One of the most valuable things that a person may own would be an antique item. From furniture to adornments to old electronics, antique items can be worth a small fortune. But there’s a lot involved in determining how much they are worth. For instance, just because something is old doesn’t mean that it is worth a lot. It depends on the demand for that item, the age, who made it, who owned it, etc. This is why you would typically pay a professional to give you an appraisal as you may be clueless to the real value of the item.
But before you go and hit up antiques roadshow, there are a few things that you need to know before hiring a pro to do your appraisal. This guide from money.cnn.com is pretty handy:
If an appraiser tries to buy your property “drop kick them out the door. Don’t be polite about it,” said Rosson.
Also, steer clear of appraisers who charge a percentage of your property’s value. That just creates a different type of conflict. “There’s too much temptation for appraisals to be through the roof if someone wants a big fee,” explained Rosson.
Reputable appraisers generally charge by the hour, with rates varying from $100 in rural communities up to $300 or more in big cities.
But appraisers agree that the Internet is generally not a good place to obtain accurate valuations. A good appraiser will need to see and handle a piece to determine its true value. Online auctions don’t provide a good gauge of value, either. eBay sale prices usually reflect gut reactions to merchandise rather than informed bids.
Professionals who deal with appraisers on a regular basis can be a valuable resource. Trust managers at a bank or estate attorneys are a good source for finding a professional, reliable appraiser. Auction houses and dealers, on the other hand, may not be a good sources as their motivation is to acquire property as inexpensively as possible.
Professional organizations also are a good source of referrals because they work to ensure their good name by making sure members are qualified.
To become a member of Appraisers Association of America Inc., individuals must have five years of professional experience. More senior certified members need five years of appraising experience, plus they have to pass a two-part exam on appraising theory and methodology. The Association also has an online search tool for consumers to help you find appraisers in your area.
Another option is the American Society of Appraisers, where members must pass an exam on valuing property and on ethical standards. Senior members must have at least five years of experience and take four classes covering various aspects of appraising.
“If you have a collection of early Flemish paintings you’re not necessarily going to choose someone who specializes in cutting-edge contemporary art,” said Frances Zeman, a Brooklyn, NY appraiser and chairperson of the American Society of Appraisers Personal Property Committee.
Look closely at an appraiser’s resume to see how long they’ve been working and what kind of property they usually work with. Since you’re not an expert, yourself, it may be difficult ascertaining the extent of an appraiser’s skills. But you can get a “gut read” on how thorough someone is if they can tell you about one article you own in great detail.
You’ll also want a written estimate of what an appraisal will cost and how long it will take to complete. In most cases, an appraiser may need a month to prepare your report, but someone who’s good — and busy — may need more time.
Still, there are some times when you should skip the generalist and go straight to well-honed expertise. For example, jewelry appraisal is very specialized, as is the appraisal of ancient artifacts such as pre-Columbian or Greek art. Coin collections and certain styles of paintings (for example, Old Masters) also need a specialist’s eye. When you call appraisers ask them if you should go to a specialist.
If you want to sell something, an appraiser will look at its fair market value — that is, the price you can obtain from a willing buyer. This price will be less than what retailers would sell it for. After all, antiques dealers will mark up a price to make a living. But knowing an article’s market value will ensure you don’t get ripped off.
If you’re assessing a piece to insure it, however, an appraiser will look at its replacement value from a source where you’d likely find a similar article. That could be anywhere from an antiques store to auction to a flea market — or if you had a duplicate made. But because you’re going to be going to retailers, who will mark up prices, the appraised value for insurance purposes will be higher than if you were selling something.
Rosson once had a client ask him to stop by and appraise an antique bed she just purchased. He sped over, but he was too late. She had stripped the original red paint from the piece just as he pulled into her driveway. That move, he said, cut the value of the bed in half.
Of course, once an appraiser has seen your property you can decide if you want to fix it. In fact, many appraisers can give you references for craftsmen and others who can do high-quality repairs on antiques of other valuables. Local museums and auction houses may also have references so when you do decide to fix up your collection, you can rest assured it’s in the best hands possible.
At a minimum, a report should state the reason the appraisal was requested, a description of the methods that were used to determine the object’s value, and detailed descriptions of your property. If more than one individual appraised your work, it should be clear who handled various pieces. Finally, the appraiser should give you a clear statement of the object’s worth — not an estimate.
For more details on what to look for in an appraisal, read “Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisal” from the Appraisers Association of America web site.
In most cases, you should have appraisals done every three to five years, said Victor Wiener, executive director of Appraisers Association of America. He adds: “Every appraisal should have some kind of indication of what kind of marketplace you’re dealing with,” said Wiener. This will help you determine when you’ll next need to check in with your appraiser.
Start with general references books to get your feet wet, such as Rosson’s “Treasures In Your Attic” or “Know Your Antiques,” by Ralph and Terry Kovel, who also have a subscription-based online newsletter. If you can find an art history class or other course related to your collection, take it.
If you’re serious about building a collection over a time, you should be able to find reputable dealers who are willing to cultivate a relationship with you and take the time to answer your questions. And go to auction previews and sales to slowly learn what pieces sell for.
If you do find that your item isn’t worth a whole lot, then you could always just take it to a pawn shop.