6 Tips to Take Your “For Sale” Ad from Good to Great

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

If there is one universal experience in the car world, it is the process of buying or selling a car. Buyers and sellers can get burned regardless of income bracket, so we thought we’d share some quick guidelines that would set sellers up for success, whether the machine they’re selling is something they don’t need or something that would simply be best used by someone else.

If you write an informative, well-presented ad, you’ll usually be rewarded with knowledgeable buyers. A great ad is not so much a sales pitch as a launchpad for the buyer’s daydreams. It allows a buyer to picture themselves owning the thing you are selling, to feel confident that what they are picturing is what they are buying, and to plan the process of getting it.

Tip #1: Decent photos

1965 Corvair Corsa 140
Kyle Smith

This one goes without saying for most of us, but it really is important to give current, accurate photos of the car you want to sell. The character count in most listings limits what we can describe, so lean on the old saying about one picture and a thousand words.

Taking the time to capture well-lit, descriptive, and clear photos proves that you care about what you are selling, and buyers will approach you as such. Artsy photos can be fun in an ad, but they aren’t really needed. Heavily retouched photos can even make a buyer suspect that problems are hiding somewhere behind the filter. Present the photos that you would want to see if you were shopping for what you are selling. Otherwise, you may provoke suspicion: This photographer should open a lemonade stand, if they’re this good at dressing up a lemon! 

Tip #2: Location

google maps screenshot of location
Google Maps

The internet allows both buyer and seller to cast a wider net than ever before. Buyers are increasingly willing to drive and pick things up, and an area code or region is not enough to satisfy them. Of course, your street address is not something to post on the internet, either, so stick to a well-defined and easily findable city or town as a point of reference. This gives people the ability to accurately estimate the distance to you and also allows the algorithm of the marketplace app—whichever one you’re using—to show your listing to people who are looking for vehicles in that area.

Tip #3: Asking price

Screenshot of fake Craigslist listing
Kyle Smith

In my experience, there are few things more fragile than the ego of a seller who doesn’t list an asking price. Maybe I am just overly sensitive and don’t want to insult sellers, but striking up a conversation with a seller only to realize we aren’t even close on price is annoying—usually, for both parties.

My favorite line is “I’m sorry, but I think we are too far apart for me to make an offer without insulting you. Best of luck with the sale and appreciate your time.” No seller wants to read that. So list a price. Yes, it hurts to get a lot of interest at your listing price just to realize you could have gotten more money had you asked, but sorting through lowball offers in the hopes that one person throws out one that’s crazy high can get infuriating.

Tip #4: What it needs to leave

Austin Healey on trailer
Kyle Smith

This sounds strange at first, but as a person who has been casually shopping for a lathe or mill over the last year or so, it always surprises me that many sellers do not mention whether they can help a potential buyer load or move large tools. I’m a lot more inclined to pay your asking price if you also will help get something on my trailer—or, at the very least, if you will give me a heads up of what I should expect when doing so myself. Some project cars sometimes need a set of roller wheels and tires to even get on a trailer.

I can already read the counterarguments—”It’s not my job to do your research”—but, if you’re the seller, sharing this information is free. It also makes you seem more approachable—even if you say you are not helping at all—and limits the number of times someone will show up unprepared or, worse, reach out with questions and then disappear from the conversation.

Tip #5: Contact information

GMC Pickup For Sale rear
Flickr/Thomas Hawk

A friend of mine recently found a motorcycle for sale: good condition, decent price, located nearby. He gathered his cash and sent the seller a message. Then he waited. And waited. He resorted to internet sleuthing to find the person’s other social media profiles and sent them more messages about the bike on different channels. Still no reply. Who goes through the effort of listing something for sale just to ignore buyers? (Cue the jokes: “Yes dear, I listed it, but I guess no one is buying.”)

But really, include in the listing how you prefer to be contacted. As annoying as some potential buyers may find it to eschew the cold comfort of a text message and actually pick up the phone, there is something to be said, if you’re the seller, for weeding out those serious enough to make the time to call.

Tip #6: What you’ve done to it

Screenshot of CRF50 for sale listing
Kyle Smith

Even if you don’t have receipts, be honest about what you’ve done—or haven’t done—to the vehicle in terms of work or maintenance. Such information really does help make sure that the seller knows what they are buying. Again, providing this information is free—and it can often be a factor that sells someone on buying a car or motorcycle they might not have otherwise considered. I personally have driven further and paid more for a vehicle that came from a seller who was honest about the flaws of their project. The reality is always worse than the seller says, but at least they gave me a good picture and helped me mentally set the bar. That’s worth something.




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    Great tips, Kyle. I’m sure your readers will contribute some more. Although I’m not contemplating selling anything anytime soon, it’s been a LONG time since I have (except at Swap Meets and other “personal” interactions), so I admit I’m not versed in the whole “interweb” ways of doing things. I suspect that there are others out there who will file these tips under “useful information” and use them when listing something!

    We see DUB6 a lot. Seems like he always has something to say even if he doesn’t have anything to say. Just sayin’…

    I can’t emphasize how important it is to be responsive as a seller. Or put in the ad that you are only free during certain hours, so I as the buyer know what to expect. Everyone selling via the internet should look up and read Rob Siegel’s articles/posts about it. If every seller were like him, the world would be a better place.

    I think you can be more broad, if everyone were more like him – period – the world would be a better place. Could you think of a better coworker or neighbor to have than Rob? Or a brother in law?

    As a fellow vintage BME enthusiast, Rob would be the perfect neighbor for me. Say Rob, can I, uh, use that lift of yours again? And, having met Rob a time or two, he is, in fact, a really good guy.

    To get the best value of any car of vehicle is to document all the mods, restorations and show receipts.

    Documentation backs up your claims and lets the buyer know just what they are getting.

    More info the better.

    I recommend clear concise wording.
    Some people think a long story with infinite details help, but I just skip to the next add without even reading it.
    These long winded adds are usually trying to justify their over market pricing.

    Not in the ad!

    Just state you have documentation and will offer it for inspection.

    You never put the info in the ad.

    Great tips, and they’re all things I do in my listings. I get so fed up with buyers who are too lazy to read the ads that I have so carefully written in an effort to be completely transparent about what I’m selling. Some are even too lazy to look at the pictures. On Facebook, I’ve started putting an important summary in the first couple of sentences, since the buyer has to click “See More” to continue reading. Most folks don’t continue reading, and in fact I’ve convinced most don’t even read any of it. I wonder if some folks are just trolling since the first picture clearly shows a vehicle in poor shape, and the first line says something along the lines of “1984 Ford F150, no engine/transmission, doesn’t run” and a dozen people will ask me if they can drive it home. Nevermind the fact that if they actually click “See More” I will have described everything about it, and what they’ll need to come pick it up. I think we as a society are getting dumber as the years pass.

    Lazier. “Do everything for me”. No please or thank you either… gee I wonder why they love AI and self driving cars

    I was once selling a 4×6 rug, listed as such in the title and ad, and someone came to see it only to say it was too small…

    Conversely, if it’s a used car and a dealer lists a price that seems way too low, move on as well. There is almost certainly a catch that requires something else added into the price to make it go from a steal to a rip-off. See “NADA Not Sold on New FTC Consumer Protection Rules” for reference. 😄

    If a dealer lists a low ball price, it is almost always the down payment and they will finance. And they often don’t want to give a cash price because they make a lot of money on finance charges and even repossessing so they can sell it again. Not saying it’s illegal or wrong, just the way it is so be wary.

    Prices too low then it is probably a scam. The scammer have ratcheted up their game in the new year. We are seeing a lot more of it lately in the groups I belong to and ones I moderate. Many times they find a site that the owner let lapse then they take over that site and start scamming.

    That’s always my first thought when no price is listed. They are asking too much and embarrassed to put their price in the ad. I just skip past it

    One thing that irks me is the seller that doesn’t have a title to the vehicle. If it’s a parts only vehicle, fine, that will work. If they offer a bill of sale only, then I have the hassle of dealing with DMV to maybe obtain that document. As soon as I see the words “No title”, I go to the next ad.

    In NYS titles didn’t start until 1971. So when I sell my 1970 all I have is the registration with a transfer line.

    List it on BAT, and you’ll get way way way more than what it’s worth. If you don’t believe me, go to that site and look at the results. As a recent example: a low-mileage VW bug convertible was purchased by a dealer for $41k at Mecum auction, a couple weeks later, he listed it on BAT as is, it sold for $82k. Goes without saying, A fool and his money are soon parted. https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1979-volkswagen-super-beetle-convertible-23/

    Yes it is, you can put a reserve on any listing. I’ve watched hundreds of auctions on BAT, 99% of cars there sell for way more than what you could buy elsewhere. I don’t get it, and a lot of people I’ve talked to feel the same way. I’m about to list a 1995 Toyota 4-Runner…if the sold 4-Runners recently sold there are any indication, I should do very well.

    Not always true. BAT likes you to set low reserve hoping it goes higher. I lost a lot that way , and I mean A LOT. My bad. Lesson learned.

    BAT would not permit a reserve on a vehicle I sold last year…I thought it was a great listing…had 54 bids, took an $8,000 bath!

    I would generally agree with your comment, but I’ve listed 7 vehicles there and all of my results have been the exact opposite. None of my cars (even a #1 condition award winning Corvette) have brought near the money on BaT they should have or ultimately did selling them outside that venue.

    A turn off for me is sellers who come across sounding like a jerk in their ad. Agressive, threatening and angry.

    “I know what I’ve got” usually means “I have an unrealistic idea of the value of my vehicle” with the subtext of “I saw one like mine (except in show condition and mine is driver-quality) sell for a fortune, so I should get that much, too.” 😁

    Written by someone who no doubt has suffered from the failures of all of these points. Is it sad that some of these seem like they should be common sense?

    I’ll be keeping this checklist handy for the next upcoming vehicle sale.

    As a seller … conversely don’t waste your time on a buyer who hasn’t bothered to actually ‘read’ your advertisement as per the remark made by Jeepcj5 in the comment section ( a vehicle with no power train is offered and he or she asks if it can be driver to wherever). Two realities in my world 1) honestly is the best policy and 2) you can’t fix dumb.

    In my vast and half-vast experience selling and buying cars, I have concluded no one sells a car they are happy with.

    I disagree. I’ve sold dozens of cars I’ve loved, but just wanted something different or to move on to other projects. Not everyone wants or needs to hold on to the same car forever.

    Life is Not that black & white— they might be for sale because of a death or illness–Or perhaps it wasn’t the persons “”Dream Car” & now they can afford to take the next step – Impulse buying might mean they have Too many Projects or just lost their storage—There are more legit reasons than I can count–

    Unless it is a complicated vehicle I state that I will only meet with them 1 time so do your research before you come and come ready to buy.

    Another tip, price it at a reasonable amount. Don’t list it really high and then end up taking a 50% offer from the one guy who is serious contacting you. You get more response if you price it near sales price. Just ignore the idiot lowballers. Real buyers will know the value and so price accordingly if you really want to sell.

    Some of the most annoying and dishonest practices some sellers resort to are:

    a) putting “1234” or some-such in the price window of the ad. Those who would otherwise waste your time by not listing a price at all use this tactic to get around mandatory price-listing rules insisted upon by the forum. Then, once you’ve looked at all of the pics and read the entire ad the last line says either a ridiculously-inflated price or a comment alluding to “highest offer” and/or “in no hurry to sell” or “just putting out feelers…”

    b) Instead of leading the ad with lots of current pics of the project car and its components, the seller places one pic of the vehicle in its one-piece low-mileage hey-day or worse, a pic of a completely different example of the same make and model in pristine condition. It’s only after reading the entire ad that you discover the car is in fact a basket case that would cost you more to restore it than a pristine numbers-matching original survivor could ever fetch. Even if they paid YOU to take it away you’d still lose.

    c) Providing inadequate information with which to evaluate the vehicle in the ad. Is it a manual transmission? Or an Automatic? Which engine does it have? Is this a numbers-matching vehicle? Do you have receipts? Are the registration papers in order and showing a legally-roadable vehicle? Are you the registered owner? Can you provide a Carfax? Hey, how about some engine bay pics, interior pics (lots of them), odometer pics and detailed photos of the undercarriage and all body panels – especially the rust-prone ones? This type of info helps potential buyers size up your vehicle in a moment – resulting in either a phone call from them, or a dodged bullet in the form of avoided wasted time on both ends. The more info you provide, the less it looks like you’re trying to hide something.

    AMEN! No price is a deal killer. Never call them, because if the price wasn’t an issue, they’d list it. I’ve even seen DEALER ads, where every price was listed as ‘CALL’ Really?
    “No time wasters” “FIRM” I generally pass on these, too. It suggests to me that the seller is not a car person, or just a PITA, as most of us love to show off our cars. And in the end EVERYTHING is negotiable, so who are we kidding?
    Now, a few buyer complaints? Didn’t do their homework. Didn’t look at the photos or read the information supplied. “shoppers” No shows. People who want to see your car at weird hours. People who want to trade. Folks that think I don’t know my own car’s faults, and that pointing them out will half the price. People who think they’ll drive home in a car that hasn’t run in years.

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