Sorry for the delayed response, I was doing some last minute prep work for WWDC. Those steps have grown considerably more detailed since I originally posted those. Here's the updated version, albeit much longer.
How to sell your portable computer oneBay / Craigslist
Selling yourcomputer online and ensuring a satisfactory transaction for both parties is apretty straight forward process but there are numerous steps from start tofinish that if followed can just about guarantee that the whole ordeal won’tprove to be one huge nightmare.
Step #1 – How to competitively price yourcomputer
Typically thereare four types of sellers on the market and it’s important to identify whereyou fit in:
- You’re looking to sell your current computer and put the proceedstowards purchasing a new machine.
- You’re looking to sell the machine and you want to use the money tofinance something.
- You’re desperate for money and have decided that you can do withoutyour computer for the time being.
- The computer is junk/broken/defective/damaged and you want to recoupsome of your investment on it.
The fourth type ofseller can be tricky, because the seller may not disclose all of the problems.For the sake of this article, we’ll assume that you’ll do the honorable thing.
First off, you’renot going to get full retail for your computer. If it’s still within the returnpolicy window then bring it back. If you’re outside of that then you’re lookingat taking money off the sticker price even if the machine is immaculate. If thesticker that seals the box is broken, I consider it to be a used machine.Because trust me, I can put it everything back together and make it look likethe computer was never touched by a human and you wouldn’t know the difference.
There’s no formulafor pricing a used computer. I’ll usually check eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, etc.and search back for the past 3-4 weeks (the more data the better) and pricemine competitively. Apple’s computers hold their resale value extremely well ifyou take care of the computer. Here’s a look at the last three computers Isold:
13” MacBook Pro(Mid 2010)
- - Paid $1199
- - Sold for $925 (after 5 months of ownership)
15” MacBook Pro(Mid 2009)
- - Paid $1999
- - Sold for $1550 (after 10 months of ownership)
21.5” iMac (Mid2010)
- - Paid $1699
- - Sold for $1325 (after 9 months of ownership)
All three of thosesell prices were “competitive” in my area and at the time of sale. But as youcan see there was some serious out-of-pocket loss, such is often the case whenyou’ve always got to have the latest and greatest.
Another to keep inmind when pricing your computer is what you’re including.
- Limited Warranty? If the computer is within the one-year limitedwarranty this will assist in resale value. For two reasons, the first is itallows the new owner the opportunity to buy the AppleCare Protection Plan. Thesecond is that if they have a problem with the computer that’s covered thenthere’s no out-of-pocket.
- AppleCare Protection Plan? If the machine is covered by this planthis offers peace of mind to the new owner. But as such you’ll want to factorthat into the price you sell your used computer for, allowing you to sell for ahigher resale value but just like with my examples above you’re going to havesome loss of initial purchase.
- Included software? If you’re including additional software than thiswill also increase resale value. However burning the new owner a DVD and saying“here you go” is not acceptable. You’d need to include the full installationmedia, serial number(s), registration paperwork, etc. The rules of ownershiptransfer vary between all the software companies so you’ll need to consult thespecific vendor. As such, I recommend avoiding selling used software or buyingmachines with them “pre-installed.” But to each there own on this one.
- Extra hardware? Are you including peripherals, such as a mouse orother accessories that involved a purchase? Don’t expect to get much for theseaccessories but if they’re of no further use to you it can sometimes help withresale or appeal from perspective buyers.
Step #2 – Presenting your product
There’s some lineof, “A photo can tell a million things…” and there’s a lot of truth to it. Asthe seller it’s your job to sell your product using great photos. The dark,cell phone camera shot of your computer at your Mt. Dew littered desk isn’tgoing to make me want to buy your “mint” condition MacBook Pro. You needphotos, lots of them; good quality, well lit, good angled photos that show meyour entire computer. When I sell a MacBook Pro I’ll have 18-25 photos coveringjust about every inch of the machine, from multiple angles. As such I won’t getemails with people inquiring about the condition of the machine. They knowexactly what they’re getting from me. Here are some target areas forconsideration when taking photos:
- I’ll take a photoof it lit up (to indicate the lights work) if your keyboard supports it. I’llalso get some good angles to indicate how much “shine” is on the keycaps. Theoil residue from your fingertips will leave that shine on the new “chiclet”style keycaps; obviously this is a moot point if you use a keyboard cover.
- MagSafe adapter
- Apple has done agood job with the recent redesign of the connection face to combat fraying andother issues that caused exposed wiring but a photo or two would put yourpotential buyers at ease. They don’t know that your baby panther at home isn’tallowed to maul your cables. Also where the cable plugs into your computer is afrequent trouble spot for debris (staples, dirt, grime or worse… corrosion).Again a photo or two there will go a long way.
- Peripheral ports (USB, FireWire)
- This is more of anissue on the plastic, non-unibody designed machines but worth a photo or two of“I/O row” regardless. Over time the area can get a little chewed up looking, orsome local bunnies (dust) could make their home in your cozy ports.
- Optical drive
- The plasticMacBooks were notorious for being misshapen to the point where media wouldsometimes get stuck coming out or not be able to slide freely in. The fix forthis is usually a bottom case replacement which isn’t covered by APP.Pre-unibody MacBook Pros not have this problem, as do any of the unibodymachines but a photo of the area won’t hurt.
- Screen/LCD panel
- This a tricky shoton the newer machines due to glare but what you’re looking to show is that theglass and panel are intact and that there are no stuck pixels (or if there are,where they are). Another issue is oil residue from the keyboard, especially ifyou use a keyboard cover. On the older MacBooks some of them residue wouldn’tcome off the screen unless you used some pretty brutal cleaner solution.
- You’ve told methat it hasn’t been dropped or bumped but I want to see it for myself. I’llshow all four corners from two different angles.
- The “feet” on the bottom
- There conditioncan tell you a lot about the previous ownership.
- Top Case (area around the keyboard)
- The new unibodyMacBook Pros don’t suffer “pitting” (at least not as bad, if at all) like theprevious machines. The pre-unibody MacBooks had cracking/splitting of the topcase, the new unibody MacBooks don’t have that problem.
Other photosbeyond these “critical” areas only help to add value to your transaction.Again, the more photos the better.
Step #3 – Preparing your machine for sale
I always keep allof my original material, the box (all of the included installation media,documentation, booklets, stickers, etc.). I’ll even keep the keycap cushion andplastic wrap that the machine came in. My goal is to try and make the machinelook “as original” as possible to the buyer.
- Backup your data
- Before you sellthe machine, you’ll want to make sure all of your data is backed up to anexternal HD, CD/DVD, Dropbox, MobileMe iDisk, etc. There’s several ways toperform that backup. You can drag & drop files to an external location, runa full Time Machine backup or use cloning software like Carbon Copy Cloner orSuperDuper!
- De-authorize your machine
- ITunes requiresyou to “authorize” your machine and you’re allowed 5 simultaneousauthorizations. You’ll want to de-authorize your machine prior to letting itgo. The good news, if you forget you’re allowed an annual “wipe” of all 5machines via iTunes. Other 3rd party programs might have similarregistration requirements, you’ll want to consult your owner’s guide or thesoftware vendor if there are any further questions.
- MobileMe, if yousync, is also “linked” to your computer and you’ll want to remove this machinefrom the list of machines that is currently configured for syncing. This is notas critical as iTunes, because you can modify the list of synced computers withMobileMe from another machine but it’s a good workflow to have in thepreparation phase.
- Wipe your data
- Being secure withyour personal information is important, especially before you sell it to atotal stranger. You’ll want to perform a minimum of the single pass zero erase,there are additional options (seven and thirty-five) but from my experience thesingle pass is adequate. If you’re the paranoid type or want the additionalpeace of mind, the seven won’t hurt. Just keep in mind that it’ll take longerto allow adequate time.
- Re-install OS X
- Unless the buyerspecifically requests it, you’ll want to reload the OS. If your machineoriginally came with a different OS then the one you’ve advertised it runningthen you’ll want to coordinate specifically which OS is installed. Keep in mindthat if the machine came with Leopard and you’re advertising it as running SnowLeopard then you’ll need to include your Snow Leopard installation media.
- On a “cleaninstall” of the OS there’s no user configured, that’s done after the SetupAssistant is performed. This is where you’d want to coordinate with the userhow the machine’s OS will arrive to them, if you do decide to configure a userand run Software Update or pre-install software (that you’ll be including) tosupply them with the username and password.
- “Polish the Apple”
- As a servicetechnician for Apple we had that phrase. After performing a hardware repair onthe computer we’d do our best to clean the display, wipe down the keyboard,wipe down the top/bottom case, etc. Some marks or scuffs we can’t get out but alittle TLC didn’t hurt anyone. A quick pass with a computer-safe screencleaner, a blast of compressed air in the keycap area, etc., are all thingsthat will help ensure the machine looks it best. This is especially so if youused the machine after the photos were taken.
Step #4 – Dealing with online transactions
Earlier in step #2we talked about presenting the machine in photos. Some sellers will even go sofar as to make movie clips and put them on YouTube. But we’re now at theselling phase, it’s important to establish some ground rules.
- Price high, have some flex room
- If you want “x” amountfor your machine you need to factor in variables. If you accept PayPal thenthey’re going to take a cut (3% or so), if you use eBay, they’re also going towant to take a cut. This comes out of your gross but reduces your net. You alsohave to consider that potential sellers will always lowball, it’s guaranteed.Asking $1100? Expect offers between $550-$900 filling your inbox.
- A prompt, thorough response
- When I’m activelyselling a computer I promise a 24-hour response time to emails. Often timesit’s much faster but I’m usually pretty connected and using emails for otherthings routinely and will see it. I do my best to be thorough, concise andmature.
- If the personcontacting me is “wasting my time” with a silly offer or I suspect a scam orquestionable transaction I’ll still respond but politely decline or say that Idon’t feel comfortable with the validity of their interest.
- Offer your contact information but don’t invite them over for dinner
- I use MobileMealias accounts for my online transactions and I’ve also setup a Google voiceaccount with a phone number that has an area code in the area I live. Thisallows me to entertain offers (screen) but not having them show up at my dooror track me down.
- Paper trail
- Save every form ofcommunication. I’ll typically prefer (or even require) email communicationthroughout the transaction as it’s traceable, recordable and can be documented.This way there’s zero confusion about what is being offered, for how much, etc.The quickest way to have a transaction go south is when there are surprises.
- Show me the money
- I use PayPal, butI know several of my friends use Google Checkout. PayPal is more of the “norm”especially since they became a division of eBay.
- As a buyer, you’regoing to prepay for the machine, plus whatever shipping/handling/insurance weagree upon. I ship only to confirmed addresses and verified accounts. PayPalmakes this easy for all parties involved with their buyer/seller protection,the 3% fee I always “eat” so try to factor that into your sell price.
- Shipping is theresponsibility of the buyer, I’ll “throw in” UPS Ground as I prefer theirtracking options and find that they’re cheaper than FedEx. I’ll also usuallyinflate the price or factor in I’m going to lose $20-30 in shipping/handling,insurance is the responsibility of the buyer.
- Photos upon departure
- Prior to sealingup the box and handing it off to UPS I’ll take a few more “last minute” photosto indicate the product’s condition still is identical to how it was advertisedand how the buyer should expect to receive it. Timestamps are critical here.This is also important should something happen to the package during shipping.
- I’ll email theseller the tracking number same day that it’s sent.
- I tell them thatthey have 24 hours from the date/time that the package is received; I require asignature on delivery for all shipments so I can guarantee that it’s not lefton a doorstep.
- If within 24 hoursI do not hear back from them then the machine has arrived as anticipated and isnot DOA.
Step #5 – Dealing with local transactions
Local transactionsoffer a different challenge in online transactions and as such can be a littletricky. I’ve purposely labeled this as step five because many of the pointsfrom step four carry over, namely the first four.
- Agree on an acceptable payment method
- Chances are thebuyer will be paying in cash. As this is a high dollar item, most likely, Irequire 50s or 100s. I’m willing to do smaller bills if the sell price is $1025(for example) but that means a single twenty-dollar bill and a singlefive-dollar bill. But, money is money, so as long as it’s all there I won’tcomplain. What I’m trying to avoid is fumbling around a huge wad of bills.
- Personal checksare out, with one exception. If you insist on it then it has to be from thesame bank I use and we go to the bank and cash it together before you takedelivery on the computer. Business checks are out, with that same exceptionfrom above.
- Certified moneyorder orders/bank checks are ok but definitely not preferred. Simply becauseyou have to have the money in your account to create one so why not just bringthe “sure” thing of cash. I’ve run into a couple of buyers who will only paywith one for their records and I’m ok with that.
- Agree on a time and place (ensure your safety)
- I’ll always meetin a “neutral” location, midday, in a populated place like a mall food court. Iwant it to be busy enough so that nothing suspicious could happen to me.
- I’ll offer adescription of myself and typically try to find a unique shirt/jacket/hat towear so I stick out. I have this neon orange collared shirt that I got at OldNavy which I like to use; you don’t see many of those.
- Pick a time; say2:30pm in the food court over by the Panda Express. I’ll get there around2:00pm and position my “wing man” in the area. We won’t sit together butthey’ll be nearby in case things don’t pan out properly. Their job is to makesure I’m safe. We agree on two hand signals, if I stretch with my right handleading then we’re ok. If I stretch with my left hand leading then he/she is tocome over and interrupts the conversation with “Hey man, how have you been?”
- Offer assurance
- Option #1 is anappointment at the Genius Bar. The mall that I meet people at is also the samemall with an Apple Store and one that I worked at. I’ll setup two,fifteen-minute Genius Bar appointments so we have a full 30 minutes. This givesthe buyer time to ask questions, have any diagnostics performed, etc. Inaddition the Genius can assist with ownership transfer in their system and goover the steps necessary for me to transfer APP to them.
- Option #2 would beto let them try out the machine. Turn it on, etc. This is where having a useraccount is helpful because you don’t have to wait for the Setup Assistant to doits thing. I’ll bring a USB thumb drive with me to show them that the portswork as well as a DVD movie to show that the drive works. They can test WiFi,all the keys, etc.
- Handling payment
- If the buyerprefers the Genius Bar option (which is my preferred method) then they agree tooffer 50% of the agreed upon price upon receiving the computer and they’ll paythe other 50% upon the clean bill of health. The handling of the financials aredone outside of the store, there’s no money transacted inside the store. Forthe sake of the appointment, it’s just two friends checking out their computer.With this method my “wingman” will verify the money is legit outside of thestore.
- If the buyerprefers the other option and not want to go inside the store this is where my“satellite wingman” that I mentioned earlier comes into play and I verify thebills myself. Unlike the Genius Bar method I require 100% of the agreed uponamount up front. I hand you the machine, you hand me the payment. If there’s adisagreement or something doesn’t check out then we can discuss it at thistime.
- Closing the deal
- I arrange my localtransactions exclusively through Google voice (I forward the number to myactual cell phone number), rarely is there much email.
- When thetransaction is completed, it’s done. I’ll rarely offer any follow up or futureassistance for the buyer, especially if they declined the Genius Bartransaction method. I use to offer, “getting started” assistance or somelimited tech support help but that got abused and I’ve since stopped that.
Last week I closedmy 136th (June 1st, 2011) transaction of selling an Apple computersince 2001. I’ve never had a single one go wrong, go south or run intocounterfeit money or other unfavorable conditions. I’ve also had several repeatbuyers because they are a fan of my “rules” system. (think the firstTransporter with Jason Statham)
How you choose tohandle online or local transactions is up to you. But I’ve found that beingupfront, clear, concise, thorough, friendly and professional go a very long wayin ensuring that everyone is satisfied with the end result.