Hiring an Appraiser

This article was published in the Claims Prevention and Procedure Council newsletter, and in the October 1998 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.

Hiring an Appraiser

It may surprise you to learn that anyone can call themselves an appraiser. There is no licensing or certification for personal property appraisers at this point in time, so if you need an appraisal, it is your responsibility to determine if the appraiser is qualified.

There are two types of property: real property and personal property. Real property includes real estate, land, buildings. Tangible personal property includes moveable items, such as furniture, antiques, collectibles, pots and pans. This article deals strictly with appraisers of personal property.

What's "it" worth? That all depends. Is the purpose of knowing the value for insurance (coverage or claim)? Liquidation, sale, or resale? Equitable division of property (divorce or distribution of an estate)? IRS obligation (probate and estate tax, or charitable contribution)? The "value" of an item may differ depending on the "function" of the appraisal and the "market" used to determine the value. A knowledgeable appraiser should be able to explain these differences to you.

Ask the appraisers you are considering hiring if they specialize in the types of items you want appraised. Just as you wouldn't visit a podiatrist for a heart problem, don't engage a coin appraiser to value an 18th Century chair. If you have a large number of various household goods, you might seek a generalist appraiser who will contact experts in certain fields, should the need arise.

Check the qualifications of the appraisers by asking if they have had any formal education in appraisal theory, principles, procedures, and ethics. Training is not yet required of any appraiser, but those who have taken classes and have passed the tests show that they are interested in their profession and in seeking competence. Those who are serious about appraising should be taking courses at least every five years to remain up to date.

Request references. The appraiser, however, has an obligation of confidentiality to all clients. Only after securing their written permission should the appraiser provide you with their names.

Confirm that the cost of the appraisal will be based on an hourly rate, a flat rate, or a per item rate, plus expenses, where appropriate. It is not ethical for appraisers to charge based on a percentage of value or on contingency. 

Make sure that you will receive a typed or computer printed (not handwritten) and signed report that the appraiser will defend in court, if necessary. The report should consist of a cover letter with any limiting and qualifying conditions; the appraiser's qualifications; a statement that the appraiser has no financial interest in the property; a complete and accurate description of the property; the methodology used; the market analysis and markets selected; and a defined value.

Inquire about the appraiser's membership in any appraisal organizations. Active participation shows involvement with the profession, peer recognition, access to updated information, and requirement to adhere to a code of ethics.

Examine the appraiser's responses to your questions and decide if the appraiser you are about to hire is qualified. 

Next Month: Finding a qualified appraiser.