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Spending Smart: What you can do with your old phones

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

September 22, 2014

With consumers rushing to buy the new iPhone 6, Moto X or any other late-model smartphone, a related industry is bustling: recommerce companies that will buy your old smartphone, sometimes for hundreds of dollars.

And unless you have a good reason not to, thatís exactly what you should do ó sell your old phone with one of two strategies in mind: top dollar or low hassle.

Savvy phone upgraders know the process well, but some 44 percent of old smartphones sit in drawers and closets losing value by the day, according to sell-back company Gazelle.

"Thereís a lot of inherent value in these things. They have no good reason to be in a drawer," said Alyssa Voorhis, senior technology analyst for Gazelle, one of the largest recommerce sites that buys smartphones and other electronics. "Trade-in inertia is very real, but the recommerce space seems to be gaining traction."

A 32-gigabyte iPhone 5 in good condition would fetch $165 on Gazelle and NextWorth, $227.50 on Amazon Trade-In, and $205 from Apple itself, according to prices the day after the new iPhone 6 was announced. Immediate price quotes based on your phone model and condition are available at most sites.

Awareness about selling old smartphones is likely to rise as wireless phone companies themselves get into the buy-back business, said Brian Morris, spokesman for buyback comparison website Flipsy.com.

"Many simply donít realize how valuable their old smartphones are, but when Verizon or Sprint starts offering them $200 or $300 for their old phones, theyíll take notice," he said.

But for many consumers, itís not as simple as choosing the highest selling price. Here is how to best get paid for your old device.

Where to sell. Fortunately for consumers, more companies are getting in on the buyback game. That added competition among buyers has narrowed the gap between private-party values and trade-in prices, Morris said.

The options are to sell the phone yourself, perhaps with the help from online marketplaces eBay, Craigslist and Glyde.

You can sell it and get store credit from established retailers, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and Apple. Or your wireless phone service provider might have a buyback plan for dollars off your next phone purchase.

Then there are numerous online buyback companies, such as Gazelle, NextWorth and uSell. Some sites, such as Flipsy, offer easy comparison of prices among several sites, some lesser-known.

EcoATM has kiosks, mostly in shopping malls, where you can trade in your old phone and get cash on the spot.

Price vs. hassle. Generally, you can either get a higher price for your old smartphone or lower hassle in selling it, but not both.

The self-sale will almost always fetch the most money but requires the most effort. You have to advertise the item, find a seller, maybe haggle on price, handle payment and pay to package and ship the phone.

That can be worth it if you have the time and price is the top priority.

Retailers and wireless companies that buy back your phone are known companies with established reputations and often offer the option to trade in your phone in person, rather than by mail.

Dedicated buyback companies are lesser known but might be the easiest. Many will quote you a price, send you packing materials and pay for shipping. Payouts are relatively fast ó days, not weeks.

"In virtually every case, the private market will pay more for an old device than a buyback vendor; however, the gap is narrowing," Morris said. The difference used to be about 50 percent, and now is 10 to 30 percent, he said. A phone that would sell privately for $400 might sell for $300 now, compared with $250 a few years ago.

Payment currency. Another major factor that will affect your decision on where to sell your device will be if you can get cash or must take store credit ó or some other method of payment, via PayPal or Bitcoin, for example.

Of course, cash is king because you can spend it anywhere. But some sites will offer more for accepting a different currency.

At Gazelle, for example, you get a 5 percent premium for taking payment in the form of Amazon.com credit, which might be fine if you shop at Amazon often and will easily use the credit on items you would buy anyway.

Why buyback prices seem high. Some consumers might be confused, recalling they paid about $200 for their phone two years ago. How can they now sell it for nearly the same price?

Thatís because U.S. wireless carriers have traditionally sold phones for less than their real cost and made up for it with the price of the service plan, although thatís changing with new lease-type plans.

Apple vs. Android. Apple products tend to retain their value much better than those with Android operating systems, which simply reflects the greater demand for iPhones in the aftermarket, Voorhis said.

That brings up a side point to consider: Apple products might be more expensive to buy, but the price is defrayed by getting more when you sell the phone.

Samsung phones, among the Android phones, retain value better, she said.

Carrier matters. The price you get will also depend on which carrier the phone is linked to. Again, itís supply-and-demand for those devices not only in domestic resale markets, but internationally. For example, Verizon Wireless and AT&T iPhone 5s devices generally fetch higher prices because they are more popular carriers.

Timing matters. Like the price of a stock, price quotes for used phones fluctuate. For iPhones, prices drop about 20 percent from a month before the announcement to a month after, Voorhis said. Itís too late for the new iPhone, which was announced Sept. 9, but one good strategy for the future is to get a price commitment on your device before a new one is released.

It will likely have more value than after a new model is announced. Thatís possible with some online buyback companiesí offer to lock in a price for a certain period, say 30 days, with no commitment to sell your phone to that company. That way, you can use your old phone while you wait for the new one to be released and decide later what your sell-back strategy will be.

A matter of trust. If youíre shipping off your device to a recommerce site, youíre trusting that the company will actually pay you and fairly evaluate its condition, which will affect its selling price. So check online reviews and the Better Business Bureau to look for warning signs.

"Those that offer to send your phone back to you for free or a minimal fee if you donít agree with their assessment of condition at least offer some protection against being ripped off," Morris said.

Privacy. Be sure to back up your data and photos, then wipe your device of all personal information with a factory reset of your phone. Note a buyback companyís privacy policy. Gazelle, for example, wipes the devices even if you already did. It also destroys any SIM and data cards left in the phone, Voorhis said.

Donít sell. You might have a good reason for not selling your old smartphone.

For example, it could be a hand-me-down to a teenager or make a nice music and gaming device for children because many apps continue to work without service from a wireless phone company, using Wi-Fi instead.