As I was spring-cleaning my home office recently, I came across a cardboard box labeled "Cell Phones of the Last Decade." As an experiment, I punched the model numbers of those ancient phones into several of the online sites that buy used gadgets to see whether I could make any money off them.
But I had waited too long. The Motorola Razr V3 that was my pride and joy in 2004 is worthless today, as is the HTC Tilt smartphone with the broken cover. All three sites I tried--BuyMyTronics.com, Gazelle.com, and NextWorth.com--told me the old phones were fit only for recycling.
I'm not the only dawdler. In a 2010 study conducted by electronics shopping site Retrevo.com, 26 percent of 7500 people surveyed said they never got around to reselling or recycling their older gadgets.
Then I checked out what the three sites would pay for my current phone, a 2010 HTC Droid Incredible. When prompted, I noted that the phone had normal wear and no water damage, and said that I could supply its AC adapter, battery, and original cables. Instantly the three sites came back with offers: BuyMyTronics.com valued my phone at $117, NextWorth.com put it at $147.74, and Gazelle.com came in at $157. Not bad, considering that I paid $200 for it last year after a Verizon rebate.
If your item still has value, a good site will provide a mailing label or a prepaid box to use in shipping it. If the site agrees with you about the item's condition after it arrives, you should receive payment within 10 days. Many consumers overestimate the condition of their equipment, however, in which case a reliable site will get back to the seller, usually by e-mail, with a new offer and will send the item back if the revised price is unacceptable.
Which Sites Can You Trust?
Dozens of sites buy used electronics. But how can you tell which ones will send you the money they say your item is worth once you've shipped it to them? And if you ship them defunct tech, how can you confirm that they will recycle it properly?
Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
• Never use a site without checking its Better Business Bureau review and rating.
• Try to sell gear just before its manufacturer or vendor launches an updated or replacement model in that category.
• Make sure you understand how the service handles shipping. Is it free? Is packaging for your item supplied? In the event of a return, who pays for shipping?
• If you're selling a device that contains personal data, be sure to wipe its hard drive (if it's a PC), reset it to factory condition (if it's a phone), and remove all storage cards and personal photos.
• If your item has no value, find out whether the site will recycle it for you.