Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011 | 2 a.m.
A rough economy, with people low on cash and credit, doesn’t necessarily mean that some still aren’t ready to conduct commerce.
Welcome to the real world of “let’s make a deal,” where you might not find someone willing to trade a chicken for health care but where other services are apparently up for grabs.
The ads in the Craigslist barter section read like a supermarket bulletin board, ranging from the broad, “Plumber recently laid off … will work for cash, will take partial trades+cash, or trade my service for yours?” to the specific, “Tile guys to trade labor for window tint/bodywork.”
The plumber, who would only identify himself as Mig, said he began bartering after losing his job. In exchange for plumbing work, Mig said he has received couches, DVD players, a computer and tools. “I’ve traded for pretty much everything,” he said.
One craftsman made it clear what he could do, but not so clear what he would want in exchange: “STUCCO &BLOCK: ‘small repairs only,’ trade for ? email what u need done w/pic if possible.”
Whatever the deal and whatever the words, the philosophy is the same: Why spend money on home improvements when you can barter your plumbing skills or dental services for something you really need and don’t want to pay for, like getting your sprinklers fixed when they suddenly spring a leak.
Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best said the barter section of Craigslist has seen "massive growth over the past five years. We've seen users trade everything from cars and baseball tickets to services such as gardening or painting."
"Our users are very creative and during lousy economic times, the barter section has become especially popular as the community looks for ways to spend less money while still meeting their day-to-day needs," she said.
When Glen Uslan, owner of Summerlin Upholstery Works, posted his ad on Craigslist, it wasn’t because his business was down and he was trying to save a buck on his home remodel. In fact, he said, it was because his business was doing well and he didn’t need the cash, and decided to see if anyone needed something upholstered in exchange for something he might want.
He says he got something with this ad — but not what he set out to get:
“Furniture upholstery for ???? I own a local upholstery shop and am willing to barter with people who need work done. I can use any of the following: Landscaping work, automotive painting, carpet cleaning, stucco work, patio cover. I am open to other opportunities. Let me know what you may have and what you need done.”
Several weeks later, Uslan was recovering a stranger’s couch pillows in exchange for a custom-cut piece of glass for a new bar.
He figured his labor was worth $150 and the glass was worth $75, so the customer kicked in another $75 to even the deal.
The glass cutter was satisfied. “It was the first time I had bartered anything,” said Richard Jones, owner of Full Custom Glass in Las Vegas. “It worked out great for both of us because we could give the materials to each other at cost, a much better deal than he would have gotten if we had purchased them from each other.
Which brings us to Luis Cabrera’s insight.
“Bartering comes easy if you know the worth of your product or service and value of the item being offered to you,” said Cabrera, whose ad reads, “Licensed Sprinkler guy willing to barter for ?? All leaks repaired. Valves/timers and more. $45 trip fee pays for a complete system checkup and timer setup. Cash or ??”
The other day he began bartering for housecleaning services in exchange for maintaining someone’s lawn. In the past, he’s bartered for leg massages — he’s a runner — and he’d like to barter for ammunition, fishing gear, grocery store vouchers and movie tickets.
Said Cabrera: “There are a lot of people who have no money, literally nothing, who are bartering. I got an email from a tattoo artist who said he had no money, but might the next week, wanted to know if I needed a tattoo because he needed sprinkler work.”
He passed on the tattoo.
It’s easy to spot the inexperienced barterers, Cabrera says: They don’t understand how to price the value of what they have to barter, and usually claim a value greater than what the product is worth.
Like any other transaction, barter veterans say it’s important to check the other person’s references — because if you’re trading one service for another and you don’t like the outcome, it’s pretty hard to get a refund.
Palchikoff is a freelance writer.