Tools of the Trade

This article was published in the April/May  2000 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.

For What It's Worth ...

Q. What are the tools of your trade?

A. Appraisers use four different sets of tools: (1) for inspection of the property; (2) for researching values; (3) for report preparation and generation; and (4) for other general office functions. The onsite tools vary, depending on the type of property that the appraiser is inspecting. I'll tell you about the tools of the antiques and residential contents appraisers. Equipment used by gems & jewelry appraisers and fine art appraisers will differ.

For on-site inspections, I take a halogen light with extension cord. A dark home is not conducive to a thorough examination of property. A 35 mm or digital camera is required to photograph and document the items, and I carry a drop cloth to use as a solid background. For measurements, I carry a tape measure, calipers, and a silver scale. A lighted magnifier and a jeweler's loupe are in my bag for reading the fine print on signed or stamped items. To detect fakes, reproductions, damages and repairs on glass, porcelain and pottery, a black light is essential. I also carry a magnet to test for brass. Implements to take notes, such as paper and pen, cassette recorder, or laptop round out the tools for inspection. If I know beforehand the types of items I'll be inspecting, I sometimes bring along reference books and materials.

Once the onsite inspection is complete, the appraiser begins the process of researching value. It might surprise many people that an appraiser doesn't "know" the value immediately. Even if the appraiser is very familiar with the type of item being appraised, the value assigned must be supportable in a court of law. Therefore, for each item in the appraisal report, due diligence is required. One of the tools required at this stage is shoe leather: going out to shops and malls to locate comparable items. This is most commonly done for insurance coverage or damage claim appraisals. In charitable contribution, estate tax, or divorce situations, the appraiser uses past sales as comparables. Tools to research completed sales include auction catalogs with results realized and CD-ROMs of auction prices realized (the library at the Dallas Museum of Art has one such program, called Artfact). The Internet is increasingly becoming a vital research tool, as well. An extensive personal library, and access to public libraries is important.

After the value is established through research, the appraisal report is prepared. Since hand written reports are unacceptable, a typewriter, or computer with word processing software and printer is required. I use a copier to make duplicates of the reports and invoices for my files. If the appraisal is for an individual, rather than for an insurance company, moving company, or attorney, I use a thermal binding machine to bind the report.

General office equipment tools include voice-mail; fax machine; calculator; and e-mail. Because appraisers are required by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) to keep records for five years, I also have lots of file cabinets.

Those are the major tools of the profession.