2nd Hand Success

Written by: Dale Mugford

Categories: Hints & Tips

A Buyer’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Used Macintosh

box.pngThe used Mac market is at once vibrant, busy- and dangerous. As with any second-hand industry, there are awesome deals that make buying new seem downright crazy, and rip-offs that make you wish you’d paid the extra few hundred to ensure you got what you wanted.

Firstly, how do you discern a good deal from a bad one? Secondly, What are the tell-tale signs of legitimate sellers, and those of scammers? Lastly, what distinguishes a decent used purchase from a killer one?

These questions are important to answer when you set your sights on a used Mac purchase, and you’re in luck if you need help: This article will fine-tooth comb the process of finding, evaluating and buying your brand new (used) Macintosh.

Step 1: In The Zone

searching.pngThere are plenty of places to find used Macs. For some who live in urban centers, there may be local resellers that offer inflated used prices on Macs- but the truth is you can do better than buying used Macs at a reseller’s premium.

You’re better off to search on-line for your used Mac.

Gasp! That’s dangerous, what if I get ripped off?

The purpose of this Guide is to prevent that from happening. Yet if you’re going to be looking through the used market, you should know that there certainly are bad deals out there, and they’re waiting to happen for naive buyers with little experience.

Just because you’re going to be looking for this Mac on-line doesn’t mean that it won’t be local. On the contrary- local is just what you’re looking for in an on-line search. Who knows, maybe that guy above you in rm. 404 has a pretty G4 15″ Powerbook that you’d be glad to take off his hands.

Your search begins and ends at home, and for good reasons:

A) You will want to see the used Mac first-hand before committing to buy it.
B) You won’t have to pay duty, brokerage, and other erroneous fees.
C) You won’t be paying for shipping, or waiting for an unknown period of time for your Mac to arrive.

Step 2: Your Best-Before Date

calendar.pngThe longer you give yourself to find the perfect used Mac, the more likely your chances of finding it.

Secondly, there are good and bad times to buy. When Apple releases new Macs, right afterwards there’s a small flood of used Macs available, as some users seek to upgrade to the latest models. As a result, the saturation & newer Macs lower the selling price in most cases.

Step 3: Dam The Cashflow

limit.pngNow that you’ve given yourself time to find the right Mac, and you’re looking locally for it, you need to set your financial limit.

Some used sales look tempting, when sellers throw in bells and whistles for a little more. Here’s where you may get trapped: do you really need what they’re offering? You need to know exactly what you need for your Mac, and stick to finding just that.

Step 4: I’ll Take Mac Trivia for $500, Alex

details.pngSome listings are chalk full of details about your Mac in question, and others, well- leave a great deal to the hopeful imagination. You need to be armed with all the finer aspects of the model(s) you’re looking at, to make sure what’s listed- is what you get.

Here’s where a program like Mactracker is essential. Mactracker provides detailed information on every Apple Macintosh computer ever made, including items such as processor speed, memory, optical drives, graphic cards, supported OSes, and expansion options. Also included detailed info on Apple mice, keyboards, displays, printers, iPods, AirPort Base Stations & more.

It’s available for Windows, Mac OS X, OS9, and your iPod! So whether you’re a Mac newbie or a long-time user, you’ll be informed with all the nitty-gritties on your search.

Step 5: The Search- Auctions

auction.pngYou’ve set your distance, date and price limits, you know everything about the Mac(s) you’re interested in, and it’s time for the exciting part: Finding your new family member. You’re looking on-line for your Mac, but where, and what do you look for?

Obviously, there’s eBay. There’s also other on-line auction sites like eBid, Ubid, MightyBids, and Yahoo! Auctions. With any of these sites the rules for on-line auction buying of your used Mac remains the same:

1.) Stay Homely
No matter how good the deal may seem, no matter what the price, if you can’t physically see the computer so there’s no way to tell if it’s fraudulent or not. You need to be able to determine the condition of the computer, so local sellers who are willing to meet is what you’re looking for.

2.) Good Cop, Bad Cop
Even if lots of details are there in the listing, confirm with the seller what they’ve listed. Clarify any for yourself, asking: the condition of the exterior, # of owners, warranty, upgrade information (by who, when) the LCD condition (cracks, dead or stuck pixels, dark or light areas) and any other relevant information you consider important. In asking, you’ll quickly discover how knowledgeable the seller is about what they’re selling, and whether their communication with you is polite, honest, thorough, and clear- or not. And if not, you’re moving on.

3.) Includes
Do your best to find Macs that have all the original software, accessories, manuals, box etc. For one thing it shows you that the seller was interested in preserving it for resale, and probably takes care of the Mac. For another, you might need some or all of these things one day, and they’ll cost you an arm & a leg to replace.

3.) Ask For A Blind-Date
Some people clearly state they don’t do local pick-up, and other’s have to be courted. Some are very willing to do it, and those sellers are already in the good books, as it’s clear they are comfortable with a face-to-face transaction, and your ability to back out of the deal.

4.) Is It A Final Sale?
When sellers state this, they better have good reason. I once sold my used Mac with a final sale notice because it was still under warranty. I felt that if someone had issues with the laptop, they could address them with the warranty, and therefore I should not assume any responsibility. I ensured the full working and cosmetic condition of the laptop prior to sale. Make sure when a seller states this that you understand why- and if there are any exclusions, such as a Defective On Arrival (D.O.A) product.

5.) Ship’s Ahoy
Remember, because it’s a local sale, there’s no shipping fees. Don’t allow the seller to try and hook you into paying for shipping when you’re doing a local pick-up.

6.) Warranted?
If the Mac in question is still under warranty, ask for the serial number to verify. If so, you have the option to purchase Applecare for another 2 years, which may be a worthwhile investment considering you’re saving some cash in buying used. If it’s not under warranty, make sure to check with Mactracker to find out the exact age of the Mac you’re looking at.

7.) Stick To The Plan
Don’t overbid, or offer more than you think the Mac is worth. After checking many different listings, you should have an idea of what the average going rate of the Mac(s) you’re interested in are going for.

Those are universal auction rules, but what if you’re interested in searching elsewhere?

Step 6: The Search- Classifieds

classifieds.pngOther great used Mac resources include Craig’s List, your local newspaper classifieds, and other local on-line classifieds. The previous auction rules generally apply to these other on-line search paths.

In Canada, there’s a great on-line Mac forum entitled ehMac, and on it there’s a classifieds section which allows Canadian Mac users to sell used Mac items, as well as iPods & other accessories. Many of these places are preferable to on-line auction sites, as they function more like a ‘Garage Sale’- leaving out the brokerage fees of Paypal, EMT, and other middlemen.

Step 7: The Meet & Greet Checklist

checklist.pngNow that you’ve found your Mac, and you’ve agreed to meet up at a planned date & time with your seller, it’s time to go over the must-dos & do-nots while you’re there.

1.) Say hello, introduce yourself, and let the seller know that you’d like to spend a few minutes to review the Mac.

2.) Check over the exterior of the system, checking for any cracks, bumps, tears, apparent damage, or otherwise suspicious appearance issues (Hint: for laptop buyers, make sure to check both the rubber feet and bottom of the case, and tilt the laptop on an angle to allow you to see the condition of the LCD exterior).

3.) Turn on the system, and evaluate the screen’s condition, the startup sound (speaker quality), and the hard disc sound. Assuming the system booted, if on a laptop check the trackpad & button for working condition, then using Spotlight, search for and open Textedit and type a little with the keyboard to make sure there are no sticky letters or numbers.

4.) Check the system profiler (again type system profiler into Spotlight), and verify that the system does have the seller’s listed hardware specifications.

5.) Shut down, then re-boot the system. It may sound silly, or extreme, but I once had to deal with an iBook that was given to me while in sleep mode. I had done the previous checks, then shut down the system to see if it would re-boot. Surprisingly, it did not. The seller was totally stressed out, and had told me it had not been shut down for days. We ended up taking it to a local reseller to have them look at it, and indeed, it needed repairs. it was a good thing it was under warranty for him, otherwise he wouldn’t have made the sale, and would have been out a laptop.


1.) Take the Mac without doing the above!
2.) Allow to seller to ‘hurry you up’ in doing what you need to to feel comfortable with the sale
3.) Hesitate to reject the sale if any problems occur in your evaluation

Step 8: The Home Test

hardware.pngJust to make sure you’ve got a healthy Mac, pop in your first Installation Disc and boot from the disc, pressing the necessary keyboard combination to access the Hardware Test (Search Apple’s Support pages, or your User Manual for your Mac’s specific keyboard code). This will let you thoroughly test your Mac for any glitches.

Step 9: Au Revoir!

mail.pngOnce your Mac’s been given a clean bill of health and every-thing’s setup, mail the seller and thank them again for the sale, let them know you’re happy. Letting them know that they’ve just been great encourages them to continue down the path of used Mac righteousness. And it’s just a nice thing to do, ya know?

Step 10: Enjoy Your Mac!

enjoy.pngIt’s been a lot of work researching, finding and picking your used Mac, and you’ve saved a bundle doing it. Now it’s time to savour the fruits of your labour, and realize the beauty of your killer used Macintosh deal!

In my experience, what you’re looking for is out there- it’s a matter of patience, and perseverance to find it. Do not, under any circumstances, settle for anything less that what you hope for. I’m confident that if you use this guide as your ally in your next used Mac hunt- you’ll come away grinning.

There are 6 comments on 2nd Hand Success:

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  1. David Rooney | Sep 13 2006 - 12:04

    Great Review! Very fine toothcombing

  2. Dale | Sep 13 2006 - 12:02

    Thanks David… I have purchased used Macs on several occassions, some for myself and some for family/friends, and learned these lessons through the process.

  3. Ruth May Garrow | Sep 13 2006 - 08:14

    Wow, great tips! Your information provides one with a step by step guide that is truly useful. The inclusion of additional resource and reference areas will also prove extremelly useful in the hunt for a used Mac. THANK YOU!

  4. Appleologist | Sep 21 2006 - 07:07

    Thanks for using my image (the ‘Used Mac’ box).

  5. Sheamus | Oct 17 2006 - 01:59

    Followed link from ehmac post… This article is GREAT!!

  6. Dale | Oct 17 2006 - 01:16

    Thanks! Hope it helps you find your Mac!