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Tech Lab

Keep gadgets looking good to get the most from resale sites

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / June 17, 2010

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Apple Inc.’s certainly changed the way we think about cellphones — how we buy them, use them, and now, how we get rid of them.

I mean, who’s going to throw away an iPhone, or let it gather dust in a drawer? Even an obsolete 2G model from 2007 remains quite useful as a phone, a music player, and a pocket computer. Which is why, as of yesterday, you could get $83 for a 3-year-old iPhone on Gazelle.com, a website that buys used electronics from consumers.

Gazelle and a host of competitors have been around for years, buying used gear, then reselling it through eBay.com or other vendors. But thanks to the iPhone, they may finally be coming into their own. Goaded by the impending release of the new iPhone 4, thousands of current iPhone users are logging on and trading in. It’s a good idea, and not just for iPhones. These sites welcome trade-ins on lots of other gadgets: laptops, digital cameras, handheld GPS units, even e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle.

I checked out prices at three trade-in companies — Gazelle.com in Boston, NextWorth.com in Lawrence, and YouRenew.com in New Haven — and discovered that they’re not all the same. Each frequently adjusts its payouts for used gadgets, and sometimes one will pay substantially more than another. Just yesterday, I found that NextWorth would pay $255 for an iPhone 3GS with 32 gigabytes of memory, in good condition, while Gazelle was offering just $198. By now, prices may well be different. It pays to compare offers before selling your stuff.

First, find out if the company buys what you’re selling by using the search feature on each site. You’ll soon find that many older items have little or no resale value, but that leaves hundreds of newer gadgets that can bring in a few bucks.

Each company will ask simple questions about the condition of your device. Is the gadget in perfect condition, does it feature the usual wear-and-tear scuffs and scratches, or is it barely holding together? If it’s a phone, will it place a call? Your answers determine your price.

Once you get a bid, the trade-in site will e-mail you a shipping label to print out. For small items like cellphones, they’ll usually mail you a shipping box as well. Return the merchandise, and if it matches your description, you get a check, a payment through the PayPal online banking service, or a gift card for use at a major retailer. You get 5 percent more money from Gazelle if you choose to be paid with a gift card from Amazon.com, so a $200 sale gets you an extra $10 in online buying power.

Thanks to these buyback sites, it makes sense to buy a new laptop or smartphone as you’d buy a new car, with an eye toward maximizing its resale value. You don’t expect a used Ford Focus to keep as much of its value as an old Lexus GS 300. In the same way, Apple laptops tend to hold their value much better than other brands. Gazelle spokeswoman Kristina Kennedy said that Mac laptops generally bring about 70 percent of their original sale price. The same goes for the Windows-based Vaio laptops made by Sony Corp. By contrast, laptops from Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. generally bring just 40 percent of their original price.

Once you’ve bought a new item, take care of it, especially the screen. Consider buying a cling-on screen protector to fend off scratches; they’re available at electronics retailers and online stores for just about all laptop or cellphone models. You can also purchase removable decals that cover the device itself. They improve the look of your gadget, but also protect it from wear, and you can peel them off when it’s time to sell.

And to maximize the resale value, hang on to your included software and accessories. Don’t worry about iPod earbuds; nobody wants to reuse them. But it pays to include your gadget’s AC power adapter, or the operating system disk that came with your laptop. “It’s definitely a good idea to keep everything original as possible,’’ said David Chen, the chief executive of NextWorth.

And one more thing: Never sell any used digital device without backing up its stored data, then wiping the unit’s hard drive or flash memory. The trade-in companies all vow to delete any information on the items they buy, but why take chances? Clear out your sensitive personal information, and then get busy turning last year’s tech into this year’s cash.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @watha.