How to sell your old tech while protecting your data
Out with the old, in with the new. The way tech changes and evolves these days, it’s not uncommon to want to unload your old gear every few years in favor of newer, better, shinier stuff: a faster laptop, a slimmer tablet, or a more-powerful smartphone.
Of course, in order to make way for that new gear, you’ll have to decide what to do with your old hardware. Instead of just tossing it in a drawer, many users opt to sell it, which can help defray the cost of new stuff.
But where’s the best place to sell used tech? How can you keep your devices in good shape so you get maximum resale value? And, most importantly, how do you wipe away all traces of your personal data?
The good news is that these important questions don’t have complicated answers. With a little know-how, you can easily get a healthy return on your old gear and make sure it’s as empty of data as the day you bought it.
Step 1: Wipe it clean
It’s a good bet that any laptop, smartphone, or tablet you own contains a wealth of information about you. Your device’s data may include anything from your address book to your Amazon account ID to several years’ worth of TurboTax data.
Needless to say, you wouldn’t want the new owner to see even a shred of this data, which is why it’s important to erase it all before you make the sale. (All the following instructions presume that you’ve already backed up any data you wish to preserve.)
If you’re selling a tablet or smartphone, this is easier than you might think.
- On an older Android device, simply tap Menu, Settings, Privacy, Factory data reset.
- With a newer version of Android, tap Menu, Settings, scroll down to the Personal section, tap Back up and reset, then Factory data reset.
- On an iOS device, tap Settings, General, then scroll to the bottom and tap Reset. Finally, tap Erase All Content and Settings.
Laptops are a little more complicated. One option is to reformat the hard drive and reinstall the operating system, which is great if the system came with recovery discs. For Windows PCs, you can follow detailed instructions here. For Mac OS X computers, Macworld has detailed instructions here, and Apple has instructions here.
If there’s no easy reformat/recovery option, you can go the manual route: delete all your personal folders, then uninstall any programs that might contain private data, such as Quicken, iTunes, and instant-messaging applications. Be sure to empty the Recycle Bin or Trash when you’re done.
On Windows, the next step is to go into user-management settings and create a new user with administrator privileges. Log into that new account, then delete your old user account (including the Home folder, if Windows asks about it). Finally, install and run a utility such as Eraser, which can permanently overwrite any unused space on the hard drive and delete your old data forever. Just make sure to read the instructions carefully so that you don’t accidentally wipe the whole drive.
Step 2: Make the sale
Now that you’ve given your gear a digital scrubbing, you’re ready to turn it into cold, hard cash. One key question you’ll need to answer: Are you willing to accept less money in exchange for a faster, easier sale, or do you want to maximize your profit, even if it means more work and some uncertainty?
If you’re in the latter camp, head to old-standby services like Craigslist and Ebay, where you can build your own ad/auction and set the price for your device. There’s no guarantee you’ll get that price, and it could take days or even weeks before your item sells if it sells at all. On the other hand, if it’s an in-demand item and you’re asking a reasonable amount, you could end up with cash (or PayPal) in your pocket before the day is out.
If you’re looking for a faster, more hassle-free option, consider a trade-in. Amazon's reseller program, Best Buy's trade-in program, and dedicated online services such as Gazelle, and NextWorth all offer cash (or electronic gift cards) in exchange for used phones, tablets, iPods, and other electronics. Some, but not all, will accept cameras, game consoles, and laptops, as well.
The process works like this: You provide a few details about your item (make, model, condition, etc.), then the service quotes you a trade-in price. If you accept the offer, you’ll get a prepaid shipping label so you can send in the gear. Once the company receives it and verifies the condition, you get your cash or credit.
The downside, of course, is that you won’t get top dollar for your stuff. And there’s a chance you’ll get even less if the service decides it doesn’t match your description. But the trade-in option is definitely the quickest and most convenient way to go. For many sellers, that might be worth a lower payout.
Step 3: Plan for future sales
It’s crazy to think about, but at some point down the road, your shiny new laptop/smartphone/tablet will end up as your tired old laptop/smartphone/tablet. When that happens, you’ll want to sell it just like you’re doing with your old stuff right now.
By planning ahead, you can ensure maximum resale value in the future. For starters, skip the engraving. It may seem like a nice way to personalize a phone or tablet, but it’ll turn off potential buyers and lower the trade-in value. If you really want personalization, consider a customized skin that you can remove cleanly.
If it’s a phone or tablet, you should also apply a screen protector to thwart scratches and reduce the risk of breakage if the device takes a tumble. Likewise, minimize scuffs and other signs of wear by always keeping it in a case.
Finally, make sure you keep everything that came with your device: the box, the accessories, and even the receipt, just in case the buyer wants proof of purchase for warranty purposes. Your ultimate goal is to make your old gear seem as new as possible, because that’s how you’ll get the best resale return on your investment.