A friend recently asked me about my experiences in buying pianos. So I've been reflecting and I thought that my lessons learned might help others even if they are embarrassing to me. Most of these lessons have been discussed on this forum in various threads, but perhaps it is helpful to put them together yet again.
#1: Don't buy a piano unless you are REALLY sure that you need one or a different one.
I've been on a six year journey at much expense through 2+ pianos and probably at the end of the day would have been personally happier (saved a lot of time and money) if I had stayed with my 15 year old upright that only needed 1 tuning per year.
#2: Be more demanding with piano dealers to get the service and information that you deserve.
New grand pianos are the price of cars and some are the price of several cars or at least a year of college education. The pianos should be in top form on the floor--tuned, regulated, some voicing, dusted, etc. Plus you should be able to ask to have the piano moved around on the floor or a home trial so that you can at least hear it in several "settings."
The first grand that I bought sounded good in the showroom (I had done a lot of homework going to various dealers). However, in my home, it was way too bright, After 2 years of trying to voice it, move it, etc., I sold it for 60% of cost (i.e. lost a lot of money). There was another brand that I was considering, but it never sounded quite right on the floor--I should have asked them to tune and then revisited. In hindsight, it would have been a very good piano for what I was looking for, at least in theory.
Also, be sure to ask for all paperwork associated with the piano including dates of service in the dealership. I've had a highly recommended (on this forum) dealer say that they had serviced and prepped piano---when the panels were opened (upright) the inside was very dusty, clearly no real time had been taken on this used top tier piano.
#3: Be sure to pay a tech to get advice before purchase (in person, not through pictures).
Dealers can be very nice, but they are not your friends. I felt very vulnerable in the purchase process as I did not have any experience purchasing expensive grand pianos. After several visits to dealers, I began to think of them as friends and probably shared more than I should have about my thinking. Dealers are retailers, period. They can be very nice and very knowledgable, but at the end of the day they need to sell a piano.
#4: Expect to pay several hundred if not thousand + dollars getting the piano to the place you want it after you have purchased it.
As I mentioned, I spent 2 years and several tech visits trying to voice down my first grand piano. We never got it to the place that was good for my needs.
My second grand cost 3x the price of my first--which was already expensive. I decided that maybe I needed to go to the top tier of European pianos to get the sound I was after. It does have a great sound (except a few strings that buzz); however, it did not hold a tune. For over a year, I had quarterly visits from tech (could only afford quarterly--it went out almost immediately!). Piano never stabilized even after paying for Damp Chaser heating bars.
I switched to tech that was more familiar with the brand and who tuned differently. I also unplugged the heating bars. We are now at tuning every 6 months, but the buzz is still present so I'm paying for a few strings (very nervous about changing strings).
#5: Be explicit about how you want piano wrapped and stored when moving farther than within city.
I've had a piano arrive dinged and very dusty because it was not wrapped properly with 3 movers and 30 days in storage (only was traveling 4 hours away, but that qualifies as cross-country I guess). Never occurred to me to demand how piano should be wrapped and moved.
I am not a super demanding person. In fact, I've been described as too nice. It is important to demand the service required for your investment.
Bottom line...I so enjoy playing the piano and I've had one in every home--even rented right out of school. BUT one can get very carried away in the process and lose a lot of time and money. Even considering home and auto purchases, I would say that buying pianos is the most difficult and least pleasant experience I have ever had. Be prepared to put in lots of time, money, and worry AND it may take a while after you purchase to feel good about your decision (it may not sound perfect for several years).
Hope this helps someone.