Should I bring a piano into my condo?
October 30, 2018 7:58 PM   Subscribe

I have the option to bring my childhood piano into my place - is it a bad idea?

My mom’s downsizing. This is a budget upright that cost about 2k in the 80s. In its current condition (it *might* have been tuned once since I left home, I was the only one who played it), it’s worth about $500-1000 (max).

- Does it fit. Yes, it perfectly fits into my little denlet. I got the okay from condo management to have it, it’s fine for the elevator.

- It’ll cost $400-500 to move, this would be a gift (for which I’d be extremely grateful). It will cost about the same to get it *out* whenever I leave, which may or may not be within a year or so (this is another question for another time).

- If I changed my mind and wanted it sold, a local reseller would give me $500 for it and pick it up for free.

- It will need to be tuned at some point. I probably won’t do that soon. Frankly, an out of tune piano is ok for my needs, for now.

- If I were to purchase an equivalently crappily maintained piano, it would cost $500-1000 for the thing, plus moving costs. If I were to get a decently in shape piano that’s comparable, it would be 2k plus moving costs. It’s extremely unlikely I’d do either anytime soon.

- I only got to like grade 6 conservatory, and haven’t really properly played in 20 years. However I did use it to write songs after that - usually once or twice for each year that I’ve been in its vicinity. (Because I’m lazy.) Again, I’m probably brutal at playing, but the feel somehow made a difference. For actual performing or recording, I usually used a keyboard or guitar, but it was always helpful for coming up with ideas.

- I haven’t written or played anything *at all* in a few years. I don’t actually know for sure that I will again. Even though I didn’t write songs often once I was past my 20s, it was a hugely important (would even say psychologically necessary) vehicle of expression and communication, a channel for anxieties and you know other emotions. I haven’t felt at all creative in a while, though. Maybe I grew out of it and this is just what happens in middle age (evidence around me points to “yeah basically that’s it”). My partner *does* play (another instrument) and write and I’ve yet to feel inspired by this (in fact it’s made it *weirder* to sing around the house and feel loose about it. That said, I stopped doing much of anything before I met him, it’s not his fault.)

- I have a guitar and midi keyboard I could use. (I don’t really *need* the piano, it’s just that it has a special vibe for me.)

- I don’t know if I’m *just* being vain and sentimental (about my past self and whether that part of me is dead or not, the piano, somehow by extension the loss of my mother’s home, etc.) or if I’m being vain and sentimental with a teensy bit of reasonable justification.

So if you were me, would you take this piano into your 644 square foot condo that you share with another person. (Again it does fit the den.)

I’m writing from a tiny phone so apologize for repetition :/
posted by cotton dress sock to Home & Garden (29 answers total)
If having it would make you happy, take it. If having it would feel like a daily piano-sized reminder that you don’t play anymore and hey why aren’t you playing me right now (this would totally be me), pass.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:04 PM on October 30, 2018 [13 favorites]

The economics sound low-risk -- it costs your about ~$500 to move it in, and you'd get ~$500 & free pick-up from the local reseller. Condos are small, but you're thinking about this (and have looked into all the costs) because you want it. So, it makes sense to try it out for a while, and then when you decide you don't want it or you're moving and don't want it enough, sell it.
posted by triscuit at 8:05 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Musical instruments always add something to your life, even if you don’t play them all the damn time. I will reread before posting but I don’t see the downside.
posted by Smearcase at 8:05 PM on October 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you don't do this now, what happens to the piano? Does the option no longer exist in the future? I'd make a different decision if it means the piano gets sold out of the family than if it means the piano sits in Great Aunt Zelda's basement until someone else wants it, possibly you when you know where you plan to live long term.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:13 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Get a tuner to come out and diagnose it before you decide. It might be probably isn’t and might not be tunable without an extensive rebuild. The tuner’s diagnosis won’t cost much and if you like them, you can immediately book a tuning after you move it. I wouldn’t move it without knowing the score as to whether it’s usable or not. I personally would not move it if it were not at least mostly tunable because pianos are heavy and the reseller might change their mind. If it is usable, I think the economics make sense for you to keep this one.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:18 PM on October 30, 2018 [11 favorites]

It’s going to get sold if I don’t take it :(

ThePinkSuperhero - you’re totally right. I wish I could predict whether I’d just be torturing myself or become magically inspired, but I can’t decide if I’m deluding myself or not. (Like *how* special is the feel of this thing exactly, I don’t know... I played it today and it felt great? But maybe I was charged with nostalgia and that was some kind of extinction burst...)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:19 PM on October 30, 2018

Does your condo board have some sort of requirement regarding musical instruments? The condo bylaws will lay this out.
posted by nathaole at 8:29 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

It’s all good as far as the condo management goes, in fact they were very happy to help.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:31 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Slightly off-topic, but it may feed into the decision: $500 to move it both in and out of your condo seems high (unless your mom lives a long way away, and you're also planning to move a long way away when you leave).

Piano movers are pricy, but if this is a non-valuable piano, and there are no more than a couple of steps involved, just get non-specialist man-with-van movers. You need 2-3 guys with a truck with a liftgate and a couple of carpeted moving dollies.

As long as they treat it like a piece of delicate furniture, there's nothing special about moving a cheap piano other than the weight.

This is based on moving a cheap piano into our house. I think we paid $200 to move it. (Although we never actually play it, and I'm honestly not sure I'd have moved it for free, in hindsight!)
posted by caek at 8:36 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I played classical piano for about 20 years, and have since stopped. I would absolutely grab a chance at having a piano in my condo if I could swing it. ESPECIALLY my childhood piano! Even if I didn't play often or at all, having it there would mean that it would be possible.

I too have a weighted keyboard and I never use it, but that's because it's a keyboard. My condo is similarly sized. I'd do it. You can sell it later if you decide it's not for you. I personally would love having one around, though.
posted by sockermom at 9:02 PM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

more anecdata- i moved an upright player piano in a uhaul 500 miles with a handful of folks on each side of the trip to help load/unload...

the piano lived in my grandparents house for fifty years and i loved it as a kid. having it in my house makes me very happy. honestly, every piece of furniture i own that came from family makes me happy (although i have turned down waaaay more).
posted by noloveforned at 9:05 PM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

644 square foot condo that you share with another person

I realize that this is somewhat based on where one lives, but that seems like a small space to share with another person. How does the other person feel about it? Is the space it would take up currently used for something else? Even a reading nook or small desk can be important in a smaller space.
posted by jeoc at 9:14 PM on October 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

The other person is my partner and he’s cool with it. Especially considering I have been extremely cool about his four enormous floor speakers (they look and sound great but were a pain to work around, yet we made it work). The piano would replace a (my!) bookcase (which itself would be replaced by floating shelves). There’s still room for a small desk, etc. Yeah, it’s a small place, but thankfully and very luckily the layout is great (and so is the construction - the units are unusually soundproof; never had a complaint from neighbours).
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:57 PM on October 30, 2018

lots of positive support here!

I generally agree that you should take it. In a very similar situation, my husband received his childhood piano (actually, his grandfather’s piano which he used as a child) and it now sits in our office.

Sadly... we never use it. Also, while we thought we had a perfect space for it, we no longer do - some minor house improvements (adding hvac) meant moving a doorway and... now it’s awkward. So, now we are dealing with the agony of “so we sell grandpa’s piano?”

I don’t regret taking the piano, and I don’t think we’ll sell it. However... we don’t love that we now have it, as it’s quite large for our limited floor space and really cramps the office for how we’d like to use it. Sigh. So, I guess that my advice is: just keep your expectations open, and know how you’ll handle it if you decide you don’t want to keep it later on.
posted by samthemander at 10:37 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do get a tuner to have a look. If it hasn't been tuned in that long you may find strings need to be replaced etc and it could get very, very expensive. I'm amazed and delighted you can get 500 bucks for it to be honest. Over here, a lot of people are having trouble giving older pianos away.

My sister took our family piano. It cost her $500 to move, but not only were the bass strings unusable, the soundboard had developed a crack or warped (can't rememberl and needed to be replaced, and some of the keys were dodgy. It would have cost more than a comparable new piano to fix it, sentimentality only takes you so far...
posted by smoke at 10:37 PM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I didn't see any convincing reasons in your list of why to keep it. You haven't played the piano in 20 years and you don't seem to have a future plan to play it. The piano needs work and you don't seem willing to do the work. You're weighing this piano against one you'd pay $1000-$2000 to purchase and have delivered.

In my opinion you're going a little overboard with your desire for this piano. You're justifying keeping something you'd probably never use by comparing it to its replacement cost.

If I were you I'd look for a physically smaller item with which to remember the experiences you had with the piano. Is there a special book or piece of sheet music you could hold onto that would give you the same vibe? A photograph of you playing it?

A piano would take up a significant amount of space in a 744-square-foot condo. What else could you put in your denlet? Something you enjoy currently? Something you and your partner can enjoy together?

My house is full of mementos but I'm careful to keep them small in size - YMMV.
posted by bendy at 12:24 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did this last year (paid to have the piano at my mother's house shipped to my new house once I moved to somewhere with room for it - she wanted to knock down the wall it used to sit against anyway). I haven't played it a huge amount because of reasons but I'm still glad to have it so that it's there when I have time to come back to it.
posted by terretu at 3:49 AM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

It will become an albatross.

Take a moody backlit keepsake picture of it and hang that above your bookshelves. Then someday, should you actually want to play again, get a new digital keyboard with a headphone jack.

Signed, someone who moved her childhood piano too many times and in the end couldn't find a buyer despite its supposed value. Trust me, it will take over every living space you move into, physically and emotionally. Take a more manageably sized keepsake from your mom's home and give the piano to someone who will play it.
posted by headnsouth at 4:01 AM on October 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

Take it. Enjoy it. I wish sooooo much that I had taken my piano when my Mom asked me. It was a baby grand, a beautiful piece that would have cost me a small fortune to have it moved. I would gladly pay any amount to have it today.
posted by james33 at 5:41 AM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

I’d take it, but I would be confident that I would play it, at least a bit. Also I’d know that one or two friends would play it when they came over, and my kid would enjoy it too.

Musical instruments are a special category for me, and thus the calculus is a bit different than if it were something else that big, heavy and expensive.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:51 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

You mention that someone would gift you the cost of moving it now, but you may move within a year, and it sounds like you’d need to decide then whether to pay to move it or to sell it. If you chose the latter, would the gift-giver resent having paid for you to have it for less than a year?
posted by daisyace at 6:32 AM on October 31, 2018

After sleeping on it, I am super suspicious that a reseller would pay you actual money for a piano that hasn't been maintained in many years. I can't tell if they're lowballing you because they think you don't know what you have, or if there really is a market for your piano even in its current state. Definitely get a tuner out there who is not related to that actual reseller to give you the full picture.

A close family member of mine was a tuner and was very firm about never accepting a free piano because it's always cheaper to get a new one than to rebuild. Burning the piano is a traditional and respectful way of retiring a piano that is beyond repair, and a very dramatic and fascinating experience to witness.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:47 AM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I moved my childhood piano across the country. My mom wanted to get it out of the house, so she paid for piano movers to put it into my rental truck, for another set of piano movers to move it from the rental truck into my new place, and for a tuner to come out and tune it. It was not worth it.

When I moved again in a year I had to pay piano movers again, and in the meantime I'd had the piano tuner derisively refer to it as a furniture piano and not one meant for long term use except as a physical status symbol. When I moved out of my second place I had to find a new owner for the piano or get it hauled away at my own expense, since my third place wasn't going to have room for it at all.

Don't let sentimentality cost you more money than a mediocre instrument with a questionable maintenance history is worth. If you want a piano because you're definitely going to play it, buy a new piano, or at least a well maintained used piano, from a reliable dealer. If you just want it because it's yours, let it go, or be prepared to pay multiple times its value in moving costs.
posted by fedward at 7:16 AM on October 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

I did exactly this; don't often play it just now, but am glad I've got it (though I had no immediate plans to move out when I got it).
posted by penguin pie at 8:12 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Take it now, it will make you happy. If after a year or so you find you are moving house and you look back on the last year and realize that looking at the piano makes you feel something other than happy (guilty, sad, untalented, disorganized...) then you can consider selling it, no net cost or gain to that experiment.
posted by aimedwander at 8:39 AM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

No. You'll be unloading it within a very short time. And if it isn't in good shape you sooner. There's a reason pianos are always on craigslist etc.
posted by terrapin at 9:36 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

>If you chose the latter, would the gift-giver resent having paid for you to have it for less than a year?

Not at all, I did ask several times. Her lone concern is getting it the F out (along with the golf clubs, hockey gear, weights, books etc that have been hanging out in her basement forever, and who could blame her). No strings attached (except for the ones that are supposed to be. I hope). I’m going to get an independent tuner to take a look at it, per blnkfrnk and smoke, and if it’s not a mess, I think I’m going to take it. And I’m going to play it. Thanks, everyone!
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:02 AM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I know you're clear with your condo board, but please, as someone who is a neighbor in a condo building - talk to your neighbors, particularly ones you share a wall with. Make sure they're OK with it, or at least aware of its existence, and give them the opportunity to help you understand whether your playing scales for 30 minutes to warm up, before practicing the same thing for an hour in order to get better at it, would get on their nerves or not. Be open to setting limits on your playing time and the times at which you play.
posted by pdb at 2:01 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

(a) If you're past the stage in life where you tend to move every couple of years for one reason or another (even if it's possibe you'll make A move in the near future); (b) if your income is such that investing $500 to move the piano if/when you do is not a major financial hardship, I would say go for it; (c) if your needle tips toward sentimental on that scale...then I think that's a good choice. I took on my mom's childhood upright when neither (a) or (b) were in place and wound up abandoning it at a point when I just couldn't move it one more time and feel a little bad about that.(*) But in the not-so-grand scheme of things, even if you decide a few years down the road that it doesn't fit into your lifestyle then you/the piano will be no worse off than if you just let your mom let it go now. It's possible you could have a better instrument for slightly more money, and it's highly likely you would continue to live your life just fine if it never crossed your mind to take it on, but now that the possibility is out there I think you will enjoy the connection to it.

(*) I have made up for that regret by since acquiring a digital piano AND a 1960s homebuilt kit harpsichord, which at one point both lived in a 900 sq foot apartment with me and another person. It is only by the grace of God that I did not also buy a $200 Eastlake Victorian parlor organ.
posted by drlith at 4:05 PM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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