The art of harp price negotiation

  • Participant
    Harper10 on #252950

    Hello! I’m a lever harpist looking to purchase my first pedal harp. I’m looking at one used pedal harp I want to make an offer on. I have done some research on the model. The private seller is asking the 2020 price for their 9 year old harp. The seller is throwing in a few accessories: a bench and a case. The harp is in great condition and has been regulated every year, except for this year.

    How do I negotiate for the lowest price? How low do I make my first offer? $6k off the asking? (Factoring in the cost of a regulation?) How would you go about it?

    Thanks in advance!

    Participant
    Biagio on #252954

    It sounds as though the seller is not particularly anxious, but maybe not. If, as you say, the harp is in great condition and has been recently regulated, I would offer what I could afford and if they find that acceptable – great. If they counter that will give you an idea of how motivated they are. In my experience, a person selling a good or great harp is not going to want to dicker much and trying to really drive the price too low will turn them off.

    Participant
    Harper10 on #252956

    Thank you for the quick response! I appreciate your insight. How much is too low? I don’t want to insult, but I too recognize the price they are asking is too high. It seems the harpist does have motivation to sell as they are closing their harp studio and moving overseas. Thanks in advance.

    Participant
    Biagio on #252957

    If you can make a price comparison on other used harps offered for sale that might be helpful in determining an opening bid. For starters, check the harps on consignment at the Virginia Harp Center, The Harp Connection and Kolacny Music. An hour or two of googling will lead to other sites.

    Think of it like house hunting: the seller will have probably made some comps (or their agent will have done), so you do the same. But it is probably not a good idea to low-ball if you already like the harp as it is.

    If time runs out for the seller they can simply put it on consignment. They might not get the price they want but OTOH they can leave the bargaining to the dealer. If the dealer gets an offer they will then contact the seller, but he or she will not be stuck with storage or shipping.

    It is worth mentioning that a used harp may actually sound better than a brand new one of the same model. It takes a few years for the SB to reach it’s optimum tone.

    Participant
    Harper10 on #252959

    Thanks, Biagio! I appreciate your insight. What you have said is helpful. Fun fact, 4 years ago when I was a new harpist looking for my first harp, you were a helpful voice here on the forums. I check the forums here periodically and I always find your words encouraging and helpful. Thank you for being a force for good in our harp community and on the forums here. I you have had a positive impact on my harp journey. Thank you, Sir! Wishing you great health, abundant joy and great success in all things.

    Participant
    Biagio on #252960

    And thank YOU! It is gratifying to learn that my remarks have been helpful – at least most of the time, haha Sometimes I babble.

    I have found that harpists and harp makers are among the most generous people in the world so one might say that I am just returning the kind guidance that I received.

    Best wishes in your harp journey!

    Biagio

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #252980

    Excellent advice above. FYI If the seller consigns the harp, he/she will need to pay shipping one way (think $300-400 one way plus $100 for the shipping box). Then there will be a 20% sales commission. You should get the price of the harp new and work from that. A 9-year old harp would be at its prime. But, asking the price of a new harp is unrealistic. You would simply buy a new harp. Like cars, harps depreciate as soon as you buy it. The value goes up only due to inflation over time.

    Participant
    Biagio on #252984

    Great observations Gretchen! That will give you an idea of some bargaining room once you have decided on an opening bid. You do not mention the strings’ age but the cost of a new set and new regulation are other negotiable items.

    To give you an idea, an in-house regulation by an L&H technician runs around $400 before required materials. It is hard to estimate the string cost without knowing the model So as a low ball park let’s say $500. So there you are as a possible starting point:

    Cost new less 10%-20%
    Less regulation and strings $900
    Shipping and insurance is usually paid by the buyer

    So I guess you have a few thousand dollars negotiable.

    Participant
    Harper10 on #252985

    Ooo, excellent points. I didn’t even think about the consignment costs. I didn’t realize it was so expensive. You have both given me great insight into the process of selling a harp, which is extremely helpful. Also, wonderful price breakdown, Biagio! By your calculator I came in at the same price I was thinking of starting my offer with. Perfect! Much appreciated.

    Participant
    Biagio on #252996

    This is always an exciting period – please let us know what happens!

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #253022

    Biagio, a minor addition to your post. The buyer needs to purchase full replacement value insurance from the shipper which adds another $100. So think of shipping as costing from $490 to $700 in the US.

    Participant
    Biagio on #253024

    Didn’t I mention that Gretchen? Thought I had, but you are of course correct. Also I don’t know what it would cost to crate the harp, but for a pedal instrument I guess it would not be trivial???

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #253025

    Biagio, harps these days most often are shipped in cardboard boxes that have foam at the top and bottom. The box is about $100. I don’t know the cost to ship the box. As an aside, it is important the harp be packed tight so it does not move at all. I recommend putting the base in an old t-shirt before putting in the foam base. Protects from scratching. Do not warp anything wood in bubble wrap without cloth or soft tissue under it. Bubble wrap can damage the finish.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #253103

    I don’t know that there’s an art to it, but if someone is selling a harp, they probably need the money, and trying to get the price down is not the most considerate thing to do.

    Participant
    Harper10 on #253375

    Hi everyone! I wanted to provide an update. Thank you all again for sharing your advice and insight on this topic.

    I traveled a long distance to see the harp and it had some structural issues so I did not purchase it.

    Over the last few months I have been reading everything I could get my hands on to learn about how to buy a pre-owned pedal harp. (I have never purchased a pedal harp before. I am a lever harpist.) I spoke with many experts and I’ve learned so much in the process. (I’m a journalist and digital marketer by trade so research is my specialty. 🙂 ) Spending $15,000+ out of pocket on a pre-owned pedal harp is daunting and I have been doing everything I can to ensure that the pre-owned instrument I purchase is a sound financial decision. That said, here are some of the things I have learned in the process. These are my general notes. I hope this is of some help to someone out there!

    Here is what I learned about what to do when buying a pre-owned harp:

    – One can take on A LOT of risk when purchasing a pre-owned pedal harp. Unlike a car that has a title, a pedal harp for the same price doesn’t not have a title. Many don’t even include an appraisal or a guarantee of a value. A harp might look good and have been regulated within the year, but it could have been dropped/mishandled between the time the harp tech last saw it and when you are seeing it. Some damage can be seen and some cannot. At the end of the day, there is some level of risk involved when purchasing a pre-owned instrument. Factor in the large cost of a pre-owned harp and you have a situation that demands careful consideration.

    – Ask a lot of questions and ask for photos of all angles of the harp. (Base, neck of the harp, soundboard, etc.) You’re looking for a general idea of the condition of the harp. Are there gaps in the wood? Consider sending photos to a harpist and harp technician you trust before you spend the time/money to see the instrument in person. Be aware also that the photos you are being sent may be old photos. If you are very far from the harp (out of state for example) consider doing a Zoom or video call and have the harpist show you the details of the harp and play it for you.)

    – Pay close attention to how the owner cares for the harp. Did they transport the harp without the full transport case to the location you are meeting them at? (For example, they say the 3-piece transport case is part of the deal, but they didn’t bring the entire transport case with them and the harp.) Is the harp full of dings and scratches? How do they handle the harp? Where has it been stored primarily and for how long? (Damp spaces such as basements and garages are not great places.)

    – How often is the harp regulated and who regulated it? Ask for the contact information of the harp technician. Be aware that to cut costs, some harpists regulate the harp themselves or have an independent technician (someone not associated with the Lyon and Healy/Salvi factory) regulate their harp. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth talking to the technician to get a sense for the condition of the harp and how they cared for it. What a regulation means to a person to regulates their pedal harp themselves could means something entirely different to a factory certified harp technician. (Another thing to note is if an independent harp tech regulates a Lyon and Healy/Salvi harp, the warranty is voided.) In addition, was the harp only regulated a few times in the 15 years of its life? A regulation is like an oil change/tune-up for a car. It’s very important and without a regulation, a pedal harp’s discs (which make the note sharp or flat) might fail to engage the string. So the harp will sound great without the pedals engaged, but then won’t engage the strings correctly like it should.

    – Does the owner have records of string changes, regulations and general repairs? It’s always nice to inherit these details. (Another little sign that the harp was well-cared for. Not mandatory, but nice to have.) 🙂

    – What has the harp been used for during its lifetime? Casual playing, gigging or to earn a college degree? This can tell you about the amount of wear and tear on the instrument. An expert mention on these forums in a post long ago that a harp can age 20 years in only a few years by being played rigorously for college/academic study. In addition, a harp that is constantly moved for gigging or for performances may age faster as well. (“Age” meaning the instrument may need repair work such as a new neck, base or soundboard sooner than if it is never/rarely moved.)

    – Avoid the pressure to buy. There are many, many great harps on the market. Even if this one isn’t right for you, there will be another great harp. It’s worth the wait.

    – Pedal harp repair can be very, very expensive. ($3k-5k and up depending on what needs to be done.)

    – One thing to take into account when deciding to purchase a pedal harp is the ongoing maintenance costs. Pedal harps, like lever harps, need annual regulation and care. Unlike lever harps, which you can regulate yourself, pedal harps require specialized care from a certified harp technician. Pedal harps also need to be restrung. Regulations (based on my understanding) should occur every 1-2 years. Cost can be around $1000 total (this is not exact) for new strings and a regulation. This is something to factor into the cost of caring for a pedal harp.

    – Structural or mechanical issues in a pedal harp can be difficult to identify. That’s why it’s essential to have an experienced harp technician look at the instrument. The problem is it can be difficult to get a harp technician to visit the harp you are interested in purchasing if they don’t live nearby.

    – The gut knows. Pay attention to what your gut is telling you. Harpists are generally wonderful, honest people, but not every situation or harp will be right for you.

    – Even if a harp technician tells you in the harp is in exceptional condition, $15,000-27,000 (depending on the asking price of the harp) is A LOT of money to spend based on one person’s word. There may be a harp technician who will give you an appraisal, but even then. That’s still a lot of money.

    – When was the harp last played and regulated? This is important to know. Is the harp even in playable condition? There are many harps that are out there in the world that haven’t been played much and may just need a regulation and some new strings and they’ll be ready to roll. The more questions you ask the most you can determine if this might be the case. (For example: “Grandma played this harp for pleasure for 30 years and it’s been sitting in her office space for 15 years and now we want to sell it.” This could be an ideal situation.)

    – If a harp is not in playable condition or hasn’t been regulated in a number of years, you will need to put at least $1,000 into it to get it rolling. (Est. $500 for new strings and $500 for a regulation. This isn’t exact and is likely more on the high end of costs.) You won’t really know that the sound of the harp is like until these things are taken care of.

    – There are a variety of wonderful resources and articles online from Carl Swanson, Steve Moss and others about what to look for when buying a pre-owned harp. Even if you spend hours researching and gathering information, as I have, to learn everything you can so you can spot any issues with a pre-owned harp, you can still miss something. That is how complex pedal harps are. It’s essential to not rely on your own knowledge when buying a pre-owned pedal harp unless 1) you absolutely know what you’re doing, 2) are willing to take on the risk that harp could use some/ or extensive repair or 3) you have an expert (harpist or harp tech) to help you.

    There are a lot of what-ifs and depending on the stars to align. Even if you get the perfect situation, you as a buyer will be taking on some risk. So what is the best way to go about buying a pre-owned harp? How can you get the best for your money?

    – Purchase from a respected business that specializes in harps. For example, the Virginia Harp Center, the Atlanta Harp Center and experts who restore and rebuild harps, such as H. Bryan Harp Restoration and Carl Swanson. Some businesses (such as the Virginia and Atlanta Harp Centers) offer financing options.

    – Purchase a harp that is referred to you by your harp teacher, a harpist or a harp technician you trust. Let your harp teacher know that you are looking for a great harp. What’s nice about purchasing a harp this way is the teacher knows generally how the harp was cared for. Buying from mutual friends or through referrals from close friends/people you trust can be a good strategy to buying a pre-owned harp.

    – Buy new from the factory. One downside to this is you will not be able to know how the sound of the wood will develop the sound as the harp ages. The benefits are that the harp comes with a warranty and financing options are available.

    What if you don’t want to do any of the the above. Maybe that 1960 Lyon and Healy Style 21 is calling your name and you just want to take the risk. Just be sure to take a calculated risk. To do that:

    – Gather as much information as you can. How was the harp stored? When was it regulated last? How was the harp used when it was played (professionally, etc.?) Has it been moved much? Talk to the harp technicians and harpists you trust. Show them any pictures you have. What do they think? Based on the harp’s age and condition, how long until it might need major repair work? Based on the information you gather, perhaps you’ll buy the harp for a great price and it will just be a gigging harp or something you’ll only use at home for practice. Maybe you’ll choose a harp that is a bit older and less expensive than a new one and you’ll set aside some $1-3K for harp repair work. These are just a few ideas.

    – One interesting thing about harp repair is just because a harp needs repair, doesn’t mean the repair needs to happen ASAP. A harp has many wood and metal parts that shift over time as the instrument ages and is played moved. At some point those shifts might result in the instrument requiring repair. But just because a harp needs repair doesn’t mean it isn’t playable.

    On thing I asked myself after all this time spent researching is, “is it worth it? Is a pedal harp worth all this work and risk?” Yes, I really think it is. The pedal harp is an entirely different creature from a lever harp. The strings, the pedals, the repertoire…there is so much to learn and explore with the pedal harp. For me, it’s absolutely worth it to start my journey in shopping for a pedal harp. It’s exciting to think of the new things I’ll learn with this new instrument! One day when I find the right pre-owned pedal harp. 🙂

    If I was to sum up what I’ve learned it’s that is essential to take a calculated risk. Know what you’re purchasing, how the instrument was cared for and gather as much information and as many second opinions as you can. The more information you have the better prepared you will be to make a purchasing decision that is right for you. I hope this summary might be of some help to other harpists out there. Buying a great pre-owned harp is very doable (I have talked to many harpists who have done is very successfully) and can be a great experience. You might even make some new friends along the way. Harpists are an awesome group of people. I learned that it’s always worthwhile to enter every situation with kindness, compassion and respect.

    Wishing you great success on your harp journey!

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