“What’s my piano worth?” is one of the questions we are asked most often. This is probably true for most piano businesses. Wouldn’t it be nice if valuing a piano were as simple and straightforward as saying, “You have a Steinway M made in 1965, therefore your piano is worth $_____? If it were really that simple, there would be no need to write another word on the subject. However, the question “What’s my piano worth?” does not come with a one-size-fits-all answer. Quite the contrary, there are too many factors to discuss here without inducing the reader into a mind-numbing stupor. Therefore, I will try to address the most common variables that determine piano value, at least based on our experiences here at Rick Jones Pianos.
People have different reasons for establishing a piano’s value, and each reason can produce a different result. The results could be grouped into what one could call “objective value” (how much the piano is worth on paper) and “subjective value” (how much money you could expect someone to pay for your piano in a real-world transaction).
Here are the four most common reasons people want to establish their piano’s value, at least in our experience:
1.) A legal reason, such as a divorce settlement, estate sale, insurance claim, or tax deduction.
If you need a legal value for a divorce settlement, estate sale, insurance claim, or tax deduction, then ideally you should get a certified appraisal in case your piano’s value is challenged. We get calls from people several times a week asking us how much their piano is worth for one of the above reasons. In most cases, a verbal appraisal over the phone will not suffice if your piano’s value is challenged by the court, the IRS, or your insurance provider. Luckily, certified piano appraisals are easy to obtain nowadays thanks to online services like Piano Appraisal, LLC using a simple online questionnaire that most piano owners can complete without difficulty. Using general parameters such as the brand, model, age, and finish of your piano, they will create a certified appraisal for a modest fee. Of course, without the benefit of a thorough inspection of the piano by a professional piano technician, the appraised value will not take into consideration the unique characteristics of your piano. Therefore, a certified appraisal is not always a realistic gauge of how much money you could get for the piano in a real-world transaction. However, if you are settling an estate or divorce, filing an insurance claim for a damaged or destroyed piano, or deducting the piano from your tax return for any reason, then you should get a certified appraisal if at all possible.
2.) Selling the piano directly to another person through Craig’s List, eBay, Facebook, Nextdoor, etc.
If you want to sell the piano directly to another person, the ideal first step would be to have the piano tuned and serviced by a professional piano technician. Not only will this provide you with an opportunity to get a current report on the piano’s internal condition and correct any problems that are found, but it will also make the piano more attractive to prospective buyers. Not surprisingly, a clean, in-tune piano with all 88 keys working properly tends to be more attractive to a prospective buyer than a dirty, out-of-tune piano with a smattering of keys that don’t work. While you’re having your piano professionally tuned and serviced, ask the piano technician to suggest a fair asking price for your piano. If possible, get it in writing along with a receipt for the work that was done. This will improve your chances of selling your piano for a price that’s realistic and fair to both you and the buyer.
3.) Selling the piano directly to a neighbor, friend, or relative.
If you want to sell the piano to a neighbor, friend, or relative (as opposed to a stranger), the advice in the preceding paragraph also applies here for the most part, though some people may take a more relaxed approach to the service work and inspection because the buyer and seller are friends, neighbors, or relatives. However, it is still a good idea to get the piano tuned, serviced, and appraised by a professional piano technician if possible. Unless you are a professional piano technician, you may be blissfully unaware of some of the potentially serious problems that may be lurking inside your piano, especially if it hasn’t been played or serviced in a long time (rarely do people sell pianos that are being actively used and serviced). Many people will say, and believe, that their piano is, “In perfect condition, it just needs to be tuned.” However, this is almost never true. If serious problems are discovered after the piano and money have already changed hands, well, you can see how this could lead to problems down the road. A pre-transaction tuning and inspection are worthwhile if they prevent bad feelings between friends, neighbors, and relatives later down the road.
4.) Selling the piano to a retail piano store like Rick Jones Pianos.
Selling your piano to a retail piano store can be a convenient option for people who don’t want to bother with advertising their piano, getting their piano serviced and/or appraised first, potentially allowing strangers into their home, or having to arrange the transport of the piano to the next owner. Most piano stores will send a truck to retrieve the piano, will not require you to tune and service the piano beforehand, and often will take the piano without an inspection first (though detailed photos of the piano, inside and out, are usually required). The convenience and quick turnaround time of selling your piano to a used piano store are more important to some people than the amount of money the piano fetches. The obvious downside is that you will have to settle for a wholesale price for your piano. A retail piano store must buy the piano, transport the piano, recondition or rebuild the piano, advertise the piano, sell the piano with benefits (e.g., warranty, free delivery, and often a free tuning), and still make enough profit to pay salaries, rent, insurance, utilities, etc. Let’s say you have a Steinway piano that’s been appraised at $30,000, and you are hoping to sell your piano for close to that amount; do not expect a piano store to offer you anything close to your appraised value. The appraised value is probably closer to what the piano store hopes to sell the piano for later down the road. How much a piano store can offer for your piano will depend on multiple factors, but no more than half of the piano’s appraised value, and possibly less, is a realistic expectation.
Here are a few additional thoughts on piano valuation (if your eyes haven’t glazed over yet):
If you’re looking for a universal depreciation schedule or “bluebook” with a piano pricing structure that everyone agrees upon, you won’t find it. A quick Google search for “piano depreciation schedule” will lead you to numerous websites that attempt to offer the kind of quick, decisive answer many people are looking for. (e.g., if your piano was made by ____, is ____ model, and made in ____ year, then it is worth $____.) However, as scientific and authoritative as this appears, it is still only a ballpark estimate, firstly because it does not consider your piano’s internal condition, and secondly because it does not obligate anyone to pay the estimated value for your piano.
The amount you get for your piano will vary depending on the piano’s brand, model, size, finish, cabinet style, age, condition, the amount of reconditioning or rebuilding required to make the piano function properly, the taste of the prospective buyer, and how they plan to use the piano (decoration vs. working musical instrument). Let’s explore a few of these factors.
Once again, the various factors could be divided into objective and subjective. Brand, model, size, and age are objective criteria that directly reflect the piano’s quality and performance capabilities. For example, a piano made by a high-end piano manufacturer will be more carefully designed, and more precisely assembled with higher quality materials than a piano made by a piano maker that concentrates on budget-priced, entry-level instruments. A larger model will outperform most smaller models, both in tonal power and refinement, and keyboard touch response. Of course, how these factors combine can produce some seemingly counterintuitive results, for example, a small, 80-year-old Steinway baby grand may be valued higher than a larger, newer entry-level grand piano.
Finish and cabinet styles are subjective criteria. For example, a Steinway baby grand with a Louis XV cabinet (ornate, curvaceous white cabinet with gold leaf filigree trim) might be a dream come true to one person (and therefore more valuable to that person), but a turnoff to someone who prefers a plain black piano with straight lines and unadorned cabinetry. Many of the world’s leading piano manufacturers offer their various models with multiple cabinet options, from plain black with straight lines, to exotic wood veneers and ornate Old World cabinet styles, and even modernist or futuristic designs with non-conventional cabinet materials such as transparent lucite. Plain black pianos with straight lines are the cheapest cabinet option to choose from because they are the least expensive to manufacture, while fancy, more exotic cabinet styles are priced higher because they are costlier to manufacture. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the value of a fancy piano will be higher years later if the original owner chooses to sell it.
And lastly, regarding the condition:
A piano that is in serious need of a mechanical overhaul, but looks nice externally, may have no value to someone looking for a reliable practice instrument but may be quite desirable for someone looking for a “show piano” such as in a model home, or as a prop in a stage play. If I’ve clarified anything with this essay (which is debatable), it’s that there is no quick, easy answer to the question, “What’s my piano worth?”
So, how much is your piano worth? Perhaps the simplest answer is, “The highest price you can get someone to pay for it”, but then, that’s always been true of…well, everything, hasn’t it?
I hope the above is of some use to you if you’re trying to get a valuation for your piano.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
Paul Yarish, RPT