Want to be a 'barter king'? Here's how

PORTLAND, Ore. - How can you get what you want without paying a dime? Bartering.

It's making a comeback, in part, due to the hit TV show, Barter Kings. KATU Problem Solver Shellie Bailey-Shah set out to prove that if you're a good enough barterer, you can actually make money.

"I won't say obsession, more of a hobby," said Larry Robinette, a mechanic who lives in Vancouver.

After spending the day under the hood, Robinette spends more than an hour every night on Craigslist, searching for his next big trade. He's already bartered from a $700 truck to a $5000 SUV in just four transactions.

"The economy is tough, and it's easier to barter what you have and get what you want," Robinette explained.

Like Robinette, an increasing number of people are using the website Craigslist - not to sell, but to barter - unwanted items.

KATU Reporter Shellie Bailey-Shah gave it a shot to see what she could trade up to.

She started by posting a barter ad for a used window air conditioner, owned by KATU Photographer Kevin Eyres. The goal: to barter up to a small boat.

The air conditioner is valued at about $100.

A week later, she headed to Hillsboro.

"It's supposed to be 100 degrees today, the perfect day to barter our air conditioner," she said. "We got a hit from a woman who has a wheelchair to trade. We're going to check it out."

"It was my mom's. She had a stroke. She had this for a little while. She doesn't use it anymore," explained Tyanna Manskie, who has had the wheelchair in her closet for over a year.

Meanwhile, Manskie and her family have been sweating it out in their apartment. Trading the air conditioner for the wheelchair is a win-win for both parties.

So Bailey-Shah traded the $100 air conditioner for a wheelchair that's worth $750. She then took a photo and posted the wheelchair on the barter section of Craigslist.

But after three weeks, she didn't get a single hit, despite the chair's perfect condition. So she decided to barter outside the box by calling Northwest Health and Safety, a Vancouver business that deals in used medical equipment.

Owner Jason Royse can resell the chair. He has a battery analyzer - used by auto mechanics - to trade.

"It's awesome," said Royse. "It does a lot of stuff but way more than I need."

Bailey-Shah and Royse made the trade. The battery analyzer was worth $900. So far, our reporter has increased the initial investment by $800.

Remember, Photographer Kevin Eyres wants a boat. Our reporter gets contacted by a man on Craigslist who wants to trade a small aluminum boat for the battery analyzer. Perfect, right? Wrong. At the last minute, the man's wife decides that she can't part with it.

The busted deal brings Bailey-Shah to Robinette, the mechanic from Craigslist.

"I don't have one currently," he said, regarding the battery analyzer. "It's just something that needs to be in my toolbox ."

Bailey-Shah bartered the analyzer for some needed parts and labor on Eyres' Range Rover. The value is about the same at $900.

The best part? The air conditioner that our reporter started with was given to Kevin. So he really did get something for nothing.

After a month of trading on Craigslist, Bailey-Shah has these tips for beginning barterers:

  • Present your item in the best light possible. Sometimes that means investing a little sweat equity. In the case of the air conditioner, I spent a good half hour cleaning it up.
  • Always include good, clear, well-lighted photos of your items. And don't take the photos with a cluttered mess in the background. It sends the wrong message to potential traders.
  • Don't use photos of your item off the internet. Potential traders want to see the real thing.
  • Be honest about the condition of your item.
  • Include the retail value of your item so that potential traders have a good idea of its worth. However, if you're on the other side of the trade, do your own research on the real value of any listed item. Be educated before you make your initial communication.
  • If you have more than one item to barter, list them separately on Craigslist. Potential traders don't want to read through a long list. This will be work for you, but you'll likely have more successful barters.
  • Be responsive to potential traders. It's in your interest to act quickly before a trader changes his/her mind.
  • If your goal is to trade up to another item, pick your trades carefully. Will your new barter item be attractive to other traders? Who's the target audience? Are there too many of the same item already on Craigslist?
  • Renew your post on Craigslist every 3 days. You want your ad to be at the top of the list.
  • If your item is not getting any hits, go searching for the trade. For example, I wasn't getting any interest in the battery analyzer that I posted. So I spent time searching the words - mechanic, auto parts, car parts - on the barter and sales sections of Craigslist to identify potential interested parties. I then emailed the posters with a photo of my battery analyzer to see if they were interested in a trade. Also I searched the words - boat and foosball table - the two items that photographer Kevin Eyres wanted most - to see if any parties selling those items had an interest in my analyzer.
  • Worst case scenario, if you don't get any traction on Craigslist, think outside the box. Consider secondhand or consignment dealers who may have an interest in your item.