Upgrading to the newest iPhone hardware each year means shelling out $200-$400 (or more if you’re not eligible for upgrade pricing). If you want to upgrade but don’t have the cash, here’s how to sell your old iPhone to cover the cost of the new one and then some.
Why It Works
There’s no magic trick here. This is a guide to selling your existing iPhone to cover the cost of a newer model, if not more—something I’ve done with almost every iPhone release with great results.
The main reason you’re able to earn your money back from the sale of a year-old iPhone is because you’re selling it without a contract. Buying a new iPhone without a contract would cost upwards of $500, so it’s easy to sell your used device for the price you initially paid given that the buyer gets that added bonus—easy as long as you’ve taken proper steps ahead of time, that is.
The short version: keep it in good shape and sell it at the right time. Beyond that, there are a lot of things you have to do to make sure your iPhone retains its value for the year you’ll have it. In this little guide we’ll take a look at the entire process, from when to buy your iPhone to the final sale.
When to Buy
If you were buying a used iPhone from someone you’ve never met, off of Craigslist or the like, wouldn’t you want some sort of guarantee that it’s not going to break the next day? Because you’re just a person selling your phone online, you can’t really offer a proper warranty, and if you sell a year after you bought the phone, your iPhone warranty will have expired. Because the iPhone 4S was released on October 14th, Apple’s provided you with a little extra time to sell yours before the one year warranty expires. This is great news if you’re not encumbered by a contract.
So what are your options? If you have an older device (i.e. the iPhone 4) that’s out of warranty because you didn’t buy AppleCare, you basically have two options. You can try to sell without the warranty, which may work just fine or, during the price any negotiations you can offer to split the cost of a third-party warranty (our favorite is SquareTrade). If you’ve created your own extended warranty fund you can use some of that money to cover the added cost of your new iPhone in the event it doesn’t sell for the exact amount you need. While being out of warranty doesn’t put you in an ideal situation, one way or the other you should be able to earn enough to cover the cost of a new one nonetheless. You probably won’t be able to sell your 16GB iPhone 4S for a 64GB iPhone 5, trading up for an equivalent model shouldn’t be a problem.
If you’re still under warranty, you’re in much better shape. Don’t worry if it’s about to expire—even offering a few weeks is plenty. While that’s not much time for an actual warranty, it essentially gives your buyer two important things: peace of mind that if it breaks the next day they can get it fixed for free, and the ability to purchase an extended warranty themselves. That added benefit goes a long way and comes at no cost to you.
Proper Care for About 364 Days
iPhones sell, in part, because of their looks. Whether or not you were lured in by aesthetics, you should maintain your iPhone’s appealing looks or it won’t sell as easily. If you get a small, mostly unnoticeable nick or two you’ll be okay. What you want to watch out for are scratches and other ugly blemishes. And, of course, you don’t want to drop it and shatter the screen. Let’s talk about how best to keep it safe.
The Case and Protective Film Combo
Buying a case—really anything from a slim, feather case to something bulky and rubberized—goes a long way when paired with protective film. This is generally the option I choose because it’s cheap (around $20-25, total, if you look in the right places) and doesn’t require much work. You just snap on the case and adhere the protective film. Protective film comes with the added benefit of matte/anti-glare options, too. Films often cause dust and air bubbles during application, but most packs come with two so you can use one for practice. Alternatively, aKioky perfect fit applicator simplifies the process and, if possible, consider coercing an Apple Store employee to help you with the application. They have more practice and a repair room in the back of the store (meaning a location with less dust to get under the film).
If you do decide to go the case-and-film route, a little maintenance is necessary. Dust somehow finds its way into your tightly sealed case and the phone moves around a bit (even if it doesn’t seem like it), causing minor scratches to occur. Rubberized cases minimize this. Plastic cases don’t—especially the snap-on, thin-framed “feather” types. The easy fix: monthly or bi-monthly, take the case off and clean it and the back of the phone. Any dust spray will do the trick, but you can just use a damp paper towel when you’re short on supplies. Once clean, put the case back on and you’re good for another month or two.
One last note: the great thing about using protective film is that you can remove it before selling the phone. When you do, the screen looks impossibly clean and unblemished, making the iPhone an easy sell.
Full-body protection minimizes damage. The ZAGG invisibleSHIELD, for example, covers your entire iPhone in supposedly impenetrable film making it a good bet for scratch resistance. That said, it’s hard to apply and it’s pricier than most protective film you can find online (since it’s generally tougher and definitely more comprehensive). On the plus side, ZAGG has a lot of mall carts that provide free application if you buy it from them. While this isn’t going to reduce the price, it’ll ensure that you get the film on properly (and without bubbles). While protective film may set you back an extra $30 or so, you can always use it as a selling point later.
Packaging and Accessories
Apple packaging looks good, and whether or not you care, a lot of buyers will feel better about their purchase if you keep the box, the manuals, and especially any Apple stickers. If you want to take it a little further, include the unopened power adapter, cable, and headset from your new iPhone with the old model. You can just use the accessories you already have, and it’s yet another step in making your used iPhone feel like it’s brand new.
Unlocking a Little Bonus
If you want to grab a little cash above and beyond what you could normally ask for, you can go through the trouble to unlock your iPhone. If you’re not familiar, unlocking is the process of opening up your iPhone to any carrier. It’s a little more in-depth than jailbreaking and requires a bit of work, but unlocking your iPhone with ultrasn0w (which you can download on Cydia post-jailbreak) will allow you to charge more as people who aren’t savvy enough to unlock the phone themselves are often willing to pay a little extra for the convenience.
If you decide to go this route, be careful. It’s very important that you explain to the buyer what it means to have an unlocked phone, even if they already know. You don’t want an angry buyer who didn’t know that Apple won’t fix the phone and that they won’t necessarily be able to update to the latest version of iOS—at least not as easily and as soon as everyone else. While you can make a little extra money this way, be clear when selling it or you could cause some unwanted trouble for you and your buyer.
Don’t Forget to Reset!
Chances are you don’t want your precious data in the hands of your buyer, so you have a couple of options. First, you can just do a restore of your phone by plugging it into you computer, clicking Restore in iTunes, and then preventing the phone from syncing back up when it’s all done. Alternatively—and this is my preference since it does the same thing and it’s faster—is resetting all your iPhone data directly from the phone. To do this, go intoSettings on your iPhone, choose Reset, and then tap Reset All Content and Settings. This will fully wipe your phone while still retaining the standard apps (which is great for your buyer for testing purposes).
Making the Sale
Making the sale is easy if your iPhone’s in good condition and you kept all of the accessories. All you really have to do is find a buyer and make the sale. While you can use sites like eBay to quickly sell online, you pay a fee. Craigslist costs you nothing to post and claims no fees for your sale, plus you get paid in cash. While most sales on Craigslist will result in less money for you, the iPhone is an exception. For a pristine iPhone, you can expect to make back more than you paid for it—but don’t expect to get your set price. People on Craigslist like to haggle, so be sure to set the price about $20-25 higher than what you expect to get for the phone. Most people will lowball you, but they’re often willing to pay more. Generally people are willing to pay full price but want to feel like they got a great deal. Price it higher than what you’re hoping to get and then you both get what you want.
When posting the ad, don’t make it too long. Many Craigslisters won’t read it even if it’s only a few sentences. Include the important information first: the model of the iPhone, how much storage it has, its body color, that it’s in great condition, and that you’re selling it because you want to upgrade (as opposed to the buyer’s imagined scenario: “there’s something wrong with it so they want a new one and they’re going to try to screw me over”). You can cover this information in 2-3 sentences. Be sure to say thanks and leave your first name. If you’re comfortable providing a phone number, go ahead. If not, you should still be prepared to handle most communication over the phone if you find a buyer that you like.
You will have options, so don’t be in a rush to sell. Trust me on this—every time I’ve sold an old iPhone on Craigslist, I’ve received at least five offers in the first few minutes. The last time I sold, I posted at 2:00 AM and ended up with around 40 inquiries by morning. When you have a product like this, you’re in a good position to pick your buyer. You want to try and pick someone you think you’ll get along with. It’ll be a better experience for both of you, plus they’re more likely to buy from you if they like you. Even buyers you’re going to like will most likely email you with questions you’ve already answered in the listing. Even if you find this frustrating, don’t let that slip into your reply. Often buyers did read the listing but want to hear directly from you to them that your iPhone’s in good condition.
The most important thing is that you’re honest about the condition of the phone. If there is any cosmetic damage that you know of, no matter how minor, tell them. You do not have to include it in the listing but tell them if they ask. Minor cosmetic damage can be hard to describe or even photograph, and it’s best to just say that. Let them know that you want to show them. This makes you honest and encourages them to come see the iPhone in person. When you’re communicating over the phone or via email, the buyer has to use his or her imagination to decide what the damage looks like. You can be sure that what they imagine is the worst-case scenario. If they come to look at the phone, it will undoubtedly look better in person than it did in their head. That is, of course, if you’ve been honest with them.
When the actual sale takes place, it’s always prudent to count the money. Don’t worry about offending the buyer—they should expect you to do this. They’d do this themselves if they were in your shoes. There are nice ways to ask, too. Saying “do you mind if I count it?” allows them to give you permission—which they always will—so there’s no real tension in that moment. Once you’ve made the exchange, you’re all set. You’ve just paid for your iPhone upgrade and maybe even made a little money in the process.
This is just one strategy for one product that’s always worked for me. If you’ve got any great strategies for getting a good resale price on your stuff, add to the discussions below!