Tech Talk

Guide: Checklist for Buying a Used Phone | UpTrade

Oct 15, 2022 Marco Mai

In today’s world, you’re nearly required to have a smartphone - and if you buy the most recent model every time you break yours or when a new model drops, you can spend some serious cash. This has caused a lot of people in the US to look to buying a used phone.

For most users, the difference between an iPhone X and iPhone 12 is negligible. Yet, if you go to buy an iPhone 12, it can cost you $700 more than an iPhone X. If you’re not the type of person that absolutely has to have the latest and greatest, used phones are the way to go.

The used technology market has grown and developed - from pawn shops to refurbished outlet stores, to today’s equivalents in eBay and businesses like us at UpTrade. As the Internet has expanded and new businesses have grown, buying a secondhand phone has become just as easy as checking your email. According to the IDC (International Data Corporation), 55 million units of used phones were sold in North America in 2020. With the current trend, it looks like it’ll grow to 95 million units by the end of 2024.


Why Do People Buy Used?

The Motorola Razr was $350 when it was released - and considered an expensive cell phone in comparison to other, simpler flip phones of the era. The first iPhone was $600 - and critics and consumers gawked at the ridiculous price. Everyone made jokes about how Apple products were so overpriced - with the first Android phones coming out around the same time at $200.

Now, it’s not entirely uncommon for most people’s phones to cost over $1,000. Flagship, top-of-the-line phones are usually around $1,500. Most Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus phones are more expensive than their Apple counterparts. With average phone costs being nearly 5% of the average US salary, and the average user having to get one phone per year due to upgrades or replacing a damaged phone, this can be a serious dent in your budget!

Buying used phones offers consumers an option to buy perfectly functional phones at a significantly lower price - as retailers will often only sell the newest two generations of phone. Trade-in value to your carrier is a fraction of the value of the phone - so people have turned to new options for buying and selling used phones to help save cash.



How Do You Buy a Used Phone?

People have more or less three options to buy a used phone.


Buying OEM Used Refurbished Phones

Apple, Google, Samsung - they all sell refurbished phones. Usually, they’re about $100 off the current MSRP, and you can usually get phones one or two generations out, and they’ll be backed and guaranteed to some degree by the manufacturer. This is usually a good way to go, though the phones will still be pretty expensive.

These are often the phones they get back from someone when they’re damaged or have an error, and then repaired, repackaged, and set to go back out for sale. Generally, these manufacturers will guarantee their refurbished phones for at least 90 days, sometimes a year. You may even be able to buy additional coverage.


Certified Used Retailers

Companies like UpTrade (hey, that’s us!), Amazon, BestBuy, and other retailers will have a program to buy or trade-in your old phones, and you can buy those phones once they’ve gone through a certification process.

Once cleaned and reviewed, the used phones are then re-sold. These are often a fraction of the price that buying from an OEM, and will usually have their own warrantees or money-back guarantees. You’ll often get a much better price than buying OEM, and you’re usually guaranteed similar or matching quality.


Marketplace Sellers

At the time of writing this, there are 57,000 results for iPhones on eBay. Many of these phones come from pawn shops with eBay stores, regular consumers who are selling their old phone independently, and people who have operations that buy stolen or lost phones from people who have “found” them.

There’s a good mix of all three types in the stores. While it’s rare for users with lots of positive feedback on these marketplaces to have bad, broken, or stolen goods, and often marketplaces will have rules against these things, they’re not necessarily good at enforcing them, and you could be left with a defective or stolen phone. You may be able to get a good deal and get a functioning phone, but there are always inherent risks with buying from a marketplace.



Checklist for Buying a Used Phone Online

If you’ve bought a used phone online before, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of what to look for. If this is your first time, we’ve compiled this list - the same type of list we use before buying used phones from our customers!


What’s the Battery Strength? Many new phones have the ability to have a “battery health” test - something that shows how effective the phone’s current battery is. While this isn’t the end-all-be-all of how good of a deal it is, replacing a phone battery is about $100. So check the battery health before buying, and if it’s lower than 80%, you may have to incorporate another $100 into your final expense before you have a phone that operates well.


Is the phone fully functional? There’s more to test than just battery or buttons. Does the signal radio operate? How about the proximity sensor?


Does the Carrier match? While many phones nowadays are unlocked, some aren’t. If you’re buying a phone locked for Verizon, you may not be able to bring it to T-Mobile without going through a lot of hoops to unlock it with the previous carrier. Some older phones don’t have the ability to be unlocked at all.


Does the Model Number match your country? Did you know that the iPhones they sell in Europe are different than the ones they sell in the US? If you buy a model from outside the country, it may not have the right hardware to work with your country’s infrastructure.


Is the phone stolen? Each phone has an IMEI number that is unique. When a person reports their phone as lost or stolen, the carrier will block that IMEI and report the next person who tries to activate it. Even if you didn’t steal it yourself, if your seller stole or found it and tried to sell it online, you may end up getting a visit from an officer looking to recover someone’s stolen phone.

You can use free tools online to check an IMEI number to see if it’s blocked or not. However there’s a time delay - so the database may not reflect it. Many lost and stolen phones will be blacklisted but have no use prior.


Is the phone paid off from the carrier? One of the trickier questions to answer. A phone can have a clean IMEI number, look brand new, and be sold at a great price – but the seller may have financed it, and stop paying the bill 30 days after the sale. This may blacklist the IMEI - and you’ll have no way to contact the original seller. To see if it’s paid off, ask for a purchase receipt or evidence that the phone is paid off before buying it. Most marketplaces and OEM sales won’t have this problem, but marketplace or personal sales may.


Does the seller have positive reviews that have to do with phones? A long time scam is to buy old ebay accounts and use them to sell as many stolen phones as possible. Check reviews for details specifically about phones - and try to find ones that date months or years back.


Does the box match the phone? If you’re buying a phone with a different box, the serial number or IMEIs on the box may not be the same as the phone. This is another sign you may be dealing with a scammer on a marketplace. Hopefully, this guide helps guide you in your journey in purchasing a used phone. If you’ve got more questions, or need help buying a used phone, you can contact our used phone experts.


Hopefully, this guide helps guide you in your journey in purchasing a used phone. If you’ve got more questions, or need help buying a used phone, you can contact our used phone experts.

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© 2022 UpTrade Networks Inc. All Rights Reserved