The nation's first used-PC broker was established in 1982, hard on the heels of the introduction of the nation's first PC. And now that nine-year-old Boston Computer Exchange has proved that not only the concept is durable, but so is the merchandise itself (most of it retired from corporate MIS departments), similar matchmakers have been popping up across the land. The deals they arrange can be attractive from both sides.

A computer exchange functions roughly the way the stock market does, with outside bids and offers on specified models listed with the exchange's brokers, who attempt to bring together the buyer and the seller somewhere in between. (In some cases, the seller is the exchange itself, dealing from inventory acquired through bankruptcy liquidations and such.) Once the parties agree to a fair price, the buyer gives the money to the exchange, which deposits it in an escrow account. The seller then ships the goods. After the buyer has had a chance to verify the condition as represented -- a period usually limited to a couple of business days -- the exchange pays the seller and pockets a commission.

An anxious seller might be able to coax immediate cash from an exchange, but that seller should not expect much more than half of the price that might have been fetched through patiently waiting out a brokerage listing.

-- Robert A. Mamis

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