Idealized value minus the cost of restoration is the difference between the cost of a rebuilt piano less the cost to restore the unrebuilt one to like-new condition. As an example, if a rebuilt piano of the same or comparable model costs $15,000, and it would cost $10,000 to restore your piano to like-new condition, then according to this method your unrebuilt piano is currently worth $5,000.

These three methods of appraising will typically yield three very different values. Which you choose to use will depend to some extent on your reason for having the piano appraised (buying, selling, insuring, etc.). Professional appraisers will sometimes use all three methods, then average them to obtain a final value.

When considering a used piano being sold by a private, non-commercial seller, keep in mind that many such sellers really have no firm idea of how much their piano is worth, and have made up something based on little more than a wish. Therefore, don't let a high asking price keep you from making a more reasonable offer. Ask the seller how they arrived at their asking price. If you can back up your offer with your own technician's appraisal (including a list of the things that need to be fixed), credible listings of similar pianos, or other evidence of the piano's true value, you stand a good chance of getting the piano at or close to your price.

Depreciation Schedule for Pianos

There is no universally agreed-on depreciation schedule for pianos, but one such schedule is provided above. The percentages given represent what the unrestored, used piano is worth relative to the actual selling price today of a new piano comparable in quality to the used one in question. The values computed are meant to reflect what the piano would sell for between private, non-commercial parties. We suggest adding 20 to 30 percent to the computed value when the piano is being sold by a dealer unrestored, but with a warranty. These figures are intended only as guidelines, reflecting our general observations of the market. "Worse," "Average," and "Better" refer to the condition of the used piano for its age. A separate chart is given for Steinway pianos. Other fine pianos, such as Mason & Hamlin, may command prices in between the regular and Steinway figures.

Appreciate or Depreciate?

Some piano manufacturers market their instruments as "investments" and tout their potential for appreciation in value. If that's the case, then why a depreciation schedule? Do pianos appreciate or depreciate?

It depends on how you look at it. Imagine parking a sum of money in a savings account earning 2 percent interest at a time when inflation is at 3 percent. Each year, the balance in the account grows . . . and loses purchasing power. This is something like the situation with pianos. After a large initial drop in value during the first five to ten years (because, unless given an incentive to buy used, most people would prefer a new piano), used pianos lose value in comparison with similar new ones at about 1.5 to 2 percent per year. However, because the price of everything (including pianos) is rising in price at 3 or 3.5 percent per year (the rate of inflation), the value of your used piano will appear to rise by 1 to 2 percent per year (the difference between the depreciation and the inflation).

Why do we figure depreciation from a comparable new piano instead of figuring appreciation from the original price of the used one? Theoretically, it could be done either way. But the price of a comparable new piano is easier to look up—one might have to do a lot of research to find out what grandma paid for her piano. And the price of the new piano embodies all the inflation that has occurred between the original purchase of the used piano and the present, avoiding the trouble of having to look up the change in the cost of living during that time. The case is even stronger for using this method with foreign-made pianos: Tying the value of a used piano to the cost of a comparable new one makes it unnecessary to calculate the changes in the currency exchange rate—and sometimes changes in the currency itself!—that have occurred since the used piano was new.

Figuring depreciation from a comparable new piano is not without its own problems, however. With so many piano brands of the past now defunct or made to entirely different standards (usually in China), the task of figuring out what constitutes a "comparable" new piano can sometimes be formidable, if not impossible.