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  • Writer's pictureSpecialty Asset Appraisal

Record-breaking auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s have contributed to the public’s interest in valuing personal property. These auctions are prestigious, and the realized prices are often incomprehensible to the average person. While it makes sense to have an appraiser evaluate collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, MOMA and other large institutions, why would a small museum or historical society need to call an appraiser if they only have items of “local” value? This article will describe the many aspects of the appraising field and reasons why local institutions should engage personal property appraisers.

New Jersey has a long and diverse history that is commemorated by local historical societies and museums throughout the state. These institutions serve the public by developing educational programs and protecting and maintaining historical artifacts of local, regional, and sometimes national importance. Although these collections may not include a Rembrandt or a Picasso, these collections nonetheless merit the expertise of a qualified personal property appraiser.

Unlike Real Estate appraisers, personal property appraisers are not licensed by the state and therefore the field is largely unregulated. This means that there are many individuals and firms that advertise ‘appraisals,’ but who are not necessarily qualified to determine value for formal purposes, such as estate tax, insurance coverage, or charitable donation. In general, a qualified appraiser is an individual who belongs to a credentialing organization, such as The International Society of Appraisers, Appraisers Association of America, or the American Society of Appraisers. For instance, members of the International Society of Appraisers formally apply to the organization, participate in training courses, and pass examinations covering valuation methodology and property specializations. Members of all the qualifying organizations are required to comply with IRS and Appraiser Qualification Board (AQB) guidelines, adhere to a code of ethics, are subject to peer oversight, and continuing education requirements. These qualifications support competency, accountability and a commitment to professionalism.

ISA is the largest Personal Property Appraising organization in the US and Canada

Frequently, individuals that buy and sell antiques or broker fine art also advertise that they offer appraisal services. An obvious conflict of interest arises when an appraiser has an interest in personally acquiring something that he/she has been asked to impartially value. Other examples of conflicts of interest include situations where the appraiser sold the property to the client originally; the appraiser anticipates acting as agent or on behalf of the client to sell the property; the appraiser plans to act as a broker or otherwise manage the subject property. In many cases, dealers with no formal appraisal education misuse the word ‘appraisal’ to mean ‘an offer to buy,’ which may or may not be market value. Formal value conclusions must be substantiated and justified by comparable sales data and reported following specific guidelines, whether written or verbal. It is important to note that a dealer can function as an appraiser and vice versa only if these functions are kept separate to avoid perceived or outright ethical conflicts.

Local museums and historical societies can benefit from having a qualified appraiser look over their collection for a variety of reasons, not just if an artifact may be valuable. One of the most valuable (no pun intended) services that appraisers provide is proper identification of the property, which is the first step in the valuation process. An appraiser may be able to help identify those pesky items that are ‘found in collection’ or have been designated to storage because no one knows what they are. Further, appraisers can help identify specific period pieces and styles. For instance, there is a big difference between a period Chippendale chair and a Chippendale-style chair.

With budget, storage, and personnel constraints, many institutions are reevaluating current acquisition policies and narrowing their scope of collecting. This often involves deaccessioning objects that do not further the mission of the institution. It is a healthy process for museums, in my opinion, but one that faces public outcry. Institutions who are deaccessioning should consider having a formal appraisal report completed of the items that are being deaccessioned. Not only does this thoroughly document the identity and condition of the items, but it also records their determined fair market value at the time of deaccessioning. This report, along with the institution’s approval of revised collection management policies, supports transparency with the general public. Bringing in an unbiased expert shows that this is an ethical and formal process that is well-planned and executed, with the paper trail to back it up.

Appraisers are often called to produce insurance coverage appraisal reports or update existing ones. Insurance companies recommend insurance coverage appraisal reports be updated every 3-5 years. As a former museum professional, I am not a stranger to referencing reports done ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago! Old appraisal reports are not sufficient as they do not interpret the current market. The market changes frequently and is affected by economic, political, social, and natural factors. It is the appraiser’s job to analyze how these factors affect the subject property and its value conclusion.

Since many museums care for objects, fine art, and manuscripts of historical and cultural significance, it is imperative that they are covered in the event of a loss. The entire collection works together to interpret a specific time period and provides the basis of educational initiatives. The collection, no matter how large or small, should be insured regardless of its general market desirability. An insurance coverage appraisal report goes beyond focusing on things of great monetary value but serves a practical function of documenting that the property does/did in fact exist, proof of ownership, and proof of worth at the time of loss. Insurance coverage appraisal reports completed by qualified appraisers will stand up to the scrutiny of insurance companies in the event of a loss.

Historical manuscripts and other ephemera is particularly susceptible to deterioration.

Replacement cost is an insurance term meaning the amount of money one might be expected to pay to replace a property that was destroyed, stolen, or damaged. Often, items held in museum collections are irreplaceable in the sense that their uniqueness, age, or provenance is not easily reproduced like many utilitarian household items. Although irreplaceable, appraisers use a systematic approach to estimate replacement cost of the object by researching equivalent items of like kind, age, quality, and condition to the items being appraised. The purpose of an insurance coverage appraisal report for local collections is to make sure the institution is able to replace items in the collection with equally desirable equivalents to continue serving its local community. In other words, the monetary amount a local collection may sell for in the open market has no bearing on its replacement cost or, perhaps more importantly, its suitability for evaluation by a qualified appraiser.

The importance of having a qualified appraiser examine a local collection cannot be understated. Based on the institution’s needs, a qualified appraiser will develop an objective appraisal report without any bias towards the property’s marketability. Understanding the value of the collection is integral to being a good steward of the items for future generations. Appraisers can help institutions make intelligent decisions when looking to downsize a collection or fill interpretative gaps. Overall, contacting a qualified appraiser to document a collection will not only enhance proper stewardship, but add depth and context to the museum’s mission.

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Combining formal education and professional experience, we specialize in unlocking the value of antiques, fine art, historical ephemera, residential contents, books, and other types of property.

Programs like The Antiques Roadshow have increased public awareness about the importance of appraising personal property; however, there are many different aspects of the appraising field that are largely unknown. “I am passionate about educating the public about proper valuation methodology, professional ethics, and increasing their knowledge about their belongings,” commented Stephanie Daugherty, owner of Specialty Asset Appraisals (SAA). There are many reasons to engage an appraiser to evaluate and value your personal belongings, including: Estate tax, estate planning, equitable distribution, non-monetary charitable donation (required by the IRS for donations over $5,000.00), insurance coverage, damage/loss claims, and liquidation/resale. Understanding the value of your assets is critical in making informed decisions for the future.

Courtesy of Town Square Delaware

Specialty Asset Appraisals is accredited with the International Society of Appraisers (ISA), the largest of the professional personal property appraisal associations in the United States and Canada. ISA trained appraisers are leaders in appraisal methodology and ethics. Specialty Asset Appraisals seeks to enhance public trust by developing qualified and professional appraisals of various types of property ranging from general residential contents to rare books. We routinely perform professional appraisals for antique furniture, paintings, historical ephemera, sterling silver, collectibles, and rare books.

Associates at Specialty Asset Appraisals combine previous experience in the museum field with industry knowledge to provide a client-oriented approach to developing objective, unbiased, and substantiated personal property appraisal reports. Our appraisal reports are written in full compliance with the International Society of Appraiser’s report and writing standards as well as the Appraisal Foundation’s Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). We serve individuals, corporations, government entities, universities, museums, historical societies, non-profits, and religious organizations in unlocking the value of their property in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

About Us: Specialty Asset Appraisals is an independent personal property appraising firm based in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Owner Stephanie Daugherty founded the firm after seeing a need to help people understand the value of their belongings so they can make informed decisions. Accredited by the International Society of Appraisers (ISA), the firm develops substantiated, professional, USPAP compliant appraisal reports to our clients. Further, SAA is committed to educating the public about valuation methodology, qualified credentials, and professional ethics.

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Recently, appraisers and collectors have noticed numerous advertisements and promotional material from other personal property appraisers who may have completed a Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) course and describe themselves as a “USPAP Certified Appraiser.” Others may deem their appraisal reports “USPAP Certified Appraisals.” Both of these terms are incorrect and are not approved by the three major personal property appraisal organizations: the International Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers Association of American and the American Society of Appraisers.

“USPAP Certified Appraiser” and “USPAP Certified Appraisal” statements are not designated as a credential and should not be used as one. Users of appraisers, such as collectors, accountants, attorneys, insurance firms etc. should certainly proceed with caution if they see an appraiser stating they are “USPAP Certified” as it may be an indication the personal property appraiser is either not properly trained or is being misleading by relying on a false credential.

The use of these false designations and credentials by personal property appraisers has come to the attention of the Appraisal Foundation, which has recently released guidance on the topic. According to the Appraisal Foundation and the Appraisal Qualifications Board, “there is no such credential. The use of the expression ‘USPAP Certified Appraiser’ is misleading. Completing a USPAP course does not entitle one to call oneself a ‘USPAP Certified Appraiser’.”

The Appraisal Foundation continues:

“One requirement for an appraisal or appraisal review is that the report include the appraiser’s certification that, to the best of his or her knowledge and belief, the work was performed ‘in conformity with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice.’ The use of language such as ‘USPAP Certified Appraisal’ could be taken by intended users to mean that there was some independent certification of compliance. If that could be inferred from the language used, this would also be misleading.”

The fine and decorative art collector who is looking to have his collection appraised should consider how the appraiser represents their credentials. With this guidance, appraisers who have taken the 15 Hour USPAP class and passed the exam, and who have taken the required updated classes, should note their appraisal reports are written in compliance with the current version of USPAP and the ISA Report Writing Standard. If the appraiser is stating they are “USPAP Certified,” users of appraisers should proceed with caution. As the Appraisal Foundation notes, it is misleading and misrepresents the qualification.

If you have a question about the credentials of your appraiser, contact the appraiser’s organization for clarification. If you have a USPAP question on qualifications, contact the Appraisal Foundation through the Appraisal Qualifications Board.

See Stephanie's credentials here

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