One of the great things about using a Mac is that unlike many commodity Windows PCs, it doesn’t turn to metaphorical dust—an unusable pile of silicon and metal—after three or four years of use. Heck, a three-year-old Mac is often still a solid computer, and a one-year-old Mac is a great “new” machine for many people. Which is why selling a Mac when it’s of a relatively recent vintage can be an economical way to keep using the latest and greatest Mac hardware.
I’ve done my share of selling used Macs over the years; for a while in the late 90s and early 2000s, I would sell my old Mac after about a year of use, while it was still worth quite a bit, and buy the latest model for only a few hundred bucks more. I had to deal with the hassle of transferring my files more frequently than most people, but I always had a current computer and I paid less, overall, than it would have cost to upgrade every few years. For someone in my line of work, who has to be familiar with the latest models, it was a good plan.
With the transition to Intel processors and lower Mac prices, this method isn’t as feasible as it once was. But Macs still hold their resale value surprisingly well—especially if your Mac is in great shape when you sell it. With all the old, beat-up equipment on Ebay and CraigsList, a computer that’s in pristine condition stands out and commands a premium price. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my Macs in prime selling shape. Here are my tips for doing the same with yours:
Keep all your original boxes and materials. Nothing says “I care” more than a computer packed in the original box with all the original cables, manuals, and accessories. So keep track of everything that comes with your Mac when you first take it out of the box—take a digital photo, or write everything down on a note you keep in the box. Heck, if you’re a veteran computer user, chances are you already have many of the accessories on hand; use your existing ones instead and keep the originals new in the box.
Keep a record of your upgrades and additional accessories. Chances are, you invest more in your Macs than the original purchase price. Over the course of your ownership, you may install additional RAM, upgrade the hard drive, and more. Don’t forget to keep a record of each hardware tweak; these details will not only give you a better idea of how much your Mac is worth, but if you include the information in the description of your Mac, you’ll get more interest and higher offers.
Keep desktops covered. After liquids, heat, and smoke, perhaps the biggest environmental danger to a computer is dust. Put simply, dust kills—it can block ventilation openings, clog moving parts, and make heat sinks less effective. You can keep your Mac running cooler and working longer—and, thus, keep it in better selling condition—by keeping dust out. The easiest way to do this is to cover the computer when not in use.
Use a keyboard protector. As someone who’s sold many Mac laptops over the years, and who worked in IT supporting hundreds of computers, I can tell you that few things turn off a computer user—and a potential computer buyer—more than a gross keyboard. Keyboards are magnets for dirt, hair, germs, and miscellaneous bio-detritus, and everyone knows it. Even if the rest of your Mac is in great shape, if its keyboard looks disgusting and unhygienic, many buyers will be turned off. Even worse, if too much junk falls into your keyboard, that debris can cause problems—with the keyboard itself or, on laptops, with the entire computer.
You can always clean your keyboard (see below), but a better option is to prevent it from getting nasty in the first place. A number of companies make keyboard covers that keep stuff from getting on and under your keys. The best of these are so thin that you barely know they’re on. When you go to sell your Mac, pull off the skin and you’ve got a brand-new keyboard underneath.
Keep laptops protected. Obviously, the biggest danger to laptops is impact, so you should be sure to carry your MacBook in a bag or case that offers protection against bumps and drops. But just as big of a danger—at least when it comes to resale value—is cosmetic damage: scratches and scuffs. Take two aluminum MacBook Pros in identical functional condition, but one with a flawless finish and the other full of scratches, and the former will command a much higher used price.
You can reduce blemishes by being extremely careful, but the truth is that most scratches result from everyday use—sliding a laptop across a desk, or picking up a notebook with a pen or keys in your hand. So I choose to use some always-on surface protection. One approach is a clip-on case such as Speck’s SeeThru. Another is a super-tough, clear skin such as BodyGuardz or InvisibleShield that doesn't change the size or shape of your laptop, but fends off even scratches from keys and knives. You can remove the film before you sell your computer, leaving your buyer in awe that you were able to keep the finish scratch-free.
Clean it regularly. Despite your best efforts, your computer will get dirty. A few minutes of care every month will keep the gunk from building up and keep your Mac in prime selling condition. How do you clean it? Check out our guide to laptop cleaning and our article on routine Mac maintenance. (The tip about keeping your desktop Mac covered helps here, too. Five years ago I got my mother-in-law a RadTech ScreenSavrz for her “lampshade” iMac; she’s used it every day since, and the screen still looks like it’s fresh out of the box, despite being cleaned only a handful of times.)
Sell it before it gets too old. Obvious? Perhaps. But many Macs work so well for so long that their owners don’t even consider selling until the computer is four or five generations old, at which point its resale value has dropped dramatically. So if you really do need the latest and greatest Mac, sell your current one when demand is high—which means before everyone else with the same model decides to sell. In my experience, current- and previous-generation Macs command big premiums, and even two-generations-ago models in great condition can garner surprisingly high prices. Once your Mac turns three (generations), you’ll likely be disappointed by how much you get for it, even if you’ve babied it.
While all this may seem like a bit of work, in reality it’s fairly easy—just a few simple steps in the beginning and some occasional maintenance. And it’s all worth it when you see the potential buyer’s jaw drop as you bring out your Mac’s original box, open it up, and carefully pull out a computer in pristine condition. Everybody wins: you get a great price, and the buyer gets a great Mac.