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Three Things You Have to Know Before Buying a Used or Refurbished Laptop

Aug 17, 2007
Laptops are more affordable then ever. Prices have dropped enough to make laptops available to most consumers who need a mobile computer for school, work or personal use. Even though they are more affordable, buying a laptop is still a major investment. One way to soften the financial blow is by purchasing a used or refurbished laptop from either a private seller, a retail vendor or a liquidator who is clearing out off-lease laptops. While the price may be lower, there are many things consumers must learn before buying a used laptop. Shoppers must: know the seller, know the products, and know where to buy.

Know the Seller

There are only three types of used or refurbished laptop sellers: retailers, private sellers, or scammers. It's imperative to know from whom you are buying because that determines how you approach the buying process. You deal with a private seller very differently from an online retailer. Of course, if the online merchant is a reputable e-commerce site (some examples listed below), then you shouldn't need to worry about this, but there are some great deals to be found online if you stay educated and wander outside the standard computer stores. There are several red flags to watch out for when determining with whom you are dealing (and if you should deal with them at all!):

- Check the feedback. Is there a feedback system on the site? If the seller seems to be a merchant, do they have consistent track record providing the product you want to purchase? If the seller seems to be an individual, do they have more than one model for sale? It would be unusual for a private seller should to have more than one model for sale at a time - if they do, be suspicious.

- Check the payment method. Are the payment terms odd or inconvenient? Do they only accept Western Union? (Never send money via WU to someone you don't know. There is no recourse if you have trouble, and scammers know this!)

- Check the seller's location. If the seller is international, this shouldn't be an immediate red flag, but if they are international and offer free shipping, this is a major red flag. This wouldn't be cost efficient for anyone but a scammer.

- Check the photos. Are there any actual photos of the laptop? Generally, a scammer doesn't have the actual product in hand to take photos, but keep in mind that they can easily swipe photos from a personal website. The absence of real product photos does not indicate a scam, but it should be considered as a part of the bigger picture.

- Check the time. Is the seller in a major hurry? Is it a 2-day auction? Legitimate sellers can also be a in a hurry, but if you feel that the seller is really rushing, make sure to take this into account.

- Check the deal. You know what they always say: "If it sounds too good to be true..." I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but totally unbelievable deals are just that - not believable.

Bottom line: If you feel suspicious, listen to your gut. A private seller that is trying to come off as a retailer will probably have holes in their story that you can expose by checking for red flags. A private seller trying to scam you probably won't have their ducks in a row well enough to pull off a swindle on an educated consumer.

Know the Products.

There is a difference between a used laptop and a refurbished (reconditioned, remanufactured) laptop. A used laptop is just that - used by another person for a certain period of time and now it needs a new home. Perhaps the seller has cleaned up the notebook for sale, erased the hard drives, and gathered up all the original manuals and packaging, but it's possible he has done none of that. Refurbished, on the other hand, usually describes a notebook that has been returned to the manufacturer, repaired, cleaned-up, repackaged, and sent out with a short warranty period attached. These laptops are generally sold by an online retailer, so you often have the security of knowing you may be able to hold them accountable for problems (though you can't be sure of this - check their specific policies). Of course, 'refurbs' also come with a higher price tag, but you pay for that added security. It's possible that a refurbished system will have some light surface scratches, but most often you can't even tell that the unit was ever used.

Some things to keep in mind when shopping for a used (not refurbished) laptop:

- You will probably need to buy a new battery. There are specific draining and charging procedures for laptop batteries. Chances are that the seller did not always follow these procedures (does anyone?). Make sure to account for the price of a new battery when you are shopping so you aren't hit with an unexpected after-purchase cost.

- You really have no idea what that laptop has been through. Laptops were created to be mobile. You really don't (and can't) know how many times that laptop was dropped, spilled on, walked on, etc. While the seller is obligated to disclose any known defects, you can't be certain to you are hearing the whole story. These undisclosed accidents could cause you problems down the line.

- Expect some scratches. With movement comes scratches, so depending upon the age, expect a certain amount of wear and tear. If you are prepared for this, you won't be as disappointed. If it doesn't affect the performance of the computer, try not to worry about it.

Know Where to Buy.

While you can scour any laptop-related site for potential for sale ads, you also end up wasting a great deal of time that way! Instead, there are a handful of high-traffic websites out there that consistently have used laptops and refurbished laptops for sale. Here are a few:

http://ebay.com
http://overstock.com
http://tigerdirect.com/applications/overstock/
http://techdepot.com/clearance.asp
http://notebookforums.com/forum25.html

If you are in the market for a used or refurbished laptop, you should take some time to get familiar with market conditions and the systems that tend to become available. If you are researching on Ebay, watch some auctions to see how the bidding goes. Get very comfortable with used laptop pricing before you get emotionally attached to any one system. If you are shopping in a more retail environment, like TigerDirect.com, you won't need to watch prices change like an auction, but the inventory changes often and if you don't see what you want there now, keep checking back. Make sure to check return policies on refurbished systems to avoid any possible buyer's remorse.

Used and refurbished laptops provide an excellent opportunity to get a nice laptop at a very nice price. While the prices are much easier to swallow than new units, buying used does come with a certain set of risks. Education is power here (and money in your pocket, in the case of a scam), so stay ahead of the game and don't rush into any to-good-to-be-true deal without making sure you know what you are getting. If you do your due diligence, you should end up with a quality system for a fraction of the new price.
About the Author
Laura Alter is a part of http://www.NotebooForums.com - the largest laptop discussion site on the Internet. Since 2003, NotebookForums.com has been hosting discussions about Dell, Alienware, Sony, Apple, Toshiba and many other notebook brands, laptop reviews, photos, and peer-to-peer tech support.
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