Sept. 8, 2015 3:18 p.m. ET
This week I sold my iPhone 6. I now have $490 in my pocket to buy Apple’s next phone!
Oh, yeah, this week I was also swamped by fine print, strung along by a potential buyer willing to pay $100 more, and nearly conned by a Nigerian scammer named “Stanley.”
Welcome to the very exciting, confusing and sometimes unsafe world of selling a smartphone.
Don’t be deterred. Selling your good-condition iPhone should be as routine as cleaning your ears. It’s even smarter now as carriers move away from subsidized pricing and two-year contracts: If you buy your phone outright, you’ll pay a lower monthly bill, and you’ll actually own your phone. (Remember, that iPhone you bought on contract was never really $199. It was $650, and you paid it off in higher monthly charges.) And if you ever want a new phone, you can just sell the old one.
The only big questions you should have about selling your phone are how and where. Nearly every retailer and carrier has begun offering some sort of “sell your smartphone” deal. I explored 10 services in the process of selling my 64GB iPhone 6 and my sister’s 32GB iPhone 5S—a fraction of the 25 I had initially considered.
I wish I could tell you there is one no-brainer way to get the most cold hard cash for your soon-to-be-old phone. Instead, I learned that maximizing your money requires a good amount of patience, an understanding of the yearly phone cycle and vigilance against traps and bad deals.
Direct Buyers: More Cash, More Hassle
After 10 minutes of weeding through services, I realized that selling your used iPhone is exactly like selling your used car. To get the best deal, avoid the middleman and sell to a real person.
Yes, I’m talking the good old-fashioned, garage-sale technique. Post a “for sale” sign in your office or school—or on Facebook. If someone bites, it will be the easiest, most cost-effective option: no shipping, no commissions and the buyer can even check out the device before paying you.
As with cars, setting the right price makes all the difference. Unfortunately, there’s no Kelley Blue Book for smartphones. For now, the best way to price your phone is to look at what the same model—including condition, storage capacity and carrier—is selling for on Amazon, eBay
Here are some quick iPhone-omics: iPhone 6 models in good condition and with original accessories will get the most cash; iPhone 5S yields slightly less. While late summer/early fall is a great time to sell, resale prices drop by 5% to 10% after Apple announces a new model. I set out to get $550 on my phone this week—$200 less than what I paid for it a year ago—but ultimately had to drop to $500 to be more competitive. (These same general rules can apply to higher-end Android phones like Samsung’s, but iPhones hold their value better and have more uniform pricing.)
I didn’t have any takers among my friends and colleagues, so I turned to the next-best option: online marketplaces where you sell directly to a buyer. While your instinct may be to hit up eBay or Amazon, let my tale be a lesson for you to consider smaller, easier-to-use sites.
I did list my phone on Amazon and eBay. Both sites surely have more potential buyers than the smaller ones. But eBay charges 10% of the sale, and Amazon takes 8%. And both sites are in dire need of seller-tool revamping.
Amazon Seller Central is inconveniently located on a completely different site than Amazon retail. It buries the listing tools and has an interface that doesn’t look like it’s been updated since Amazon only sold books.
eBay is an even bigger minefield. When “Stanley” “bought” my phone, sent me “money” via a fake, phishing PayPal
email and then asked that the phone be shipped to Nigeria, I chose to call and hold for customer service instead of navigating the cluttered, confusing settings menus to report it. Not that it’s much consolation for me, but eBay says fraud is at an all-time low and that it is always working to improve its tools.
Compared with that horror show, I found Glyde.com to be quite appealing. The simple-to-use service manages communications between buyer and seller. If the phone sells, Glyde provides the box and shipping label, and sends you payment. There are no uncomfortable chats with strangers about lowering the price or if it would make a good birthday gift. (Seriously, an interested Amazon buyer asked that.) For all that, though, Glyde takes 15% of your listing price. And it took nearly a week to find a buyer for my iPhone 6—even after three price cuts.
That’s why I ultimately sold my iPhone 6 for $500 on a site called Swappa.com. It’s easy to list and choose an optimal price based on the site’s current sales, and the service always charges just $10 commission, regardless of list price. I still needed to pay PayPal’s 2.9% transaction fee, but I caught a break on shipping. I handed off the phone in person to Zach, the lucky buyer—in a crowded New York City location, naturally.
Trade-in Programs: Less Cash, Less Hassle
While you get more cash with direct-buyer options, there’s one big problem: You need to hand over your phone ASAP. Swappa expects sellers to ship within two business days of receiving payment.
But going without a phone for even a few hours—heaven forbid days!—can cause heart palpitations. That’s why for most people, I recommend trade-in services, which buy the phone from you and then resell it. It yields less cash, but you get 30 days to send in the phone. Plus, they are dead simple to use.
Of the six I tried, Gazelle, NextWorth and iCracked offered a combination of the best perks, policies and prices. iCracked offered the best price on my iPhone 6 ($410). Gazelle offered the best on my sister’s iPhone 5S ($201). And NextWorth the best on my old iPhone 5 ($110).
My advice is to get quotes from all three of them, pick the highest offer and lock it in. You then have 30 days to send in your phone, free shipping included. (Gazelle will send you a box; iCracked will even pick it up at your home.) Once they receive the phone, you’ll get a check, PayPal payback or gift card—depending on which you select. If you change your mind, there’s no penalty for not sending it.
But remember your iPhone-onomics: The prices will begin to fall as the new phones arrive, so lock in your price right now. Really, go do it now.
Carrier Buybacks: Measly Cash, More Lockdown
This is exactly what Verizon, ATT, Sprint and T-Mobile are offering, right? Isn’t it more convenient to have them take my old phone and put the proceeds towards my new one?
Yes, there is a convenience to the carrier’s heavily marketed buyback programs, but please proceed with extreme caution. Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint offer $40 to $100 less than Gazelle on the iPhone 6 and 5S.
Safety First! Before Handing Over Your iPhone, Always…
Back up all your stuff. The easiest way is through Apple’s iTunes or iCloud tools. On your phone, go to Settings iCloud and make sure iCloud Backup is turned on. In iTunes, when your phone is plugged in, scroll down to “Manually Back Up and Restore” and select “Back Up Now.”
Make sure you turn off iCloud and Find My iPhone. Under Settings iCloud turn off “Find my iPhone” then logout of your iCloud account. This will remove any saved Apple Pay credit cards from the device as well.
Wipe the device and reset to factory settings. Once you’re absolutely positive you have your photos, music, contacts and other data backed up, go to Settings General Reset and select “Erase All Content and Settings.” It is also a good idea to remove the SIM card.
But although pricing is about even for older phones, you must use the money towards your bill or another phone, which may be locked down with your carrier through a leasing or upgrade program.
Those pay-over-time programs can be tempting since the $650 bare-minimum price of a new iPhone can be hard to swallow. But I still suggest taking the money you made on your old phone and buying the new phone outright. That way, you can be in control of your mobile freedom and get quick cash for that phone whenever you want.
I’m taking my hard-earned $500 and putting it towards the next iPhone. And next year I’ll do the same—without running into “Stanley” the con man.
Write to Joanna Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org