How to Buy a Used Mac, iPhone or iPad

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In this guest post, Ahshuwah Hawthorne explains 10 Tips For Buying Used Apple Products. You can contact Ahsh on twitter @iAhsh or feel free to ask him any questions you may have in the comment section below. 

I have been an unashamed Apple fan for nearly ten years. I have owned several MacBook Pros, iPhones, and iPads over the years. Unlike some Apple users, I do not have a large supply of discretionary income to buy every shiny new iDevice that Apple makes. Instead I have taken the time to learn some creative ways to get premium quality Apple products at bargain prices. I have bought and sold multiple Apple products on Craigslist and have learned a few things in the process.

These tips are intended for someone who is new to Apple products and so I have kept them rather simple. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments if you have some more advanced tactics to share.

Before You Purchase

1) Know what Mac or iDevice to buy

It is true that we all would probably go for the newest and best Mac or iPad if we could but the purpose of buying used is the get a screaming good deal on something that will be sufficient for your needs (and maybe your wants too). Everymac.com has a page that lists the technical specifications of just about every Apple produce that you will find on Craigslist. Use this to search for exactly what kind of Mac or iDevice you will need. It is my strong recommendation that you only buy a Mac that is covered by Applecare. This means that you will most likely not want to buy a Mac that is more than 3 years old.

2) Know when to buy

The price of Apple products change drastically when a new version comes out. If you are content not having the newest version than you can get a great deal buying last years model once everyone upgrades and the market floods with people trying to get rid of their old devices. The only challenge with doing this is that you need to know when new products are going to be released. You have two choices here: You can follow the Apple rumors sites every day hoping to guess when something new will come out or you can simply take a look at the handy buyer’s guide provided by Macrumors.com.

3) Know what price to pay

In addition to listing the specs of Apple products, Everymac.com also lists a used purchase price for just about any Apple product that you will find on Craigslist. The prices tend to be on the high side so you know you are getting a bad deal if you are paying more than the price listed on Everymac.com. Keep in mind that they only update their site prices a couple times a year so you want to be aware of when the price was last changed. The date the page was updated is listed at the bottom of each page. If you can get something for 50-70% of the used price listed, you are getting a really good deal. For iPhones and iPads, do a search on ebay.com to get a a good sense of what the used market is paying for a particular device. The best way to do this is to search for completed auctions so you can see the final sale price of each auction.

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The Process of Buying

4) Know how to spot a scam

When you do a search for an Apple product on Craigslist you are sure to get a number of scams in the midst of the genuine offers. You are also going to get some people who sell used Apple products on a regular basis. As with any Craigslist transaction you want to use caution, but when buying Apple products you would be wise to be extra careful. Ask the person for the serial number so that you can look it up (see below). Also confirm that they have the original box. If the deal is too good to be true, then it is probably a scam.

5) Know where to meet

Make sure you meet at a place where there is an internet connection that you can use. I usually go for the local Starbucks, but the seller’s house is an okay option if you feel comfortable meeting there.

6) Know how to spot a refurbished product

Apple sells refurbished products for a discount and though they carry the same warranty as new products, you shouldn’t have to pay the same price for a refurb as you would for a normal product. Ask the seller specifically if the product is a refurb and then take a minute to check the serial number. On a Mac this can be found in “About this Mac” under the Apple menu. Click twice on the text that gives the version of OS X and the Serial Number should display. Refurbished Macs will have serial numbers that start with “RM” or “RFB.” If you discover this on a mac for sale, this should give you some bargaining power in driving down the price. Refurbished iPhones or iPad’s are harder to spot and are not as much of an issue as it relates to price.

7) Know how much Applecare warranty is left

I have yet to own a Mac where I have not needed to use Applecare to repair something at least a couple times. When you buy a used Mac with Applecare you can rest assured that if it has any problems they can be taken care of free of charge. The only thing to watch out for is large dents in the body of the Mac. Applecare does not cover damage caused by drops and if it looks like the Mac was dropped, you may not get the full coverage that you are hoping to get. If you buy a Mac that is less that one year old you should plan on spending another $169-$349 depending on your model to extend the Applecare to three years. Because of how expensive this is, I would highly recommend buying a Mac that already has the extended Applecare. Many sellers will not factor in the actual value of the extended plan in the selling price and this is an easy way to save a couple hundred bucks. When you sit down with the machine that you hope to buy, get online and go to selfsolve.apple.com. Paste the serial number into the text box and click continue. You will be given the exact purchase date and the amount of time left in the warranty. As I mentioned before, I think you should always buy a Mac that is still under Applecare. The only exception to this would be if you a trying to get a Mac for under $500. If that is the case, you will need to get one that is older than three years and take the extra risk of going without the warranty.

8) Know what possible problems to look for

These things are really only an issue if the product is not under Applecare.

  • For an iPhone or cellular iPad you may want to have the seller keep in the SIM card for you while you test it out (though this is not always possible).
  • Look closely at the body for evidence of a serious fall. As I mentioned before, this may void your Applecare.
  • Look at the screen for dead pixels. There is even an iPhone dead pixel finder online at iphonedpt.awardspace.com.
  • Take a picture with the camera (look for blurry dark blotches on the image),
  • Surf the web on both wifi and over the cell connection.
  • Test the speakers.
  • For a mac with a DVD drive, test it by trying to burn a disk. This might seem excessive but the DVD drive is usually one of the first things that go out on a Mac.
  • Make sure that there is a clean install of OS X and that you have all of the discs and accessories that came with the computer.
  • Double check that the AC adaptor works. This is another one of those common problem areas with Mac laptops.
  • Go to “About This Mac” to double check all the specs that the seller is claiming for the computer. Click on “More info” to see the specific stats of the computer. Then click on “System Report” and look down the list on the left and click on “Power.” You want to look for “Cycle Count” and “Condition.” If the condition is anything but “Normal,” you are getting a bad battery. Additionally you should be aware that a battery with 300 cycles will only have 80% of the life that it had when it was brand new.

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After You Buy

9) Know how to never pay full price on the App store or iTunes store

iTunes cards are the the currency of the Apple software, music, and ebook ecosystem. Every year starting in July, Apple has a back to school sale. For the last two years they have given $50 and $100 iTunes cards with all new iPad and Mac purchases. A lot of people who get these cards would rather have cash. I have bought several iTunes cards from people on Craigslist and gotten them for 30-40% off their retail price. While you can find iTunes cards on Craigslist year-round, the back-to-school sale is definitely when you will get the best deals. The key to make sure that you are not getting a fake card or a number that has already been used is to do the transaction in a place where you have internet so that you can enter the code into your iTunes account while the seller is still there with you. The easiest way to do this is to open your iTunes app on your iDevice and to scroll down to the very bottom where it says “redeem.”

10) Know how to sell

Getting a good deal on Craigslist isn’t just about how much you buy it for, it also has a lot to do with how much you can sell it for in the future. The more you can sell your Mac or iDevice for in the future, the less your actual “cost of ownership” becomes. A few basic tips on keeping a high re-sale value for Apple products:

  • Keep all of the packaging. I’m not totally sure why but people like to have the boxes for Apple products. I think its some sort of Apple fan-boy fetish.
  • Put a case on your device and treat it like its an investment. There is nothing like a cracked screen to reduce the re-sale value on one of your devices.
  • Time when you sell your Mac or iDevice with the release cycle of future products. Try to sell it right before a new version comes out.
  • Time the selling of your Mac with the expiration of your AppleCare. Buyer’s will be more confident buying a computer with AppleCare, even if it only has two or three months left. This will also remove the risk of your Mac dying on you just after the warranty expires.

What tips would you add? What’s the best deal that you have ever gotten on an Apple product? I would love to hear your stories.

You can contact Ahsh on twitter @iAhsh or feel free to ask him any questions you may have in the comment section below.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I love to buy broken iMac G4s, fix them, and resell them for three to six times the price. You can usually find them broken for $10-25 dollars, fix them for $5-$10, and resell them anywhere from $45-$150. It’s been a great way for me to make money on the side.

  2. Thank you very much! I have been wanting a mac for a while now. I was almost going to pay full price for a refurbished version from Apple. This came just in time!

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