Don\’t Trade It In! How to Sell Your Phone on eBay & Get More Money

by Reads (16,893)

Your old smartphone may be worth more than you think, and even more than your carrier is willing to fork over through a trade-in. Of course, prices for smartphones drop the longer one waits, but in March, Verizon was offering around $90 for an iPhone 4 trade-in. One glance at eBay shows people are willing to pay far more for the same device as long as it’s in good condition. Or, even if it’s not, people are willing to purchase it for parts.

So how exactly do you figure out if it’s worth the extra effort to list a phone on eBay instead of accepting the offer from the wireless retailer?

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Head over to eBay, and plug in the search term for the device you are looking to sell. Make sure to tailor the search so that it will only show listings that have sold, either through auction or “Buy it Now.” This lets sellers see devices identical to their own, so that they can gauge the right listing price. eBay will also offer a flat rate deal on a smartphone, but it is generally for a price similar to what wireless carriers are offering at that time. The more popular the product, the more eBay will offer in terms of filtering and searches, so a search for iPhone 5 will automatically offer filters for carriers, storage capacity, and color.

Setting Up a Seller Account

eBay offers free seller accounts, which give users the ability to list up to 50 items a month; these items can be listed via auction with the option to offer a price for “buy it now.” Each listing can also feature up to 12 photos of the item. There is a fee users must pay once an item sells though, which is 9% of the total sale amount, but never more than $250.

Be aware that when listing, some features cost extra to add to a listing. This includes a “designed” listing with HTML and subtitles for the listing in searches. It is pretty clear throughout the process which items will cost a bit extra, and the cost is generally minimal. Otherwise, avoiding these extra items means there will be no insertion fee, but only for those 50 free items a month.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between a buyer’s account and having an account verified for selling. eBay offers information on how to verify a seller account, but it is pretty simple to do. You’re going to need a PayPal account to also be verified, but we will cover that later in this article.


With popular items such as the Galaxy Note II, when posting a listing, eBay can automatically populate relevant information about the device. The app or web interface will also suggest prices to list the device for based off recent listings. This helps sellers gauge the appropriate amount to list an item for to attract buyers. For an auction listing, you will most likely want to list it for lower than you hope to sell it for.


With an auction listing, eBay allows sellers to also specify a “Buy it Now” price if they choose for no additional cost. As long as a potential buyer is first to act on an item, and wish to forgo waiting on the auction process, they can end it early by purchasing it on the spot at this set price. But if a lower auction bid is placed first, the Buy it Now option disappears and the auction must run it\’s full course.

Items listed as low as $.99 will show up in searches that filter by lowest price first, and the price will quickly be driven up. This is something the brave auctioneers will do, but most beginners will want to stick with a safe price they wouldn’t mind selling the device for. Also, eBay lets users set a \”reserve\” price, so that if bidders do not bid above a set amount, the device will not be sold to anyone. Users will be aware that there is a reserve, and the amount can be made public or private, but either way it could deter buyers.

There are various lengths to list an auction for, starting at one day and going all the way up to 30 days. Most recommend at least a five day listing for new sellers. Chances are that you won’t see much action on the listing until a day or two before it ends, but listing it longer will give it more exposure. This way, potential buyers searching for that device can put your listing on their “Watch List” so that they can follow its progress, and place a bid as the auction gets closer to its end date.

eBay App

There is an app for eBay in the iOS App Store and Google Play, which offers a simple user interface that allows sellers to quickly list items, send/ receive questions and answers from potential buyers and sellers, and receive instant notifications on winning, losing or selling an item (makes a \’cha-ching\’ sound) and even receiving payment. It also features an in-app camera so that images can instantly be uploaded to the listing. The app is easy to use and might even be more straightforward than the eBay website, depending on your level of experience working with eBay. So use that new HTC One, or whichever smartphone you chose, to snap a few photos of your old device, quickly upload it, add some simple information, and get ready to watch the money come in.

What to Include List

The more included items you have with the device, the better the listing will do. For instance, an old case, the extra screen protectors you never needed, original box, charging cord, earbuds, and every other accessory you own can boost a listing’s appeal, and maybe bring in extra money.



Take a minute to get quality photos of the device, from every angle. Put the device on a clean surface that doesn\’t distract from the device and accessories. Non-reflective, solid colors surfaces work well (a white iPhone looks great against dark or black leather car seats). No one will expect you to have professional stock photography, but taking the time to showcase the device will help it stand out from all the others.

People want to be able to view the device as much as they can, and they are more likely to trust a listing that is willing to show the device from every possible angle, proving there is nothing to hide. That tiny chip on the top of the device? Take a photo and include a few details about it in the listing. It’s important to be as upfront as possible, so there are no problems after the sale goes through.

Take a photo of the screen while it is powered up just to show that it works as advertised (set it to max brightness for the best-looking photo). People could easily list smartphones that seem fine on the outside, but are damaged. Making buyers feel comfortable purchasing your product is key, and they are usually willing to fork over a bit more cash to avoid the headaches of buying a lemon. eBay has a great seller protections policy in place, but it is best to avoid that all together by making the listing clear and truthful.


When listing information regarding the device being sold, there are a few important identifiers to consider. The most important information for buyers is if the ESN is “clean”. A bad ESN can mean that the phone is still attached to a contract, the person selling it owes the cellphone company money on an outstanding bill, or that the device has been reported stolen within the past three months. All of these are a no-go for buyers, so if it ain’t clean, don’t try selling it.

Off Contract vs On Contract

When a phone is on contract, it is still tied to the account holder’s initial cell phone plan chosen along with the phone. Once it’s time for an upgrade, and a new phone is purchased and applied to the plan, the previous device becomes “off-contract.” This is an important distinction for buyers, because generally they will be looking for a phone to put onto their own contract, so just be sure to indicate that the phone is, in fact, no longer tied to a contract.

If it is still on contract, and you decide to sell it, just be clear about it to potential buyers.


There has been a lot of noise lately about the legalities behind unlocking smartphones. Currently, it is illegal to unlock your own device; however, some carriers  will still unlock it for you. Also, the law only applies to devices purchased after January 26, 2013, when the law was put into place..


Unlocking means that the device can be taken to any wireless carrier that supports the technology, not just the one it was purchased through. There are restrictions however, and many 4G LTE smartphones won’t work across carriers in the US because the carriers work on different frequencies.

Regardless, a used or new unlocked smartphone will sell for more since it is not locked in to a carrier, allowing for more prospective buyers, particularly those that want to take the phone overseas. Check with your wireless retailer when you upgrade your device, some may gladly unlock your device for you. But, be prepared for the possibility that they won’t, especially considering the amount of confusion surrounding the issue.

Listing a “locked” device just means that potential buyers will have to be looking to put the phone on a contract with the same carrier the seller used. This doesn’t negatively affect your listing, just narrows the pool of potential buyers a bit.


Be honest about the condition of your device: if it sat in an Otterbox case the entire two years you had it and it\’s near mint, then that is great. However, if it has any damages or problems, you are better off being honest in the description than omitting it and facing a bad rating from the buyer, or the buyer attempting to place a claim with eBay for their money back.

eBay requires that you list any used item as used, but it leaves room for detailed descriptions about the device. Let potential buyers know the deal, how well the phone works, if it had any issues, or if it’s refurbished. If it’s the same phone you were handed when you first got it, make sure you let buyers know. Any time a smartphone needs to be replaced with a different handset, especially after the initial 30 day factory warranty, then it could be a refurbished device.

Go to the next page for more information about listing and shipping your device.

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1 Comment

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  1. gtoland

    I’m shocked you missed a VERY important part of this entire process – Make sure you take pictures and otherwise record the IMEI and any other identifying numbers on the phone and battery. Maybe even list a portion of those numbers in your eBay ad.

    I had a friend scammed on Ebay. Sent phone (in perfectly good condition), they claimed it was broken. Ebay sided with scammer, so she refunded the money but the phone she got back was not hers. Without numbers, couldn’t prove it.