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Friday, June 9, 2023

The Best Used Tech to Buy (and Sell)

Buying used tech (and reselling it later) is a win-win. It's good for the environment and good for your wallet. But to get the most for your dollar, it's useful to know which items tend to hold their value over time—and which ones depreciate at the drop of a hat. That way, you can strategically plan your purchases so you're keeping as much money as possible in your pocket.

The Gadgets That Hold Their Value

When you browse sites like Craigslist, eBay, and others, it's clear that some products are fetching prices closer to their original retail cost than others. Apple is a great example: "iPhones, MacBooks, and Apple Watches are popular products to buy and sell used," says Sara Beane, Media Relations Specialist at Swappa. "The market shows that it values Apple products over time, and that they tend to depreciate slower over time." If you look at the data for phones sold on Swappa, it's clear that iPhones stay closer to their original MSRP during the first two to three years compared to competing products. After that age, the gap closes, while iPads, MacBooks, and Apple Watches continue to keep their wide gap past those first few years.


Beane notes that there are products on both smartphone platforms that hold their value well, though. Samsung's Galaxy line and Google's Pixel line, for example, lag behind iPhones a tad but hold their value better than many competing Android brands.

The same goes for other well-known brands that are best-sellers on the new market. "Typically, items that sell best on our platform are well-known technology brands such as Apple, Samsung, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo,” explains Brandon Vaughan, spokesperson for OfferUp. Even if there's a lot of supply, high demand keeps these products selling well—so you can be pretty confident there'll be a buyer for that PS4 you bought just to play God of War. Even if your product category is a bit more niche, you may find the top brands in that hobby hold their value longer. I've seen this anecdotally with some cameras and audiophile headphones, for example—though less so with audiophile speakers, since their size necessitates local sales where demand may be slim.

Keep in mind that these things can fluctuate over time too. Both spokespeople noted that video game systems sold extremely well during the pandemic, thanks to high demand from people staying at home, with the Switch skyrocketing above its retail price thanks to stock shortages. So while brand name and popularity are a big component in long-term value, seasonal surges and outside factors also play a huge role. When a new iPhone comes out, for example, the last generation starts to drop in value quickly—so if you have a spare phone on hand, it might be worth selling last gen's option a few weeks before Apple drops new models to pocket a bit more cash.

The Gadgets That Depreciate Quickly

Not all items are in such high demand, though. In many other cases, selling a used gadget may come with more significant loss.

Take, for example, those Android phones mentioned above. While Galaxy and Pixel phones tend to hold their value decently, other lower-demand Android phones depreciate faster. Looking at Swappa's stats on the LG G8 ThinQ, for example, reveals a slightly lower average selling price than for the Galaxy S9—even though LG's offering is a whole year newer and was priced higher at launch. The demand just isn't there.

From anecdotal experience, I've found the same is often true for laptops. While popular, highly rated laptops like MacBooks can sell for decent prices, many Windows laptops—especially lesser-known budget or midrange models—seem to lose a ton of value as soon as you drive them off the proverbial lot. (I scored a brand-new Acer Aspire 5 on OfferUp for less than half its retail price a few years ago, despite it's being a solid performer even today.) It's hard to pinpoint the exact reasons for this, but it's likely that the Android and Windows ecosystems have so many manufacturers and product lines that demand for any one specific model is lower compared to specific, high-demand competitors like MacBooks. So people tend to shop with a bigger focus on price than getting the specific item they want.

I've seen the same in TVs as well. If the majority of people are just looking for the biggest TV they can get for a cheap price, you're going to have a hard time selling that high-end model for anywhere near what it's worth—and you'll likely have to price it low to compete with all the other budget models on the used market (or wait an awfully long time for another high-end TV buyer to come along).

In fact, if you look through Swappa's home tech section, you'll find a bevy of products on sale for fractions of their original price tags. A "Mint" Roomba 960 is currently selling for 60 percent of Amazon's list price, as is the typical 3rd-gen Nest Thermostat. And the market is so flooded with Amazon Echos and Google Nest Homes that people got for free or in a combo deal that there are always brand-new listings for well under MSRP.

Lower Prices Don’t Mean Lower Quality

Many people see stats like this and assume heavy depreciation is an indicator of a product's quality—but there's more to it than that. That Nest Thermostat is one of the most well-reviewed products in its category, as is the Roomba 960. Brands like Acer, Lenovo, and Motorola make great products, even if they aren't in as high demand as MacBooks and Surface laptops. And just because Sony's X950G TV is selling refurbished for half the price of this year's X950H doesn't mean it's noticeably worse—in fact, they're very similar in performance.

So don't mistake the intention of this explainer: I'm not telling you to avoid products that depreciate quickly. If a product is well reviewed and known to be of high quality, it might just not be in high enough demand to score big prices on the used market—which means you can buy it used and negotiate a killer deal.

On the other hand, if you're buying something you plan on upgrading soon, you might want to make sure it's from a brand or product category that'll hold its resale value better, so you can sell it for more when you go to replace it. You don't want to drop $1,000 on a phone, only to get stuck selling it for $400 next year.

That said, the more you buy used, the more you save—and the better imprint you make on the planet. If you're the kind of person who shops regularly on the used market, it can really add up. These depreciation stats are less meaningful to those who only so do occasionally. For the latter camp, these guidelines can help you navigate those big wins—a 20 percent discount might not be worth it to you, but a 60 percent discount is hard to pass up.

The same goes for selling. Those gadgets in your closet may not be selling for as much as they used to, but don't assume they're worthless. "People may not realize something they have has value," says Beane. "They might not think the old smartphone or laptop or gaming console is worth anything, but there's probably someone out there that wants it. Why let it collect dust when you can get something for it?" She notes that the iPhone 7 and 8 remain good sellers on Swappa despite being a few years old—and hey, even if you have an item that has depreciated heavily, having $100 in your pocket is better than holding junk in your attic. And it's definitely better than sending it to a landfill the next time spring cleaning comes around.

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