HIRING AN APPRAISER: The Five Most Important Things You Need To Know

Follow these guidelines to find the best, and the right, appraiser for the job.


The appraiser you hire must have the proper background. He or she has to have the right training and experience to do the job. The better appraisers have worked in the premier auction houses and galleries, where they were taught how to analyze and assess value, and where they had an opportunity to see the full spectrum of art, especially the best material. The smaller firms often don’t see the top flight works of art and thus lack the hand­on experience of seeing the best. Look at the appraiser’s web site for a detailed work background. Ask for a resume if it’s not shown.


You wouldn’t hire a Ford mechanic to tune your Ferrari. Likewise, you can’t expect a doll appraiser to evaluate you contemporary art collection. Or a book appraiser to evaluate your automobile collection. Appraisers often specialize in one field or another. Make sure they can handle the appraisal you need. How long has the appraiser worked in his field? Continuous experience is often a good indicator that the appraiser has made a career of appraisals and is not just hanging out a shingle to catch clients. Some art dealers offer appraisal services, but may not have the necessary experience or knowledge.


Appraisers are often referred by friends who are collectors, by insurance companies who have personal property and risk management practices, business managers, CPAs and accountants, attorneys with estate practices, and of course your local museums and better art galleries. Chances are that one or perhaps more of these sources will have the same names on their referral list.


Appraisers often belong to appraisal societies, which vet their members for experience and require them to achieve certain standards of practice. However, unlike doctors or attorneys, there is no state or federal license, and appraisal societies are private and generally self­regulated. Many appraisers have attached themselves to ASA (American Society of Appraisers), ISA (International Society of Appraisers), or AAA (Appraisers Association of America). Members are required to maintain current certification in the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).


Appraisers normally charge an hourly or flat rate for their services. Arranging fees as a percentage of value opens the possibility for overcharging, and may indicate a less than neutral arms­length opinion. It may be a red flag for less obvious problems with that appraiser. Discuss the fee arrangement and delivery schedule up front. Most appraisers will take time, at no charge, to do a walk­through of a collection. Often clients can come into the appraisal office for a free verbal opinion on a few items. If you take advantage of these free introductory services, you can get to know the appraiser and establish a more personal bond before deciding to enlist their appraisal