour. He looked surprised and said he would find Maria to see what was going on.

A couple of minutes later, Maria appeared with the desktop. Was she just hiding somewhere with the desktop and only came because a coworker found her? Like a golem.

She asked if I got an invoice? Ugh, I told her that I didn’t. I asked her if she had charged my card? She said no. I wanted to ask why she gave me back my credit card and than waited until after the hard drive was swapped before asking if she had given me an invoice. What if I had said yes and left without paying? At this point, I decided that she was not all together there. I asked her if she needed my credit card and ID, she said yes, and I gave them to her.

She left. I waited 10 minutes. Still no sign of Maria. Again, how long does it take to charge and print an invoice? Evidently for Maria, longer than 10 minutes. Finally, she appeared with the invoice.

Thankfully, the torture was over.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t boot up the desktop to test it at the business. However, they did offer a 90 day warranty. When I got to my sister’s, I tested the desktop. It booted up to Windows 10 fine. The only problem was the DVD drive slot wouldn’t eject. Sighed. My sister said she would take it back for a drive replacement or repair. I warned her to avoid Maria; anyone else would be preferable.

That was a horrible experience. My subsequent craigslist transactions have involved filtering out all businesses. Even then, I needed to double-check because some businesses masqueraded as private sellers.

If you want to find out how buying a used computer can be as horrible as buying a used car, look up Maria.


  1. Frank

    Ha ha — oh man, wow.

    My CL transactions have usually been nearby furniture. I’ve found the establishing phase more cumbersome than I would’ve guessed but less (but still some) flaking after confirmation.

    • Chanh

      Yeah, the really weird ones are when the seller flakes. I encountered it twice. I mean, I’m trying to give you cash you asked for… I didn’t bargain down… why would you not show up and stop responding to messages or calls? Strange.

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