There are many things you can do yourself to determine if a piano is right for you. The piano has very little tolerance for something being wrong, so if it sounds good and up to pitch, it is probably OK. You could take an "A" tuning fork with you to see how close the piano is to being in tune, and play intervals such as double or triple octaves, and arpeggios to get a impression of the overall sound of the piano. I recommend this technique over playing music because it helps to reveal irregularities in the tone and touch that playing a piece of music might miss or disguise. Once you have found a piano that "speaks to you", we can look at it together and plan what kind of service it might need.
Refinishing a piano is very labor intensive and the best finishes are sprayed on. Because of environmental concerns this kind of refinishing requires an oil-bath spray booth because of vapors. Water-based brush on finishes are available but they don't have the quality of a sprayed finish. It would be best to send the piano to a spray finish specialist experienced with pianos for this type of work.
Reconditioning would be the same as regulation, except that you replace as many parts as necessary. Often times the under key felt has been moth eaten, especially if the piano has been in a humid, wooded area, or they could just be worn down through use and age. Other parts might need to be replaced as well, such as the cloth key bushings that keep the keys from rattling, or the damper felt that stops the strings from ringing might have become hard and noisy. The amount of work needed can be determined upon inspection.
Restoration can be thought of as all of the above, but including replacing the plank the tuning pins are driven into (the "pinblock"), repairing and refinishing the soundboard with brush-on varnish, and replacing the strings. Bass strings need to be special ordered for each specific piano. Plain wire strings are replaced in the piano's existing pattern or slightly updated if necessary, such as on a piano from the late 1800s.
For examples and estimates of the cost of piano restoration, visit sweeneypiano.com.
Robert recommends purchasing a piano from a local piano dealer rather than online. This way you have someone local to call in case there is a problem. Small problems are common in new pianos. As the new parts are being broken in by playing, some adjustments might be needed. This is considered warrantee work by dealers, and buying a piano on-line is risky because you don't have someone to call if you need to. A piano technician not associated with the seller will need to bill you for any follow-up work.
RobertI recommends selling your piano on consignment through a local dealer. You might not get as much as you would like selling it yourself, but you have the convenience of someone else moving it, and you don't have strangers coming to your home to look at it. It might take a little more time, too, but this can be helpful, especially if you have a deadline, such as moving away.
Since Robert is often "in the field" tuning pianos, sending an email is probably the best way to make sure your message reaches him. Nevertheless, use the form of communication that is most convienent.