Smart Ways to Get Computers for LessCourtney Macavinta
When Chris Zender, a tech-savvy editor in San Francisco, was looking for a new PC laptop for her home, what she wanted most was a bargain. First, she figured out the features she needed, and then she hit the popular auction site eBay to go deal hunting.
“I decided to save money and look for a refurbished computer. I found a $300 laptop that looked awesome and the seller had high satisfaction ratings and hundreds of transactions,” she says. “It came packaged well and worked like a charm for months and then the hard drive died.”
Unfortunately, Zender’s seller was no longer to be found on eBay. And though her purchase came with a manufacturer’s warranty, she had to pay a $75 fee to activate it, along with the cost of shipping the laptop to the repair center. In the end, the manufacturer wanted another $200 to fix the computer -- the warranty didn’t cover the repairs needed. Zender told them to keep it.
When looking online for computers for less -- whether you hit Overstock, eBay, Amazon, Craigslist or other websites -- you can save big money if you shop smart. But there are also some pitfalls you need to watch out for.
Here is some expert advice on buying a computer for less.
Types of bargains
Before you look for bargains, make a list of what you want to use the computer for and the features you’ll need. “That's the key to buying anything: You have to figure out what you want to do with it,” says Dan Gookin, author of Buying a Computer for Dummies. “The next step is to look for the software you need. Finally, you look at the hardware.”
For example, if you’re a gamer, you might need a certain graphics card. Or if you’re only going to surf the web, a netbook (a low-cost computer that lets you access the Internet and little more) might do. If you only need the computer for family use, you might be fine buying a model that is a bit dated.
Here are the types of discounted computers available:
- Refurbished. You can often find great deals on refurbished computers. That said, it’s important to understand what “refurbished” means when it comes to computers. If buying from the original manufacturer, it can mean laptops or desktops were returned, revamped, and retested to make sure they meet manufacturer specifications. Or it can mean the computer has had physical damage -- from shipping for example -- but the manufacturer “certifies” that it still works like new. You can find discounts like these on websites for manufacturers such as Dell, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard. “If you're going to be buying something hi-tech, go to a manufacturer’s online store to see if they have something refurbished,” Gookin says. “You can even get a warranty.”
The term refurbished can also mean the computer was damaged or used and "fixed" by a private party and then repackaged for resale on a site such as eBay or Craigslist. So you need to be mindful of who is actually selling the refurbished computer -- a manufacturer or private party -- before accepting their product descriptions or guarantees.
- Second-hand. These computers have been pre-owned or are sold as "used." That means a private party is basically selling their old computer. You can find these offered on Internet sites such as eBay or Craigslist, with mixed results. Gookin says, just like when buying a used car from a private seller, you should check out the computer in person before you pay. “You want to make sure it works and run it through its paces. Especially see if it can run the software you want to run,” he says.
- Older models. These are older models that have never been used, but are a bit out of date or even discontinued. It may be that you can get everything you need with a model that is one or two years old. These types of "deals" can be found at websites like Amazon, Costco or manufacturer websites. First, it’s important to figure out if the operating system (OS) can accommodate the latest software you need. Check your software packages for their OS requirements before buying an older model. Also you need to know how much memory you need or the type of graphic card you want before buying an older model computer that might not be up to par for your computing needs.
How to avoid pitfalls
In addition to the savings promised in buying an older model, refurbished, or used computer, you need to be aware of the risks. For example, the sellers might not offer a warranty or the computer might not be able to run the software you need. As Zender found, purchasing a refurbished computer can backfire and wind up costing more money than you bargained for. Here are some tips on how to avoid pitfalls:
- Buy from known sellers. To avoid extra risk, consider buying items directly from manufacturers or computer re-sellers, instead of a private seller. This way, you have someone to call if you have a problem. “It's the difference between buying a used car from a dealer versus a guy on the street -- you know it’s a real business and there will be accountability,” says Gookin. Also, look for some extra safeguards such as a money back guarantee or a full warranty, says Ryan Patrick Guina, a popular blogger who writes about personal finance at Cash Money Life.
- Know the return policy. When buying a used computer from a person on sites like eBay and Craigslist, be aware that the return policy is up to the seller -- so read the fine print on the sales page. Even when buying from a known seller, you could be required to pay a restocking fee if you return the item. Guina also recommends looking for a money-back guarantee. “If a company is not willing to stand by their product, I won't do business with them. There is enough competition out there that you can almost always find a comparable deal somewhere else.”
- Get a warranty, and read it. Even when buying used, make sure your purchase is protected. Experts say always get a warranty. And make sure to read the fine print of the warranty so you’re not surprised with extra shipping costs or repairs that aren’t covered by the warranty -- as in Zender’s case. If buying from a private seller who offers a manufacturer warranty with their computer, make sure to call the manufacturer to verify the coverage. “Make sure you are receiving the same warranties as you would if you purchased new,” says Guina.
In the end, when buying a computer on the cheap, you need to know in advance what you want and the cost of getting it. Most of all, you need to have confidence that the seller will stand by their merchandise if something should go wrong.
“If I had it to do all over again,” says Zender, “I'd buy direct from the manufacturer online or someone who owned an actual store -- and using eBay as a channel -- versus an individual. At least there would be someplace to walk in to get it fixed.”
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