How to buy a used piano is as complicated or as simple as you make it. Of course the degree of risk varies also depending on what route you pursue. Being of limited budget and somewhat picky taste (I grew up with a Steinway piano), I decided to take a little more risk in hopes of a greater return for my dollar investment.
First stop: pianoadoption.com a site dedicated to helping people find free pianos. I contacted two listings and both pianos found new homes before I found them.
Second stop: craigslist. After looking at all the listings in my price range with pictures attached and ruling them out I started looking at any listing in my price range. Craigslit hint - if you are remotely interested in a listing that seems to be a good bargain, contact the poster immediately. Go see the item as soon as humanly possible and be prepared to offer money on the spot if it fits your needs. This is NOT the time for "well, let me think about it." It will be gone if you wait.
I also figured out from consulting local webpages for used pianos (via music stores) that a used piano in a music store or for sale from a piano technician or professional piano movers started at about $800 (out of my budget).
Here's the craigslist post for the piano I ultimately purchased:
hallet davis & co piano for sale - $100"Piano is a great starter piano. Don't know much about it so if interested going to have to come and look at it. Mother passed away and need to get rid of. Any questions please call at xxx-xxx-xxxx."
No picture with the listing, so before I called I found out as much as I could about the piano.
How old is the piano? To help answer that question I looked on http://www.bluebookofpianos.com/. Their Piano Age link was particularly helpful. It told me that if the piano was a vertical piano (and no way did I have room for a grand piano) it was made between 1960 and 1982. Not bad.
What is the piano really worth? Piano World. com as a great article on that question and a super chart to help with pricing: What is my piano worth? chart
Using that chart I determined that if this piano was worth approximately $500-900, possibly more if in very good condition. Deal!
What is the condition of the piano? To answer this question I had to go see the piano. I had already put a call in to a piano tuner hoping to get a professional opinion on the piano, but craigslist success depends on urgency and so I went to see the piano myself with 5 future pianists in tow. It played well. All the keys played. No funky sounding notes. And it was pretty well tuned. So I offered $25 as a down payment and agreed to pick it up on the weekend.
Later that day the piano tuner called me back. He said (contrary to all those "how to buy a used piano and not get a lemon" articles) that pianos don't really hide problems. If the keys work and it sounds good, it's most likely a good piano. He recommended waiting 3-5 days before tuning after moving the piano. Hmm, lots simpler than those experts recommend. He also said that 1960-1970 vintage pianos are among his favorite because they tend to be higher quality than more recent pianos.
Stay tuned next week for: moving a piano......