The time has come to purchase a new piano and the options are endless. A piano is a considerable investment and requires in-depth research and working with a budget; everyone will be different. You’ve perused traditional shops and perhaps private sales, but you’ve spotted one that’s priced below the market value being advertised at auction… and you’re tempted. It looks in pretty good condition from the photos and the price is more than appealing. Sound too good to be true? Unfortunately, it probably is. As easy as it may be to consider purchasing your new piano at auction, it often isn’t a good choice. Impulse buying and cutting corners can lead to purchasing damaged goods and finding yourself out of pocket to the tune of a considerable sum of money.
A Piano Graveyard…
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘the graveyard for pianos? Amongst professionals and dealers, piano auctions are often referred to as the place that sub-par pianos tend to end up. Pianos at the end of their life, or often those that have reached the point of being virtually untunable, will crop up at auction in the attempt to sell them on. You will sometimes find that dealers will pass pianos over to auction that they don’t want associated with their name and brand, which is a big red flag for prospective buyers as to the piano’s quality. Pianos are intricate instruments and rather more fragile than most people would assume, falling victim to the passage of time much like us humans do. When purchasing from an auction, you can’t be sure of the piano’s history or environment, or how it’s been treated. If attending an online auction, you have the disadvantage of being unable to lift the lid, gently strike a key or tinkle a tune. Even at a live auction, the risk of unseen damage or a mismatch between you and the instrument itself is high. Oftentimes the problems can be internal, such as split action rails. These sort of issues are very difficult to spot when playing, and even when doing a quick general inspection of the piano, you really have to know what you are looking for.
You may feel like you’ve done your research and found a great deal on a piano at auction. The photos may look good, and it seems to be in pretty good shape when you arrive at the auction house. You decide to risk it and go ahead with the purchase. You get your piano home and finally get a chance to take a more detailed, only to realise that what you have isn’t quite what you’d hoped for. It’s bumped, faded and scratched, has a damaged interior and is in generally poor condition. Buying a piano at auction can be a risky business. It’s often not until you can inspect your purchase that you may realise that the cabinet wood is heavily faded from sun damage, or there may be deep gouges and scratches in the cabinet that you didn’t spot. Have you checked the pedals? They looked fine but testing them reveals that they’re loose and the pedal mechanism is broken. There can often be pungent smells that emanate from within the cabinet, too, such as must or cigarette smoke. In some extreme cases, you may even discover that the piano may have been dropped or suffered from water damage!
When you lift the latch or unscrew your piano to look inside is when you’ll really get to grips with what condition your purchase is in, and it’s often at this point you may realise the difference between what you thought you were buying and what you’ve got. You might be faced with rusting or old strings and loose tuning pins. You also risk the keys falling victim to being sticky or loose and the soundboard runs a risk of being cracked or detached from the frame. There’s the possibility that you may also find that the hammers are heavily worn or excessively grooved, or perhaps even a cracked bridge. The sound quality is resultantly highly likely to be poor, and the instrument likely difficult to tune and remain so. All of these conditions are common with older pianos, and the likelihood of finding one in your new purchase is high. They can be significantly detrimental to the instrument and can burn a hole in your wallet very quickly.
Inflated Fees and COVID-19
Price inflation as a result of the pandemic is also a real catching point for current buyers in the market. As auctions are taking place out of sight and online, it’s become increasingly prevalent for auctioneers to considerably bump up piano prices. As nobody can actually view the bidders, it’s easy to dupe honest prospective buyers into believing they’re being outbid and unfairly inflate the price of what you’re bidding on. Buyers can also be stung by hidden fees, with premiums and commissions sneaking into purchase prices and inflating the amount you end up paying. Delivery fees are additional to the auction price, leaving the transportation very much down to the buyer – and that’s no easy feat! Safely moving your purchase is a big task, that again, comes attached with a number of risks.
No Warranty or Safety Net
When purchasing a piano – be it new or second-hand – it’s important to ensure it has substantiated warranty. Buying at an auction is a sold-as-seen situation, meaning once your piano is sold and in your possession, any problems you discover are not covered by a warranty. Even if your piano has been inspected by a technician, they may not be giving you the full picture. There are a number of accounts from customers who have suffered long-term issues with their pianos due to an unforeseen problem not picked up by the technician who was advising them. And without a warranty, there is really nothing to be done. People can typically be left with a purchase that’s significantly below par and results in a hefty repair bill, or worse, a piano that costs more to repair than it would to purchase a new one.
Why you Shouldn’t Sell a Piano at Auction
You should bear in mind that when selling a piano at auction there is both buyers and sellers commission, which, with VAT, may mean that you get less than 40% of actual market value, this will vary as different auctions will take different commission. There is also the very real possibility that your piano won’t sell at auction, and even if this is the case, you still must cover the costs of transport and storage, and the piano may get damaged in transit, reducing its value.
Don’t Forget the Commission
Whether you are buying or selling at auction, please take commission into account.
This is mentioned above, but it’s important to remember: if you are selling, you may lose out. You could receive less than 40% of the actual market value of your instrument (this will vary depending on the auction). If you are buying and get caught up in auction fever, then for every bid you make you must remember to add approximately 20% to the price, and then add VAT on top of that as well. On a higher value purchase this suddenly makes your ‘bargain’ not such a bargain anymore!
Choosing your new piano is personal, and it’s down to you to decide how you want to proceed.