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Bar News - December 19, 2008


Appraisers and Appraising – What’s It All About

By:

All objects have value – from your home and all its contents to all the other "stuff" in your world. But how do you know what that value is? Is it what you paid for the item? Does it hold, lose or gain value over time? What if it’s a gift or a found object? What if it’s (shudder) an antique? And what the heck is an antique as opposed to just old junk, anyway?

To best help your client answer these questions, you need to learn the age, value, function, and history of anything he or she might own – and you may need that information for a variety of reasons: insuring or selling an object, settling an estate or a divorce case, filing a bankruptcy. Perhaps you will want to help your client manage disaster-preparedness planning – or make charitable distribution of his assets. To know the true value of what your client has, you must know, among other things, when it was made, what its function is and how much it’s worth on the open market.

You will need an appraiser. But how do you find the right one for your particular needs?

The Road Show Effect and Choosing an Appraiser

Television is a very powerful medium – what we see there is so easily taken for reality. Because of the spectacular success of shows like The Antiques Road Show, you may think that you can get an item appraised in minutes and that the appraisal is free. However, in the appraisal world – as is true everywhere – you get what you pay for. Shows like Road Show are first and foremost entertainment – yes, the appraisers are knowledgeable in their fields and they provide a value and some history of the item presented, but this information has no standing in the real world – it cannot be used for insurance or other legal purposes. For that, you need an accredited appraiser who can prepare written documentation based upon specific legal guidelines and paths of research.

Accredited appraisers have extensive knowledge based upon years of experience as collectors, dealers, historians, and aficionados. They understand the market and its changing trends and know how to research the background of your client’s possessions. Except as entertainment or to satisfy simple curiosity, appraisers do not guess at values on the spot or shoot from the hip with their valuation. When choosing an appraiser, look for a detailed resume and ask for the time he or she has spent in the business, which is of paramount importance – there’s a reason so many appraisers have gray hair! Always ask for this information, along with referrals and references.

However, there are no specific courses or college degrees in appraising. Accreditation in this field comes only from membership in, and certification by, professional organizations such as the Appraisers Association of America (AAA), the Association of On-Line Appraisers (AOA), the American Society of Appraisers (ASA), and the International Society of Appraisers (ISA).

These organizations provide assurance that their members are skilled, experienced and adhere to strict codes of professional conduct, as well as performing their services in compliance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

Membership in these organizations assures knowledge, skill and compliance to the rules, and certification is the highest level an appraiser can achieve. Certification indicates that an appraiser has been tested by a jury of his or her peers and is recognized as being an expert in one or more fields. Thus, a Certified Appraiser of Personal Property (CAPP) is an expert at the top of the personal property field.

To locate just the right appraiser, referrals are always best, but you can also visit the websites of these professional organizations and download a list of appraisers in your zip code by discipline and category.

What to Expect in the Appraisal Process

Myths and Oversights
  • Not everything increases in value – especially in the antique and collectibles world. Much depends on fashion, trends, style, regionality, and usage. Professional appraisers understand this and account for these vagaries in their valuations.
  • History plays a large part in the appraisal process. An item will often have significance to local historical societies, fraternal groups or community organizations. A professional will recognize and note this it in his/her reports, along with necessary recommendations.
  • Appraisers charge for their professional expertise. But they are disinterested in that they charge by the hour – never by the piece or value of the items appraised.
  • Appraisers never buy anything they appraise – that would be a conflict of interest. In the antiques and collectibles world, many dealers will present themselves as appraisers and, while capable of indicating market value, they are not impartial in their valuation.
  • A professional appraisal begins with the appraiser inspecting the property in person, asking the client about the item’s history, taking photographs whenever possible, and requesting all relevant documentation.

    Next comes research and more research, which may include using books, databases, analyzing comparable sales, and discussions with other experts.

    The appraiser then prepares a report that must, at a minimum, clearly state the kind of value being determined (such as fair market value, liquidation value, replacement value, reproduction value, etc.); the purpose of the appraisal (such as for estate planning, insurance coverage or income tax purposes); a description in detail of the property being valued with dimensions, special markings, etc; details of the procedures used to estimate the value being presented; and the report must include the signature of the appraiser, along with details of the appraiser’s credentials.

    The report then serves as formal documentation for the IRS and the legal system, should the value of the item(s), property, business, etc, ever be questioned. Because of market changes, it’s advisable to get a re-appraisal every three to five years. However, for items in highly volatile markets – such as rare automobiles, contemporary art, etc. – annual re-appraisals are recommended. In such cases, your appraiser can review the market situation for you and update your appraisal for a nominal fee.

    So – to appraise or not to appraise – that is the question. Only you can answer that…at least you know now what to look for in an appraiser, how to find one, and what’s involved in the process. Knowledge is power and a certified appraiser can give you the knowledge.

    John W. Bruno is a Certified Appraiser with an office in Rochester. He may be reached at:
    P.O. Box 157, Rochester, NH 03866 (603-509-2639) or by e-mail at
    JohnWBruno@aol.com.

    If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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