Q. How much should I have to pay for a good used piano?
A. With the skyrocketing costs of new pianos over the past decade or two, the prices of used pianos has increased dramatically. Another upward pressure on the cost of a used piano is that there are fewer good used pianos available. A large portion of the big old uprights are now old enough that they have serious mechanical problems which cost more to repair than they are worth so they are being scrapped. Many of the less expensive pianos built in the 60's and 70's are also coming to the end of their useful life and are being taken to the dump or scrapped. 15-20 years ago, a really good used piano could be purchased for $ 300-500 and something that held tune and played could be purchased for $ 100-200.
Today, the piano buyer needs to expect to pay a minimum of $ 1,200-1,500 for a piano that will hold tune and plays reasonably well and doesn't look horrible in your living room. Most used pianos that are for sale are on the market because the family has lost interest in playing the piano. Since there has been no interest in it, it probably has not been tuned or cared for in several years. The piano buyer needs to keep in mind that they will have to remedy that neglect once the piano is moved to their home. It is possible that the piano has fallen way below standard pitch and will require a pitch raise (see FAQ "What is a Pitch Raise") to bring it back into tune. That pitch raise and 1st tuning could cost close to $ 200. It is also possible that the piano has not been cleaned or regulated in many years (it is not surprising to find that a piano has NEVER been serviced) so that is doesn't play very smoothly or responsively. Cleaning and regulating a vertical piano can cost around $ 400.
The greatest risk in purchasing a used piano is in whether it will hold tune or not. There is much less risk in buying a piano that has been tuned regularly and the service records are available. That is not a guarantee that it will continue to hold tune in the future but is certainly a good indicator. The buyer should be willing to pay significantly more for such an instrument than one that has not had any care for a number of years. A piano technician can make an educated guess as to the condition of a piano in a brief visit, but without a history of working with the instrument, it is but an educated guess.
The old adage 'You get what you pay for,' seems especially true for pianos. Although there are some rare (true) bargains out there, mostly you will find that the really good used pianos are going to sell for $ 2,000-4,000 for verticals and $ 6,000+ for grands. The $200-500 verticals often will not be pianos that will hold tune well and can easily be needing hundreds of dollars of maintenance and repairs.
Gather as much information about a piano that you are interested in and consult (at least by phone or e-mail) with someone who really knows pianos before you buy it. Be careful. Be patient. Don't get discouraged, there are some wonderful instruments out there waiting for a good home and someone who will care for and appreciate them.