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How to buy and sell electronics on eBay or Craigslist

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Most of us have some old electronics tucked away. You may kid yourself that you’re going to use them again, or feel like it’s not worth the hassle of selling, but you could be sitting on a gold mine. Let’s face it, they aren’t doing anyone any good slowly depreciating on the top shelf of the wardrobe, in the back of a drawer, or stowed in the garage.

Your best chance of getting a good price is to sell them now and to sell them directly to a buyer through eBay or Craigslist. There’s no doubt that trade-in deals and big chains that buy used electronics are easier to deal with, but they will not pay much. If they can’t flip your electronics for a profit they won’t buy them at all.

There’s a roaring trade in used smartphones, tablets, laptops, and all sorts of other electronics on eBay and Craigslist, but you need to be smart to maximize your profit.

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Next page: How to set a realistic price

How to set a realistic price

It doesn’t matter what you paid for it. Your Galaxy S2 is not worth $500 anymore. It’s important to have a realistic price in mind. Do a comparison search online and find used prices for whatever you’re selling or buying.

For checking average selling prices on eBay, there’s a service called Terapeak that you can find right here.

There’s another beta service that’s worth a look called CheckAFlip. It covers eBay and it used to cover Craigslist too, but it looks like that part’s not functioning right now.

Alternatively you can just search the ads as though you were looking to buy whatever you’re selling and get a sense of what kind of price you can expect. If you discover you can make a tidy sum and you want to press ahead, then it’s time to get your device ready.

You may decide that it’s not worthwhile to sell it, but you can always donate. At least someone can get some use out of it that way. Check at Dell Reconnect to find your local Goodwill location for drop-off. They accept a lot of different kinds of electronics, even if they’re broken.

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Next page: How to prepare your device for sale

How to prepare your device for sale

There are two reasons to take a little time making sure your device is ready for sale:

  1. You need to erase any private data.
  2. You need to make it more attractive to a buyer.

If you’re selling something like a smartphone or an old computer, make sure to thoroughly wipe the storage. You can find software that will do it, or look up a secure method online. Bear in mind that a simple factory reset, or reformat isn’t necessarily going to delete all your old files. These procedures often only delete the address of the files, and there are unscrupulous people out there who can recover them quite easily.

You should also take the time to clean the device. A quick run over with a damp cloth will often suffice. Stained, dusty, or dirty devices are not attractive to buyers.

Go rummaging around and see if you can find the original accessories, the box, and the manual. If there’s any remaining warranty, then try and fish out the receipt. The closer you can get it to how it was on the day you brought it home, the better the price you’ll get. It also clears out junk that you’ll find in a year’s time and end up hoarding because you’re not sure what it’s for and whether you might need it.

If it’s a smartphone and it’s locked to a carrier, check out how to get the unlock code. It should be free and easy if your contract has ended and unlocked devices command slightly higher prices.

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Next page: How to take great photos for the post

How to take great photos for the post

Good photos are really important. You can add up to 12 images to your eBay or Craigslist advert. For a lot of electronics between three and five photos will be enough, but don’t be afraid to use the full allowance. Take your cleaned up device and choose a nice background. Make sure it is well lit and please, don’t photograph it in the garage.

Your first photo should be the best shot, but take a bunch and choose it at the end. Make sure that you include photographs of any accessories, original packaging, or manuals. If you’re selling something like an old smartphone and you have a case or dock that’s also going to be useless to you now, then bundle it in as part of the deal.

If your device has a scratch or a dent, or some other defect, then you absolutely must mention it in the ad and take a close-up photo to show it off. You might be tempted to try and hide it, but you’re going to end up in a confrontational situation if you don’t mention it. Talking with peeved Craigslist buyers or having to return and refund the purchase on eBay isn’t fun.

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Next page: How to write an advert

There’s no need to spend hours compiling a wonderful ad from scratch. When you are researching your price, you’ll look at a lot of different ads for the item you’re selling. Make a note of the best ones, amalgamate them, and add your own photos and details. Make it clear, concise, and honest.

The important thing on eBay is to fill in all the item details. Usually it will do this automatically for electronics if you get the full name correct. If there’s anything you’re not sure of, then cross reference a few other ads for the same device and go with the majority.

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Next page: How to handle the exchange

How to handle the exchange

If you’re going to ship the device via eBay, you don’t have to worry about a meet up. You should include a return address on the package, though, and make sure you keep proof of postage. If it’s a really expensive item, make sure the postage service you choose covers accidental loss or damage, and that the buyer signs for the device on delivery. You can add your postage costs to the eBay advert, but try to be as accurate as possible because people will give you negative feedback if you overcharge on postage.

If you’re selling a larger item on eBay and you want to make it pick-up only, you should specify cash on collection as your payment method. Unfortunately there are a lot of scammers out there and if they pay through PayPal then pick up the item, it’s very easy for them to put in a claim saying they never received it. You’ll have no proof of delivery and the fee they paid will be refunded.

For Craigslist, most people use phones to text or call and arrange the deal. If you want to use an email address, then set one up especially for the purpose. If you’re going to add your number, then use a Google Voice number or a service like Burner. That way you can dump it after the deal. If you run into issues or get mountains of spam, you’ll be glad you did. You can make it slightly harder for spammers harvesting ads by spelling out part of your phone number or splitting your email address.

Wherever possible you should avoid giving out your address. It’s definitely a hassle, but you could arrange to meet somewhere to exchange device and cash. Make it a busy, public place. Whether you meet at a pre-agreed location, or you arrange for pick up from your home, make sure you have someone with you. If you do let them pick up from your home, do it during the day and don’t invite them in. Have the item ready by the door.

You should make sure they’re happy with the device at this stage. If you’re buying, take your time and inspect the device because once you hand over the cash and the seller walks away you’re stuck with it. Be aware that some people will try and renegotiate, especially if they see some damage they weren’t aware of from the ad. It’s easy for the buyer to walk away or not turn up at all. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about timewasters.

There are some warning signs to look out for. If they lack a feedback rating on eBay, or have a poor one, you might want to avoid buying or selling with them and save yourself the potential hassle. If you’re going through Craigslist and they don’t sound right when you talk, then don’t agree to meet them. Be prepared to walk away if you have to.

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Next page: How to stand firm on price

How to stand firm on your price

If you’ve done your research and found a realistic price that you want to get, or pay, then make sure you stick to it.

As a buyer, it might mean trying several ads before you get the price you want. You need to let it go if the price goes up beyond your target. Be patient and don’t get sucked into a bidding war.

There are different strategies you can employ as a seller. On Craigslist you could list it at a higher price than your bottom line and allow people to haggle, but you might find it easier to list at the price you want. Assuming you’ve researched and feel it is a fair price, you could put a note on the ad that you won’t accept any other offers.

When you aren’t sure what something is worth, eBay is a better bet because of the auction system. Remember that prices often won’t go up until the final few seconds of the auction. If people ask for a “buy it now” price or try to arrange a sale outside eBay you should reject them. It’s incredibly unlikely that someone is going to offer you a better deal than you’ll get by waiting out the auction.

Auctions with no reserve and a low starting point will get more interest, but you can always set a reserve if you are really concerned about a low selling price. You can also set a “buy it now” price if you know exactly how much you want, some people prefer the certainty, and if it’s a fair value then you’ll probably get a sale.

Just remember to keep an eye on the potential fees with eBay because they can mount up. You’ll also get charged 10 percent of the total final sale amount (that’s the final price and your shipping charges). There are no fees to worry about with Craigslist.

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Next page: Final tips

Final tips

Here a few final tips on how to buy or sell electronics on eBay or Craigslist:

Get the timing right – For a seven day listing on eBay, post it late on Sunday afternoon. For a ten day listing, post it on Thursday afternoon. You want the auction to be ending towards the end of Sunday for maximum attention. For Craigslist you should try posting late on Thursday afternoon and it should be gone by the weekend. Conversely buyers will potentially find better prices on electronics that have sales ending during the week because there are less people competing for them.

Package and post properly – Don’t scrimp on packaging — Make sure there’s no risk of damage. Original boxes are always best for this. Make sure your chosen postal service will cover you for the value of the device if it goes missing or gets damaged. Post the item as soon as possible after payment.

Consider your expenses – Your time is worth money. If you travel somewhere to deliver or exchange, it costs money. The extra fees on eBay can mount up. Don’t focus on the sale price and forget about the expenses, or you’ll end up feeling deflated by your net profit.

If you’ve got any buying or selling stories or tips to share then we’d love the hear them. Hit the comments.

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
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