Best way to sell a high-end grand piano?
July 22, 2014 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Someone close to me has inherited a Yamaha grand piano, appraised by knowledgable tuner around $45,000. The owner needs as much of this money as she can get. How do we sell it? Is Craigslist okay for very-high-price sales? This is in the Washington DC area.

First, what price, realistically?
The piano is about 10 years old, in perfect condition and has a number of added improvements, replacing certain parts with better German parts. The tuner has been maintaining the instrument for years, and he wrote up a detailed description with all the right language and gave this estimate/appraisal for this purpose (preparing to sell it).

Any idea what fraction of that appraised price we could expect to actually get in a sale? I want to calibrate expectations. We can afford to take some time selling it, if it will mean getting a significantly better price.

Second, where/how to sell?
The tuner recommended selling it on Craigslist.
I'm leery about the owner dealing with Craigslist people (she is older and lives alone, and it's not like she can just bring the piano to the local Starbucks for potential buyers to see)... but we'll do it if need be. How does a sale of this kind work? Is there a way to vet potential buyers before she gives out her address? Will people want to haggle? Is a cashier's check the right way to handle the money? Any tips about using Craigslist for this kind of thing would be useful.

Other options seem to include piano-only classified-ad websites, and brick-and-mortar piano dealers in the area (which would probably be the safest/least hassle but also the least money? Do you know an honest dealer in the DC area?). Are there other, better venues?

If we sell to a private buyer, should we expect to sell to someone in the area, or is there a nationwide market for these? Does the buyer or seller normally handle the moving/shipping arrangements and costs? Do you know a good piano moving company in the DC area?
posted by LobsterMitten to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Call Jordan Kitt's and ask if they'd sell it on consignment.
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:12 PM on July 22, 2014

I would not list a big-ticket, big-footprint item like this on Craigslist; you want more vetting of potential purchasers than a site like that allows. Specialty consignment would be my first thought as well.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:25 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

eBay has listings for pianos.

I would get the piano appraised by someone who actually buys and sells pianos for a living. That person is not necessarily one who tunes them. $45,000 seems...a bit steep, unless the piano has some unusual provenance.
posted by dfriedman at 12:28 PM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I did, though, find a Yamaha listed for $50,000 on eBay. Is this the same model as the one you're looking to sell?
posted by dfriedman at 12:32 PM on July 22, 2014

I would see if you can find a piano dealer who's willing to list it on consignment. The sad truth is that they can get a lot more for it than you can, and I believe you'd put about as much money in your pocket either way. The good news is you're in DC, not the sticks. The bad news you should be aware of is the market for acoustic pianos has gotten softer as electronic pianos (including the kind that look like furniture, not keyboards) have improved. However, if this instrument is that high-end, perhaps that trend won't affect it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:39 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unless the tuner had a burlap sack with $$$ on the side and $45,000 within, hir appraisal is worth what you paid for it. Call a local piano store.
posted by disconnect at 1:15 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are different kinds of appraisals for instruments: the "insurance value," the "auction value" and the "retail value." Do you know what kind you got? Usually the insurance value is the highest, because it's intended to allow you to buy a replacement instrument of comparable value new, and the auction and retail values will be variable but lower.

Anyways, I would never sell a high-end instrument (not a piano or a violin or even a guitar) on Craigslist. Call a shop or an independent piano dealer, they have the connections to the right buyers and the best knowledge on how to market your piano to this market. Either they will sell it for you, or they will be able to advise you on the best way to do it.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:22 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like Wild_Eep's suggestion - for example they sold this. Also, the Washington International Piano Festival is imminent and maybe you can post flyers there.
posted by exogenous at 1:34 PM on July 22, 2014

While I can't tell you how to sell it I can suggest how not to sell it. Do not consign it to an auction house. I recently went to an auction where a Steinway estimated at $40,000 went for $8,000. It was a no reserve auction and probably poorly advertised as I was not aware there would be a piano there until I arrived for the preview.

However a properly advertised specialty instrument auction, where there are a number of interested buyers may work. Remember to hold a reserve, auctioneers hate it, but it guarantees your minimum take. (if it sells above reserve)
posted by Gungho at 1:37 PM on July 22, 2014

Here's an excellent article in the NY Times a couple years ago about the bottom falling out of the market for grand pianos. It seems there are many more grand pianos available for sale than people willing to purchase them. It's a buyer's market, it seems.
posted by apennington at 1:49 PM on July 22, 2014

I'd check in with the find folks over at the Piano World forums, and they also have a classified section.
posted by snowymorninblues at 2:46 PM on July 22, 2014

Yep, it's a total buyer's market. The piano business is in free fall. You won't get anything near what the piano is "worth" in most cases.

What model is it? Presumably a C5x or C6x with a valuation like that?

Your friend might do better to donate it to a conservatory or college and take a large tax deduction on the inflated value.

Institutions generally will not buy used pianos. Consignment sale through a high end dealer is your easiest path, but they'll take a big chunk of the price.
posted by spitbull at 3:55 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The bad news us that the market for used pianos is so terrible that it's quite easy to get one for free. Unless it's a truly exceptional instrument, I would be prepared to accept significantly less than $45k.
posted by slkinsey at 4:28 PM on July 22, 2014

Response by poster: spitbull, it's a C7.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:47 PM on July 22, 2014

The last Yamaha C7 to sell on eBay went for $22,000 with one bid.
posted by Metafilter Username at 4:43 AM on July 23, 2014

Yep. I have experience buying (and disposing of) fleets of Yamaha and Steinway pianos (including many grands) for my institution over the last decade and have dealt with big dealers and Yamaha corporate in the process, so with some expertise on the matter I was gonna guess $25k max on the private market if local (moving a grand adds a big cost, distance is a factor, as is current accessibility. It could cost a grand easily to get it moved if rigging is required at all, or major disassembly -- I also spent 2 years as a piano mover on the 80s!). I'd offer it at 15k plus moving costs to ask or consignment dealer, or offer at $20k but settle for $15k).

It's a beautiful albatross.
posted by spitbull at 5:56 AM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

PS Only let a licensed, bonded, insured specialty mover near that thing when it's time to move it. Your $25k piano can easily do $100k of damage in the wrong hands.
posted by spitbull at 6:00 AM on July 23, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all for the help. Yes, definitely would only use specialty, insured, etc movers.

spitbull, what does a big institution do with its old grand pianos? Do you just have a relationship with a single dealer or clearinghouse? Do they go to lesser institutions or to individuals?
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:46 PM on July 23, 2014

Dealers take the better ones in trade at a low markup. The old institutional model of selling them off to alumni with a tax break (with the dealers as middlemen) is on its last legs. I don't know much about the used market beyond that, but prices have collapsed and all but high quality grands in great shape are virtually scrap surplus now. People will pay you to take a decent upright off their hands.

A Yamaha C7x in good shape is still a great instrument at that age if it's been maintained. I'm serious about looking into how big a tax deduction you could score by using its highest possible cash value as the basis for a donation to a college or church. But you also might find the particular upper middle class parents of a serious young pianist or something if you are very patient and advertise widely. Those of course are costs to you.
posted by spitbull at 8:19 AM on July 24, 2014

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