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Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

What's a Pinball Worth? What's a Pinball Worth? Hot

Well... it depends.  A good analogy is classic cars.  All of the following affect the value of a classic car: the manufacturer, the model, the era of the car, the quantity made and the car's condition.  The same goes for pinball games.

Some rare games go for over $15,000 while many fun solid-state games in average condition can be picked up for around $1,000.  Games with DMD's are generally considered to be move valuable than a game made a year earlier with digital displays.  1990's era games, and newer, tend to be the priciest and newer games manufactured by Stern can easily run over $4,000.

If you think it's all very confusing, it is, but there are a couple resources pricing guidance.  Boston Pinball maintains an eBay sales summary online and there's a fairly new site, PinballPrice, that collects eBay and other sales data.

Mr. Pinball puts out an annual price book, the Pinball List and Price Guide.  The prices in the price guide are for a machine in very good condition, which according to the author means: 100% working, clean, new rubbers and balls and there is not any noticeable damage or significant wear.

I can tell you from my experience that for the price listed you will not get a game that meets those requirements.  You will more likely get a game in average condition without new rubbers or pinballs.

I should mention that using eBay "Buy it Now" pricing as a guideline for your asking price, or the price you will pay, is more than idiotic.  I can list my used socks on eBay for $1,000, but that doesn't make them worth that much.

I find eBay prices to typically be extremely high and can assure you the game either never sells or sells for a fraction of the listing price.  (The one exception is pinballs that have been professionally restored, which can add several thousand dollars to the price, and are not comparable to the game sitting in your garage.)

Now that you've got a general price, it's time to consider the variables that will move the value up or down.  Note that some of these variables are influenced by your abilities and desires.  For example some people will think a machine with LED's is worth $200 more, others won't put any value in the upgrade at all. 

Another example is the working condition of the game.  For those that do their own repairs a non-working flipper isn't a big deal.  On the other hand, many people will have to pay someone else to do the repairs and this can get expensive quickly.

Working Condition

Rant: Firstly sellers, do not list a game as needing "just a minor repair."  I've been working on pinballs for 20 years and I can't look at one and determine with any level of confidence if it will be a minor or major repair.  As a buyer your response should be, if it only needs a minor repair you should have it fixed and then sell it.  Then walk away unless you plan on repairing it yourself.

Problems other than burned out bulbs are a crap shoot when it comes to estimating the cost to repair.  A switch that doesn't work could be as simple as an adjustment or as expensive as a board repair.  Here's a few prices just to give you an idea for repair cost.

A pinball repair guy, or gal, will charge around $100-150 plus parts for a service call.  If the machine has multiple problems the price will go up.  Circuit board repairs can run anywhere from $50-250.  A new DMD will run $200.

Cosmetic Condition

The cosmetic condition of a machine plays a huge roll in its price.  Following are some ballpark figures for different cosmetic repairs, but be aware you can't always find the needed parts (plastics,  ramps, cabinet decals, etc.).  If the issue is important to you, check parts availability before you buy.

  1. Backglass -- $175-300
  2. Translite - $100-150
  3. Plastics - $50-200
  4. Playfield - $300-$500
  5. Ramp -$75-250
  6. Repainting or Refinishing Cabinet - $20-500

Shopped

A single level game will cost $200-400 to shop out.  Multi-level playfields, or those with ramps, will run $300-500.  These prices include rubbers and bulbs, and possibly flipper rebuild kits and pinballs, but no other parts (broken plastics, ramps, etc.).  Any repairs are also not included.  If you shop it yourself, rubbers and lamps will run $20-50, flipper rebuild kits about $50 and new pinballs $10-20.

Restored

A restoration can take 60 hours or more, plus parts, with a cost ranging from $1,000 to several thousand.  The result is a game that should be as close to new as possible and be much more reliable.

Collector Quality

A collector quality game can run anywhere from $1,000 to several thousand more than an average condition game and what defines a collector quality game varies by collector.  Some would consider a high-end restoration a collector quality while others want the game as close to original condition as possible (no paint touch-up, original parts, etc.).

Quantity Manufactured

While sellers will try to tell you a low volume game is worth more, this is typically not the case unless it's an antique game.  The more popular a game, the higher the volume and the more popular a game, the more it sells for.  A decent Addams Family for example will sell for more than $3,000 yet 21,000 of them where made.

Upgrades

Personally I like toppers and if you can find an original topper for a game they run from $50-200.  I place no value in after-market toppers, but that's up to you.

The most common upgrade is LED's, which can cost from $150-200.  I wouldn't consider labor in this case since most LED upgrades are done by the owner.  Some like LED's, others prefer the original look, so the value of an LED upgrade is up to you.

Personally, I'm not big on other modifications and will pass on a game where the game was modified to the point where it can't be easily restored to original condition.

Other than toppers, the value of modifications is really based on what you're looking for in a pinball game, and some mods can decrease the value of a game.

Regional Differences

You will find regional and local differences in pricing, maybe 10-20%.  For example, games in Chicago are typically cheaper and games in California are typically higher.

Value

At this point you should be able to get a base price and add or subtract based on the game's condition.  For example, a Gilligan's Island sells for around $1,525.  I would expect the game to be working, but not shopped, and in fairly good cosmetic condition as follows.

Some minor, but no major problems with the cabinet, playfield or translite.  Wear around outholes, for example, is pretty typical, or small scratches in the cabinet.   No broken plastics (the one exception being a slingshot plastic that is readily available and inexpensive).

In our example, let's say there's a broken ramp, LED's are installed, the DMD is missing a couple of lines and one of the VUK's doesn't work.  I would subtract $150 (cost of ramp), $200 (DMD) and a basic service call for the VUK and DMD ($125).  I would then add back $100-150 for the LED's for a net price of $1,200.

Keep two things in mind though.  You will never get the Gilligan's Island down to $500 no matter how many things are wrong with it, unless it's a project machine.  The value of an item is what a willing seller and willing buyer agree upon.  In my example, I've seen a lot of people pay $1,500 for a machine just as I described.  So no matter the math, you may have to pay a higher price if you really a Gilligan's Island.