Appraising Your Appraiser

An appraiser assigns value to your property and potentially minimizes your exposure to certain risks, such as tax penalties. An inaccurate appraisal could hinder your ability to receive a fair price for property, increase the likelihood of a tax audit, or result in an inequitable division of property or inappropriate insurance coverage. Your financial decisions may depend on your appraiser’s research, analysis, and reporting.

Hiring an Appraiser  
Choosing a qualified professional involves time and preparation. Because appraisers tend to specialize in certain areas, such as antiques, coins, stamps, jewelry, silver, and so forth, you want to find someone with relevant expertise and a proven track record. For a referral, contact the following professional organizations:

International Society of Appraisers (ISA)
www.isa-appraisers.org
1-312-981-6778

Appraisers Association of America (AAA)
www.appraisersassoc.org
212-889-5404 

American Society of Appraisers (ASA)
www.appraisers.org
1-800-272-8258

Other resources include libraries, museums, auction houses, and the Internet, as well as recommendations from friends and colleagues. Once you find someone with the necessary experience, conduct an interview to ensure his or her appraisal practices meet your standards, as well as the accepted standards in the field. Consider asking the following questions:

  1. What are your work experience and education qualifications? Ask for references and review the candidate’s résumé or curriculum vitae, making note of work history, both formal and continued education, and membership in professional organizations. Some professional organizations require that members pass examinations and comply with a code of ethics. Valuation should be based on standard appraisal principles and procedures acquired through formal training. Authenticating an item is just one aspect of the appraisal process.
  2. What is your area of expertise?
    Make sure your candidate’s expertise matches your needs. However, finding one person who is an expert in all areas may be difficult. The International Society of Appraisers recognizes over 220 areas of specialization. For items that exceed an appraiser’s expertise, ask if the appraiser would be willing to consult with other qualified professionals.
  3. How much will the appraisal cost? Appraisers may charge per hour, per diem, per item, or a flat rate. Other charges may include reimbursement for additional expenses, including travel and photographs. Consider avoiding any proposal that includes a “contingency fee” based on a sale or a fee that is based on a percentage of the valuation. Generally considered unethical, these types of appraisals could have tax consequences for you; the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rejects all appraisals performed under these conditions.
  4. How do you report your findings? An appraiser typically prepares a signed, written report that documents the valuation of an item, including his or her evaluation methodologies and credentials.

The Written Report
Keep in mind that at some point attorneys, judges, the IRS, estate executors, insurers, and trustees may grant decisions based on your appraisal. Therefore, it should be comprehensive and professionally prepared. The following key elements are usually included in an appraisal report:

Statement of purpose. As discussed earlier, an appraisal has a variety of uses, which may include helping you assess your insurance needs or substantiate a tax deduction. The purpose of your appraisal and its expected use should be clearly noted.

Description of property. This includes a physical description that details such features as the size, weight, color, age, material composition, origin, and condition of the appraised item, as well as the method of acquisition (often helpful for tax purposes). The appraiser also attests to an item’s authenticity and notes the date it was viewed.

Statement of disinterest. The appraiser should verify that no conflict of interest exists. If the report has been prepared for tax purposes, the appraiser must provide a tax identification number and also disclose if the IRS has ever disqualified him or her. The appraiser also needs to include an explanation of the applicable fee structure.

Method of valuation. An explanation of valuation methodology offers a basis for the appraiser’s conclusion. In general, appraisers make assessments based on such factors as replacement value, fair market value (FMV), or comparable sales. For example, an appraiser who is determining the value of a work of art may consider the prices of similar works of art. The appraiser often includes a market analysis that references historical performance and may also project future value.

Provenance. In some instances, particularly with artwork, a history of ownership may be included. Further documentation, if applicable, might chronicle noteworthy exhibitions or publications.

Statement of value. The report should clearly state a dollar amount representing the valuation of the appraised item, and it should be signed and dated by the appraiser. It is also standard practice for the appraiser to include his or her credentials, either with a résumé or curriculum vitae.

Stay Current
In order to keep pace with the potential for changing market values, consider reviewing an appraisal every three years. As your financial strategies change, make sure you base your decisions on the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding the value of your possessions. What you cherish as “priceless” may have a price tag that can help you plan for your financial future.


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