"Sorry, someone is already coming for it. Thanks for your interest."
"I want this lamp, but someone else probably already got it. Shouldn't get my hopes up..." - Maggie the orange cat
While there's no substitute for just being first, there are a couple of ways to stand out from the crowd if you're writing a craigslist email.
1. Demonstrate you're serious: The best way I've found to do this is to suggest a pick up day for the item. For example say "I would be happy to pick up the couch tonight or at another time convenient for you." You're not just checking to see if this piece is available, you're a serious buyer who is ready to lay down the money.
2. Be Personal: Don't be afraid to be a little personal as long as you're still keeping the email short and sweet. I once gave away a whole bunch of empty CD cases for free. I got TONS of emails, but the family that I ended up giving the cases to included that they were for their kid's school project in their email. Good cause - I'm in! You might want to mention how perfect the piece would be in your home or that you've been looking for something like it for a long time. A lot of CListers want you to really want their old treasures.
3. Include a Link: No, not to your personal website or blog! But be sure to link to the ad you're referring to. Often, people are posting several things to craigslist at once (spring cleaning? moving?) and won't know what you're referring to. Just paste the link in your email and all will be clear. I would also suggest putting the name of their ad as the title of your email.
4. "Hope to hear from you soon": People are hard wired to want to respond to questions or calls to actions. While I am not a fan of being salesy or manipulative, ending an email with "hope to hear from you soon" gives a little extra nudge for someone to get back to you. Who knows, it could mean they get back to you first.
5. Proof Read: This may just sound like a grammar nerd venting, but proof reading is really important for craigslist emails (and for all of life). An email with a bunch of mistakes gives the impression of someone who is careless, unreliable, and maybe not dependable. I'd rather deal with arranging a pick up time with someone who has written a nice, cogent email - wouldn't you?
So, I will close with a fun example based on this craigslist ad.
Subject: Stegosaurus Sofa
I just saw your ad on craigslist selling a stegosaurus sofa (http://www.craigslist.org/about/best/wdc/366382199.html). Is it still available? I've just moved and this couch would be perfect for my new apartment! If it's convenient for you, I could come pick it up tonight, tomorrow, or this weekend.
Hope to hear from you soon!