When we bought our home we were excited about the proximity to public parks and had no plans to install anything in the backyard. Like lots of other things that seemed kind of outrageous to us when we had one child (tunnels permanently stationed in the hallway, using a bounce house indoors), the addition of twins made a play set look really good. I've been doing my homework and ran into some unexpected costs.
Buying used? There are tons of play sets on Craigslist right now, but most sellers ask that buyers disassemble and haul away themselves, which will likely require renting a truck and enlisting help. Putting it back together will undoubtedly be harder than taking it apart, then there's power washing and re-staining.
Buying new? There are sets at every price point, from a few hundred dollars up to the tens of thousands for playground-sized behemoths. Expect to pay more for a set that hasn't been chemically treated and for more durable woods like cedar and redwood. Installation can be an all-day affair, or it can be outsourced for about $300, depending on the set.
Prepping the area. Most manufacturers call for a 6' clearance around the set's perimeter, so you'll need to find a big clear spot or remove some landscaping. If the ground slopes then you may need to make modifications for a level surface. A play set can go directly on the grass. Families who want chips or rubber mulch will have to remove sod and that recycled rubber mulch is expensive, about $700 a pallet.
We have the perfect shady spot in our yard with one major caveat: low-hanging overhead power lines. The electric company could trench the line but we would be on the hook for repairs to our landscaping and hardscaping, so now we are gathering quotes for directional boring which would mechanically run pipe from the pole to our house. Then we will need to hire an electrician to convert our service and foot the bill for the electric company to run new cable underground. The cost of the electrical modifications will be more than any of the play sets we are considering, but given the fact that we have three little ones and plan on sticking around for a while we are leaning towards that solution.
So what's that play set really going to cost? It all depends.