Is It Worth?
into the appraisal process
by Shirley L. Northern, ASA, ISA CAPP, AAA
''I don't want an appraisal. I just want to know what
How often I hear those words over the phone.
When I do, I know I have an educational project on my hands.
Determining the worth of an item is what appraising is all
about. But the profession of appraising is so much more than
that. Choosing the appropriate market to use in researching
the value of an item is an integral, and probably the most important,
part of the process.
But before an appraisal can even be started, the appraiser
must know what the client is going to do with the appraisal.
Is the client going to obtain insurance coverage for the items
in question? Is an estate going to be settled and taxes paid
based on the values found? Is a couple going to get a divorce
and need to be able to divide their marital property up evenly?
Have hard times fallen upon clients who must declare bankruptcy
or sell their possessions? Did the client sustain a loss due
to hurricane, fire, theft or moving damage? Those are just a
few of the times when a client needs to know ''what's it worth?''
You may find yourself needing an appraiser. How you go about
choosing one and what you should ask an appraiser when you interview
him or her is all important. Here are some of the most important
questions to ask:
What qualifies you to appraise my property?
The appraiser should have formal education in appraisal theory,
principles, procedures, ethics and law. The appraiser should
be up to date on the latest appraisal standards as set forth
in The Appraisal Foundation's Uniform Standards of Professional
Appraisal Practice USPAP. Without formal training, the appraiser
is not able to select the appropriate market to research in
order to arrive at the appropriate value for your items.
Choosing the appropriate marketplace for the function (what
you are going to do with the appraisal) is the heart of all
appraisals. If the wrong market it researched, the value will
be wrong. For example, let's say a set of Gorham Sterling
flatware is to be appraised. It makes a great difference if
the function of the appraisal is to obtain insurance coverage
or to settle an estate. For one the appraiser should go to the
retail market and for the other the secondary market where used
silver is most commonly bought and sold. And training is the
only way for appraisers to become adept at choosing the correct
If you have an item or items with which your appraiser is
not familiar, he or she should clearly tell you how the research
will be handled. Does the appraiser have a network of other
appraisers with various specialties who can be called upon for
Do all appraisers have similar qualifications?
It is to your definite advantage if the appraiser you select
belongs to an appraisal society that tests its members. The
appraiser you choose should have been tested and been required
to take continuing education classes.
What is your fee and on what basis do you charge?
Never, never hire an appraiser who charges a percentage of
the appraised value or charges a ''contingency'' fee. These
are definite conflicts of interest and may result in biased
values. Most appraisal societies forbid either of these types
of charge. Many appraisers charge an hourly rate. Some charge
a flat rate after they have inspected what is to be appraised.
Either system is fine. Find the one that bests suits you.
Always have a signed contract that clearly
sets out the terms of the appraisal and the approximate date
you might expect to have the final document in your hands.
What should an appraisal report look like?
You should receive the report in typewritten form. There
should be a cover letter thoroughly explaining the methods the
appraiser used in arriving at the values found. The body of
the appraisal should have a complete description of the item
including dimensions and condition of the item. Individual values
should be shown for each item appraised. Photographs may be
supplied according to your wishes. Also there should be a Professional
Profile or c.v. attached outlining the appraisers qualifications.
A competent and qualified appraiser will be happy to answer
any and all of the above questions. A qualified appraiser has
formal education in appraisal theory, principles, procedures,
ethics and law. In some states anyone can claim to be a personal
property appraiser, whether they have had formal training or
not. It is important that the appraiser you choose be accredited
or certified and that he or she belongs to an organization that
requires periodic requalification.
There are three main appraisal organizations in this country
whose memberships include personal property appraisers.
The International Society of Appraisers (ISA) http://www.isa-
American Society of Appraisers (ASA) http://www.appraisers.org
Appraisers Association of America (AAA)http://www.appraisersassoc.org
These organizations accredit or certify their members after
the member has taken an extensive series of courses and passed
several rigorous tests. These organizations have rigid codes
of ethics which all members must agree to obey. They have appraisal
report writing standards which each member must follow. The
organizations are active in The Appraisal Foundation (TAF) in
Washington D.C. and their members must follow TAF standards
and regulations in writing their reports.
You could be comfortable hiring a member of one of these three
organizations but don't forget to ask the questions I suggested.
Ask for and check with references. Very important financial
decisions may be made based on the values found by the appraiser
you hire so it is important that you find a competent one.
Don't expect free appraisals!
Your doctor, lawyer and accountant charge fees and so will your
appraiser. Your appraiser is a professional just as they are.
Appraisers should act professional and should provide you with
a professional document with values they could defend in court
if the need arose.
I have been told over and over again that The Antiques Roadshow
doesn't charge for appraisals so why should I? That show, which
is very good by the way, doesn't tell you that, before the show
is aired, the items being appraised are thoroughly researched
and the values determined well before the appraiser and the
owner appear on camera. And, in most cases, the appraisers are
being paid by the firms for whom they work. It is wonderful
advertising for auction houses, dealers in specific items and
for specialist appraisers.