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How to Sell Your Piano

Selling a used piano can be stressful for a lot of people, and at the very least it's a challenging endeavor for even the most astute piano connoisseurs: As the economy suffers, used pianos at all quality levels are lowered in value. It's often the case that the number of used pianos for sale far outnumber people looking to buy them, making it a buyer’s market. Globalization and the computerization of manufacturing have made inexpensive, new, high-quality consumer-grade pianos from China and Indonesia abundantly available, leaving lower-quality used instruments from previous eras with little value. Here are a few reasons why used piano prices have decreased in recent years.

  • Digital pianos have become so technologically advanced in tone and touch, and so competitive in price, that for many players on a budget, a new digital piano may be a better option than a used acoustic piano.
  • The older generation, retiring and downsizing, are flooding the market with the pianos their aging families have outgrown. In many cases, these pianos were inherited from their own parents and are now 50 or more years old.
  • The Internet, especially websites such as Facebook Marketplace, Reverb, and eBay, makes it easier than ever for sellers to list their piano at little or no cost.
  • Because people tend to sell pianos when moving, time pressure can be involved — as the moving date nears, often the asking price must be cut dramatically to sell it.

For buyers on a limited budget, the costs involved in moving a recently purchased piano to its new location and getting it in good playing condition after the move are relatively high, leaving them with less money to pay you for the piano itself. Typical buyer costs include:

  • $200–$500 to move an upright piano, or $300–$600 to move a grand, within a 25-mile radius and to a home with no more than three or four steps. Costs can double for shipping over greater distances and/or to more challenging destinations, such as a building with many steps, or to an upper floor.
  • $200–$300 to pitch-raise and tune the piano. For most pianos offered for sale, a pitch raise is necessary to compensate for years of tuning neglect.
  • $200–$400 for necessary repairs, regulating the action, and voicing of a console or upright, and twice that for a decent-quality grand piano. Almost all pianos over 10 years old will need this work to play well and sound good.

Often overlooked, even when the seller is willing to give away the piano, it still can cost a recipient $1,000–$2,000 to accept it. This expense alone can destroy the budget of a frugal shopper looking for a low-cost option.  This means that pianos of lower quality, low brand-name recognition, and bad reputation tend to attract little or no sales interest.

Can My Piano Be Sold?

To determine if your piano can be sold, there are some basic things to ponder: overall appearance, brand, and age/condition.

Overall Appearance: People who buy decent-quality pianos of higher value usually have well-decorated environments for them to be placed. This can mean that, in a buyer’s market, even if a piano plays extremely well, it may not be sellable at any price if it doesn't look as good as it plays. 

Brand: Well-known brands with reputations of quality will generally generate more interest and command more value than brands that lack name and/or quality recognition. The brands today that are most easily sold are Baldwin, Kawai, Steinway & Sons, and Yamaha. High-Performance, handmade brands such as Bechstein, Blüthner, Bösendorfer, Fazioli, Grotrian, Mason & Hamlin, and Schimmel may not have name recognition among the general public, and mostly have great reputations among those who know them, and so are also eminently able to be sold albeit to a smaller selection of potential buyers. 

Age/Condition: Many piano owners mistakenly believe that pianos made over 100 years ago are valued as “antiques.” As a rule: "They aren’t," with the occasional exceptions of instruments with unusually decorated cases in fine condition and even these can have difficulty finding a home due to their extreme wight and size. Most pianos are made with a life expectancy of 40 to 60 years, and, contrary to popular belief, don't get better with age.

Pianos that do not sell well due to age (among other factors) include:

  • Vertical pianos over 40 years old of little-known brand.
  • Most pianos, grand or vertical, over 60 years old. Exceptions include: a few high-qual performance oriented brands such as Bechstein, Blüthner, Mason & Hamlin, and Steinway & Sons; pianos that have been completely rebuilt; and occasional instruments that, due to low use and favorable environmental conditions, are still in exceptional condition.
  • Pianos with player-piano systems made before about 2000, as their player-piano technology is now obsolete and customers are looking for the latest wireless technology.

Keep in mind that while a piano might look, sound and feel fine to you, it may have significant problems of which you are unaware. It takes an experienced piano tech to know with certainty that a piano is in good playing condition. Often sellers who know little about pianos will claim that a piano is in excellent condition based simply on the fact that all the keys make a sound when pressed, and that the cabinet looks acceptable. In many cases, neither a serious piano player nor his or her piano tech would agree.

You can find out you piano's age or Sell Your Piano  HERE

Determining Value of Your Piano

The fair market value (FMV) is the price a well informed buyer and seller are likely to agree on, where both parties are private, noncommercial entities (not piano dealers), and neither is under a compulsion to buy or sell. (An example of a compulsion to sell is when a seller is moving and must get rid of the piano by the end of the month, before the moving van leaves.)

Although, today, researching the reasonable price range in which a particular piano should sell is pretty easy though a search engine, it can still be difficult, and will rarely give you a definitive price that you can use with great certainty.  Unlike real estate or cars, piano sales are not regulated, and there is no major service that tracks the actual sale prices of used pianos. Even if there were, pianos can vary so much in age and condition that finding one or more instruments that are exact matches to yours would be unlikely. 

The FMV is best determined by using several sources including the classified sites like Facebook Marketplace and craigslist on which you’ll probably end up listing your piano. Alamo Music can help you  Find The Fair Market Value Of Your Piano HERE. We can provide a solid estimate of FMV by by our experts, customized to your situation, on what you can expect to get for your piano. The piano technician who has been servicing your piano, or another technician, may also be able to provide a value. However, many technicians do not keep up with changes in the used-piano market.

As you are researching the going rate for your piano, keep in mind that the prices there are asking prices, which may be far higher than the actual amounts buyers end up paying. Still, if your piano is a common model, and the comparable items you find all have similar prices, this gives you an indication that the asking prices are probably a fair representation of the actual selling prices. On the other hand, if you’re selling a little-known piano brand, you may have trouble determining what a comparable brand and model might be, and may require professional assistance to determine a true market value.

Everyone wants to feel that he or she has gotten a good deal, so be prepared to adjust your asking price once in a negotiation. We suggest setting your initial asking price about 10–15% higher than the FMV, and accept any offer within 15–20% of the FMV. Make the buyer of your piano feel as if they have "won" while you still get Fair Market Value for your instrument.

Note that checking prices of used pianos at local dealerships like Alamo Music is likely to be of limited value in determining FMV because the dealership usually adds significant value to an instrument, resulting in a much higher price. Usually the piano dealer has:

  • tuned, regulated, and voiced the piano to peak performance
  • cleaned it thoroughly;
  • touched up the cabinet and polished the hardware;
  • included a full warranty, backing up the purchase with the security of a business (a buyer thus risks less when buying from a business than from a private party, who, more than likely, is moving away); and
  • provided a free or discounted tuning after delivery.

Where to Advertise Your Piano

Before trying to sell to the world at large, consider mentioning to family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers that you  are selling your piano. Word of mouth among the people you know results in stronger and safer contacts than those obtained from commercial listings. Also, try printing out and posting notices where people congregate: houses of worship, schools, your workplace, etc. Send out a text or e-mail to your contact list, and post on social-media sites, such as Facebook. Be sure to include flattering recent photos of your piano.

You can ask your piano technician if he or she knows of anyone who might be interested in your piano. Also ask about advertising with the local chapter of the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG). Chapters often have an e-mail list of members to whom they send a chapter newsletter. 

Tips for Selling Your Piano

There are two keys to ensuring that your piano sells: creating a sales presentation to prospective buyers, and properly preparing your piano for sale. If your piano has outlasted its manufacturer, you can research the brand’s history online. Present this information, along with the history of your particular instrument and your experience of it, in narrative that presents the facts about your piano with persuasive context. You can use the points below to help you form answers to the questions potential buyers will ask.

  • Make: The brand name is found on the fallboard (keyboard cover) and/or on the cast-iron plate.
  • Model: The model designation or number is usually found just inside the lid or on the back of an upright (vertical) piano, and usually under the music desk of a grand.
  • Serial number and age: 
  • Relative quality of brand and model: See earlier discussion.
  • Cosmetic condition: Look the piano over closely with a flashlight and note any visible wear or damage.
  • Performance condition: If you play, how would you describe your piano’s performance to a shopper? If you don’t play, ask your piano technician how he or she would describe it.
  • When was it last tuned?
  • Why are you selling the piano?

Here’s a checklist of what to do to prepare your piano for sale:

  • If you expect to sell your piano for over $1,500, we strongly suggest that you have the piano tuned and its condition inspected before putting it up for sale.  We realize that you may not want to put any more money into an instrument you’re selling, but spending a few hundred dollars and a couple of hours can produce a good return in both the selling price of the piano and in the ease of sale. Keep in mind that when a piano is significantly out of tune, has notes that don’t work properly, or has other obvious defects, even insignificant ones, the chance of being able to sell it is dramatically reduced. Most potential buyers, knowing little or nothing about piano mechanics, will be concerned that the defects they see or hear are symptoms of more serious problems. By presenting the piano in its best condition, you can remove doubts and unnecessary obstacles to the sale.
  • Clean the piano’s case thoroughly and, if possible, touch up any cosmetic blemishes. Your local hardware store will likely have touch-up felt-tip markers that match the finish of your piano, and a brass cleaner for the pedals. For grand pianos, have your piano technician clean under the strings and inside the piano. With vertical pianos, vacuum the piano’s back, and inside the bottom cavity where the pedals are attached.
  • Clear everything off the lid of the piano so that potential buyers can look inside. Raise the lid of a grand piano so that potential buyers don’t have to (it can be dangerously heavy).
  • Clear access to the piano so that potential buyers can see the entire cabinet.
  • If necessary, clean the room the piano is in, and be sure it is well lit.

Selling to a Dealer

If all else fails, check to see what local dealers will pay for your piano, which is generally considerably less than FMV. If the dealer has been in business a long time and is well known to schools and music teachers, ask if the dealer would be willing to take your piano on consignment. This means that the dealer takes physical possession of your piano, but doesn’t pay you until it’s been sold. You can expect to pay the dealer a commission of 60%-70% of the selling price when selling a piano on consignment, but the resulting loss may not be as great as it seems as the dealer may be able to get a higher price for it than you could on your own and take care of costly and logistics. Selling to a dealer is also an attractive option if you’re in a hurry to sell, for example if you’re moving and have to be out of the house by a certain date; or if you don’t like the idea of having a stream of strangers entering your home to try out your piano.  Consign Your Piano HERE.

The Donation Option

If you have a piano of decent quality but all of your efforts to sell it fail, you may want to consider donating it to an organization in need. Keep in mind, though, that if your piano is unsaleable because of poor quality or condition, it is not a candidate for donation! 

Note that a well-performing instrument might provide a significant tax deduction. Check with your accountant or tax advisor about what the IRS will require to consider the donation tax-deductible. 

We often see heartwarming donations to aspiring piano students who are not in a position to purchase a piano that is on par with their talent. Receiving such a donation can be life changing; however, it is generally not tax-deductible to the donor. For help in finding such a student, contact your local music-teacher association, the local chapter of the Piano Technicians Guild, or local piano dealers.

To Find Out More About Your Piano or Inquire About Selling

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