1. Computer Skills

How To Sell Your Mac

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Read Time: 11 min

Back in July, I wrote a complete guide on how to buy your first Mac – from selecting the exact model to customization possibilities and any recommended accessories to go with it. Today, we're going to be looking at the opposite: how to prepare and ready your Mac for selling. There are quite a few things that you need to be aware of before you bid farewell to your trusty companion. Let's see what they are.

Why Are You Selling Your Mac?

For whatever reason, you'll at some point want to sell your Mac, either for an upgrade to a faster or newer model or (woe betide) you're switching back to Windows.

An interesting point to start off this tutorial is that Macs don't actually depreciate as much as PCs in value, and you'll find that when it comes to selling your Mac, you can often recuperate a large proportion of what you actually paid for it back.

This is mainly due to the yearly refresh cycle, the fact that Macs are only manufactured by one company, Apple, and because they are relatively expensive to start off with.

Before you sell your Mac, though, just take a moment to consider why you are selling it.

Before you sell your Mac, though, just take a moment to consider why you are selling it. If it's to upgrade to a new model, then be sure to check out the extremely comprehensive Buyer's Guide on MacRumors, which takes into account the average refresh cycle of each Mac product and produces an automatic recommendation on whether you should buy it (i.e. the product has just been refreshed) or not (i.e. a refresh is imminent).

Most Apple products are refreshed on a yearly cycle and Macs usually get refreshed around June (the iMac and Mac Pro have being two exceptions) so if you are planning to sell your Mac, get it done just before the announcement from Apple is due so the cash is all ready and waiting in your bank account!

Deciding How to Sell It

When selling your Mac, it can suffer two fates:

  1. You can sell it to someone via sites such as eBay or Craigslist as a fully working functional computer to someone who is looking to snap up a bargain.
  2. You can sell it to a trade-in company such as Gazelle who will often break it down for spare parts.

There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Often, you will get a higher price if you sell it as a second-hand computer. However, it isn't guaranteed that your Mac will sell and it is a lot more inconvenient than simply selling it to a trade-in company, where you are pretty much guaranteed that it will sell for a certain price. Of course, this price will be lower. However, you do have the peace of mind that (often) nothing can go wrong.

To make sure you're getting the best price for your Mac, shop around and do some research first. If you're going to sell it for spare parts, visit a couple of different websites (including Apple's own Recycling Program), as prices can vary (sometimes greatly) between different websites.

If you're going to sell it as a second-hand computer, look at the average price on sites such as eBay (there's even a handy tool on their website which will give the average price for your item on eBay plus how many are currently listed) to make sure that you aren't ripping off your potential client and that the price that you're getting is in line with what everyone else is charging.

No matter which selling method you use, you need to know the exact details of what's in your Mac (e.g. processor speed, hard disk capacity, RAM installed and so on) and give a fair statement on the condition of your Mac. To find out about your Mac's specifications, head over to About This Mac in the Apple menu in the top-left hand corner of your screen and click on More Info, where you'll be presented with your Mac's processor speed, memory, graphics card information and more.

About This MacAbout This MacAbout This Mac
About This Mac provides you with loads of handy information about your Mac.

The other thing you'll also need to know is the model identifier of your Mac. As Apple manufacture different versions of their product under the same name (the first iMac back in 1998 can still be referred to as the "iMac"), you'll need to know exactly what your identifier is so that you get the right price for your product!

System ProfilerSystem ProfilerSystem Profiler
The System Profiler

To do so, simply click on System Report in the About This Mac window we looked at above. Make sure the tab Hardware is selected, it should appear in the second row down (as highlighted in the screenshot above). If you're still unsure, Wikipedia maintains a good table of model specifications (see an example for my MacBook) and all you have to do is match up the year and your specifications to find it out.

Preparing Your Mac For The Sale

Before you bid farewell to your Mac, there are several things you need to do to ensure that it is completely clean and free of any potentially sensitive data!

Step 1: Back up all your data

Sorry for stating the obvious, but make sure you run a full Time Machine backup on all drives within your Mac because there's nothing worse than finding out that those precious files in your home folder were wiped during the format.

Tip: I personally would recommend backing up to two separate external hard disk drives in case one fails on you (it's happened to me before). If you're running Mountain Lion, then you can backup to multiple destinations directly from Time Machine.

Step 2: Transfer all your data over to your new Mac (optional)

If you've already bought a new Mac, then to save the trouble of restoring your old system from a Time Machine backup, you can transfer all your user accounts, applications and computer settings to your new model via your local network – as long as both Macs are either connected to the same network (e.g. the same wireless network) or they are connected directly to each other via an ethernet cable.

Apple Migration AssistantApple Migration AssistantApple Migration Assistant
Migration Assistant can help you transfer all your applications, documents and settings onto your new Mac.

Migration Assistant, found in the Utilities folder on your Mac, will do all this for you, and going through it is a piece of cake. If you're still unsure, then you can grab detailed instructions from Apple's Support website.

If you haven't yet bought your Mac, then don't worry, as restoring from a Time Machine backup will restore all your applications, documents and settings automatically for you as well.

Step 3: Deauthorize your iTunes account (and any other accounts)

Before you start wiping your Mac, it's best to Deauthorize your Mac from your iTunes account (if you use it of course). Although the new owner of your Mac can't access your personal information without your iTunes credentials (i.e. your Apple ID and password), your computer is still authorized to play your music and you may have trouble authorizing your new Mac later on.

iTunes DeauthorizeiTunes DeauthorizeiTunes Deauthorize
Deauthorizing iTunes allows you to manage which computers can play music, videos, audiobooks or other content.

To do so, fire up iTunes and click on the Store menu, then hit Deauthorize This Computer. You'll be prompted to enter your iTunes credentials once again then you'll get a confirmation message indicating that your Mac has been deauthorized.

The same applies for any utilities, such as Dropbox or any programs with serial numbers as well. There's nothing worse than trying to install Photoshop on your new machine and being greeted by the message, "The serial number you have entered is already in use."

Step 4: Wipe Everything Off Your Mac

Now it's time to wipe your Mac of everything and bring it back to its original factory-fresh condition.

Tip: Before you start this step, make sure that you've completed all of the steps above!

You'll have to dig out the original grey Mac OS X install disk that came with your Mac, which will allow you to boot up the installer and run Disk Utility from there. If you've lost it or thrown it away in a moment's haste (don't worry, I've done the same) then you've got a couple of options:

  1. For a couple of dollars/pounds/euros/whatever currency you use to cover shipping and handling you can get a replacement set of disks from AppleCare. Just give them a ring and they'll pop a set in the post for you.
  2. You can also make an appointment at your local Genius Bar and they will wipe the disks clean for you as well.
  3. You can follow Alex Arena's excellent tutorial on making a bootable Mountain Lion DVD or flash drive from our site! (if you want to create a Lion boot disk, head over here)

If you're going to do it via the disk method then just insert the CD and restart your Mac. Just after the signature startup chime tones, hold down C which will boot up into the Installer then click on Utilities then Disk Utility.

Tip: The only way to completely format your Mac is using an install/boot disk. From within OS X itself it's only possible to erase any free space on your drive(s).

Click on your Mac's hard disk drive (make sure you don't select any external disk drives that are connected to your Mac!) then click on the Erase tab. Specify a format – the default is Mac OS Extended (Journaled) – then click on the Security Options button.

Secure Erase OptionsSecure Erase OptionsSecure Erase Options
The secure erase options that are available to you.

Let me just interrupt the tutorial here for a second to take a moment to explain these secure erase options. When you delete data off your Mac, it's not actually gone forever – little fragments of the files are still left lying around on your disk. These fragments are the file information and it is all maintained in a directory so that OS X can find it if necessary. Dragging a file to the Trash simply gets rid of the file's reference information and although OS X can't see it, the data is still there.

Utilities such as Disk Drill are therefore programmed to look for this remaining data, allowing you to restore the files that you thought were long gone. Therefore, simply wiping your Mac's hard disk with no secure erase option could potentially mean that the next owner of your Mac can recover all the data that was on your Mac beforehand, which could obviously have disastrous consequences, especially if you've got sensitive information on there.

My recommendation here would be the 7-Pass Erase, which meets the US Department of Defense's standard for securely recovering magnetic media.

Luckily, you can prevent this by secure erasing your Mac when you format it. My recommendation here would be the 7-Pass Erase, which meets the US Department of Defense's standard for securely recovering magnetic media. Unless the next owner of your Mac is the CIA, it's nearly 100% guaranteed that he/she cannot restore your old data.

Depending on the size of your hard disk, the erasing process can take hours or even days (as the data has got to be written over 7 times) so remember to leave your Mac plugged in and go put your feet up.

Step 5: Restore Your Mac to its Factory State

Once Disk Utility has finished obliterating all your data, your Mac will restart and boot up into the welcome wizard (depending on which operating system your Mac first came with). Of course, you don't want to go through this process of setting up a new user, so simply quit it by pressing Command + Q. You'll then be able to shut down your Mac safely and the wizard will greet whoever becomes the next owner of your computer when they boot it up!

Welcome WizardWelcome WizardWelcome Wizard
The Welcome Wizard that will greet the new user of your Mac after you've restored it to the factory state.

Step 6: Bid Your Mac farewell!

Now all that's left is to box up your Mac and prepare it for shipping! Make sure you give it a good clean down so it's looking its best (check out this tutorial for more information on how to do this) and if you've still got the original packaging, then send it in that (if you are selling it for spare parts, you often get a slightly higher price if you include the original box it came in).

Your Mac should be really well packaged and protected to avoid any possible damage during shipping. Remember to include any accessories that came with it (such as the power supply, any mice or trackpads and so on). Again, you often get a slightly higher price if these are included as well.

Tip: Always send your Mac via registered mail or via a courier service (such as Fedex) and ensure that the insurance covers the selling price of your Mac should it get lost or damaged during shipping.


And that's really all there is to it! Selling your Mac is generally a smooth and painless task and by following our simple steps you can guarantee that your Mac is completely wiped and ready for shipping. Of course, all you've got to do now (if you haven't already done so) is to pick out a shiny new Mac to replace your old one!

Remember to share any tips that you've got for selling your Mac in the comments section below for all our readers.

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