How To Sell Your Old Notebook

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by Perry Longinotti

Technology moves at a brick pace in 2008, there is no denying it. As consumers of technology most of us buy into the upgrade cycle at some point. How to deal with cast-off gear is an issue.

Throwing away old technology is a non starter in most cases. It is either environmentally irresponsible or ignores the inherent value of an object. Almost everything (even old tech) has a market.

So rather than add to this world’s toxic troubles why not connect and find a market for your old notebook? Put a smile on a Luddite’s face and walk away with a little more jingle in your pocket. Conducting this type of transaction is much less daunting than it seems. Much of what follows is common sense, and not all of it applies all of the time but it should be enough to get you started.

Donating a good piece of computer equipment to a school or charity is laudable and may get you into whatever heaven you believe in a little bit faster, so definitely consider it. Charity acts are easy to do and rewarding – you don’t need help (although some of the points below may still apply as a courtesy to the recipient).

Prepare to sell

You have your old notebook that you are ready to sell. Here are some considerations:

  • Inventory
  • Description
  • Photos
  • Diagnostics
  • Selling price
  • Security/Privacy

Start off by gathering together all of the notebook’s components – this means everything. Power cables, network cables, disks, manuals, boxes, stickers and any other accessories that came with the notebook or which you are including as extras. Little things like original packaging and documentation can make all the difference to certain buyers (particularly Apple fans). Do not underestimate the value of this stuff if you have it lying around. This is a good time to snap some pictures. Every blurry shot is probably a little less money in your pocket so do this right.

Make sure you do not leave memory cards or optical media that you want to keep in the computer by mistake.

The next step is to get an accurate assessment of the notebook’s condition. If this was your primary notebook you should have a good idea what, if anything, is wrong with it. Perhaps this notebook has collected dust in a closet for some time. In that case start it up and use it for a few days to determine how well it works. This is the best time to write a description of the item – a couple hundred words is plenty. Be honest.

Things you will want to watch out for and document are physical flaws or damage, battery life, and LCD condition (backlight and stuck/dead pixels). Check that memory, HDD, optical drives, network devices, USB ports, CPU are all enumerated properly in the system summary. Testing stability is probably a good idea too. One option is to download a free utility such as wPrime and run an overnight stress test. Being able to answer questions regarding condition will increase the value of your notebook to many potential buyers.

The degree to which you’ll want to do this work will probably be linked to the value you hope to get from the notebook and the reputation you want. A $50 ThinkPad 300 might not be worth it, but a 2006 Toshiba Qosmio would be. Likewise, if you plan to do this regularly a good reputation will come in handy.

A good way to determine selling price is to check the local market and eBay’s completed auctions for similar items. Keep in mind that eBay selling prices tend to be inflated. You may not be able to fetch an eBay price locally. In general, unless you are very lucky you should expect to fetch 50% of retail price (or less) within the first year to eighteen months after purchase. Exceptions to this rule include Macs and highly sought after notebooks that are uncommon (like a Ferrari for example).

Set your "asking" price at 10-15% more than what you really want to get from the sale. It is in people’s nature to squeeze for more. In a lot of cases people will ask for a discount even when they know a deal is great. They can’t help themselves. A no nonsense approach where the "price is the price take it or leave it" is admirable but why not just accept human nature and spare your self the aggravation of explaining your philosophy to buyers?

Now that you have collected everything together, know how well it works and have documented it you will want to prepare the notebook for sale. Security and privacy are a concern given how people use their computers. There can be remnants of sensitive information on the HDD.

Here are three common ways to clear contents from a HDD (in ascending complexity).

  1. Restore the Operating system doing a full (rather than a quick) format.
  2. Use a third party application to securely erase or write zeros on all sectors of the HDD.
  3. Remove HDD and obliterate it with a hammer.

Clearly there is no "beating" number three if you want to be thorough. Either of the first two options should be fine for most folks.

Where to sell

You are now ready to market your item. Here is a summary of considerations:

  • Local classifieds/craigslist
  • eBay
  • Web Forums
  • Know the game/negotiation

First choice should always be to sell locally, face to face. There are countless local buy/sell/barter websites and publications in most North American markets. The majority of these are free. Craigslist in particular seems to be good in my experience because of how well word has spread about it and the fact that it is free. eBay’s competitor for Craigslist is Kijiji but I find it inundated with spam and tainted with advertisements.

Perhaps you reside in a remote area, or there isn’t a good local market for what you are trying to sell. In that case eBay may be your best bet. Many people have soured on eBay – the constant nickel & dimming plus the almost useless buyer/seller protection are two principle complaints. Even if you feel this way it is hard to ignore eBay and the market it offers. You will need an account, and there are more steps than a simple Craigslist ad. If you have a low reputation score your final selling price may be adversely affected. People pay for peace of mind and for many people your seller rating equates to that. Also, factor the selling fees that typically include listing, final sale and payment processing – these are dollars coming directly out of your pocket.

Web forums are a last resort. There are trustworthy sites with active buy/sell forums (like for example) but it is safest to use them for local transactions unless you know who you are dealing with. If a long distance deal transacted through one of these forums goes sour there is almost no recourse for either party. Escrow services exist, but this adds a layer of complexity to a deal and the benefits in case of a bad transaction are debatable – do you really want to lose a notebook and deal with an insurance company? That is a double whammy.

A major reason why people prefer the impersonal nature of the Internet is negotiation. If you followed the advice above regarding asking price, you will be fine. This is not something to be feared. Do your research and know the minimum you will accept for the notebook. Determine this before you ever meet someone. Never sell below this. A deal needs to benefit both parties. If you are confident that you are selling at a fair price that fact will assuredly be conveyed to the buyer – and if not there are always other buyers.

If you have followed this article’s advice you are ready to accept payment and meet-up or ship.

Managing the transaction

  • Payment
  • Managing expectations
  • Shipping
  • Feedback

Online selling is rife with scam artists. Scams are perpetrated against sellers and buyers and this leads to a lot of uncertainty. Sell local and in person if you can for this reason. Here are some guidelines for meeting a collecting payment in person, skip ahead to the online payment and shipping paragraph below if you are not selling locally.

In Person Transaction

Meeting in person can present its own set of challenges and concerns. Think these things through. Do you want the buyer to know where you live? Are you comfortable inviting a stranger into your house? Are you home alone? Do you want to expose your kids to a stranger? Can you manage a buyer around other valuables in your home? What if the buyer comes with a friend? This is scary stuff if you do not know who you are dealing with so be cautious and stay within your comfort zone.

For a lot of people, a common ground meeting place works better than inviting strangers into your house. Meeting at a popular coffee shop midway between your place and a buyer’s location is probably a good idea. You will find a lot of people suggesting this these days if for no other reason than gas is expensive and not everyone has a GPS to find you. The best rule is to choose a place to meet where you are comfortable. Make sure the buyer understands that this is going to be a cash transaction. Be prepared to come back home with the notebook – in other words do not waste too much time or gas driving to a meeting place.

Pick a meeting place with room to move – the buyer is going to want to check the notebook out and ask some questions. Most people who buy used have a pretty good idea what they are looking at. An inspection can be pretty fast. To expedite things you may want to have the notebook suspended to disk with a full charge in order to skip boot up and to prove battery capacity.

Assuming the buyer likes your notebook, the next step is payment. A sharp buyer will come prepared with bills in a few denominations – cleverly hidden in various pockets so that when they offer you less than your asking price it will look as though they only have exactly what they offered. Be confident when they ask. If you have wiggle room, use it now. Make sure the buyer understands this is the final price. Be prepared to walk away if they have a problem with it.

If the buyer agrees to purchase your notebook, count the money and set expectations. Can they call you for support? Are you offering a warranty? Can they obtain the receipt from you (if not included) for manufacturer warranty purposes? Clarity is just as important at this stage as it was when you first wrote the notebook’s description. If done right you will get paid for the item and realize additional benefit afterwards in the form of positive feedback.

Remote Transactions

Online payment presents a different set of challenges. The 900 lb Gorilla of online payment processing is Paypal. If you are going to have just one online payment processing account this should be it. Paypal is very far from perfect, but understand how it benefits you and what the risks are and it can be a valuable tool.

Paypal makes it easier for people to pay by virtue of its overwhelming lead in market share. It also offers a modicum of protection against scams. If you delve into the fine print, you will see there is actually very little on offer here other than convenience. Paypal can not make an iffy transaction more secure. You can still be scammed.

The reputation of Wire transfers has been tainted by years of scams. A real wire transfer results in cash in hand paid out at a Western Union branch or similar. There is very little doubt if you have cash safely in hand prior to shipping. Move on to shipping the notebook.

Check and money orders are tricky. Although your bank can release funds into your account, they can also later come back and reclaim the funds. There really is no safe period to wait before shipping – I have heard of banks cluing in weeks after a scam and reclaiming funds directly from bank accounts.

Is this fair or not? Is it even legal? Most folks are not experts in banking regulations or consumer rights. Spare yourself a hard knocks education on the topic. Take the check or money order to the issuing institution and get it cashed. Hopefully the bank does not know you and therefore has no way to raid your account. This is as it should be, banks are in the risk business – you are not. Make the issuer earn their service fees.

Cash in the mail is a very bad idea but you will still find this offered from time to time by purchasers. Needless to say it is bad for both parties.

Packing and Shipping

If you kept the original packing materials you should be fine – this is how your notebook was sent out from the factory. In most cases it is safe to ship your notebook out exactly the way it came to you.

Replacing lost shipping materials is trickier. You might be able to re-purpose the box from your new notebook, but that will leave you with the same predicament in a few years. When packing the notebook you want to insure that it is kept away from the sides of the box to reduce the chance of damage from impacts during shipping. You also want to insure the notebook does not shift around the inside of the box when it is moved. This can ruin the finish. Use the packaging methodology of your new notebook as a guide.


Shipping the notebook out is the next step. You may have your own preferences, but most folks like USPS (or national postal service in your country) and FedEx. UPS is reliable, but they have a tendency to add mysterious fees (particularly for international shipments) that the other carriers do not. International shipments are straightforward, although they sometimes require additional paperwork (it varies a lot for some reason depending on shipping company and agent).

You may want to incorporate some time and labor charges into your shipping fee. If you do so, make sure the buyer has a good estimate of inclusive shipping costs before you finalize that sale. This protects you too. If you just guess at shipping costs you might have an unpleasant experience at the cash register when its time to pay.

Lastly, if everything has gone right do not forget to ask for feedback. Most online marketplaces have feedback systems integrated. Any transaction conducted outside of a system with feedback can be still be tracked if you use a free service like Both parties have to agree to use these services, but each successful transaction gives you more credibility in the future. This is good for buyer and seller alike.


Don’t let this verbose guide scare you from selling your used notebook (or other items for that matter). You may want to start with something small and then try a high value item like a notebook, or just leap right in. It is really quite simple and can be mastered after one or two careful transactions.



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