Whether you're purchasing your first antique or collectible, or have curated an extensive collection, you likely already know that you should have your pieces appraised. But you might still have some questions about what a professional appraisal involves:
- What is a professional appraisal?
- Why do I need an appraisal?
- Doesn't my homeowner's insurance cover my valuables?
- Where can I find a reputable appraiser?
- How do I choose the right appraiser for my item?
- How much should I expect to pay for an appraisal?
- How can I be confident that my appraisal was fair?
What Is a Professional Appraisal?
A professional appraisal is a detailed written report provided by an appraiser who assesses the value of your items in relation to the marketplace. The final appraisal, which usually takes four to six weeks to complete, includes a description of the items, their value, and an outline of the process used to determine that value.
Why Do I Need an Appraisal?
- For resale purposes: A written report stating the value of your items is especially important when you want to resell your valuables. Potential buyers will want to know the process by which the item's value has been set and whether you are charging a fair price.
- For estate tax purposes: The IRS requires professional appraisals of certain personal property to be filed with an estate tax return. An accredited appraiser can determine which pieces in an estate require a full appraisal report, and they can also help catalog the rest of the collection.
- For insurance purposes: An appraisal is also required by your insurance company when you want to insure your collectibles on your homeowner's policy.
Doesn't My Homeowner's Insurance Cover My Valuables?
Not always. A standard homeowner's insurance policy only covers personal property like jewelry and fine art up to a certain amount and for specific losses.1
To insure these pieces for their full value on your homeowner's policy, you have to take out additional coverage.
Items you could expect to cover with an insurance rider include jewelry, fine art, sterling silver, furs, antique rugs, camera equipment, musical instruments, firearms, stamp or coin collections, and sports equipment (like golf clubs or scuba gear). Remember: Homeowner's insurance limits
vary on several of these items.
To add a rider onto your policy, your insurance company will require a professional appraisal of the item's retail value
and not the fair market value
, which is what you need for estate tax purposes and resale). The retail value is the price you would pay for it if you had to purchase it in a store.2 Pro Tip:
In some cases, it may be better to take out a separate insurance policy for items with extremely high values. That way your home insurance deductions and exclusions won't apply if you have to file a claim.1
Where Can I Find a Reputable Antique Appraiser?
Several associations certify and accredit appraisers, and these organizations' websites list their members' backgrounds and certification levels. These associations also require that their members take appraisal courses and pass tests, including courses in ethics and law. Certified appraisers adhere to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP)
You can look for an appraiser through any of the three large appraiser associations:
Appraising an antique manuscript or piece of jewelry requires different knowledge than appraising folk art. The International Society of Appraisers
includes more than 230 areas of specialty.3
Look for someone that specializes in the piece you need appraised.
Large auction houses are also good sources to find reputable appraisers. Some even hold "appraisal days" and invite the public in to have their pieces and collectibles reviewed by professionals. Others may allow you to submit photos online, too, for an evaluation.
You can find auctions in your area at the Auction Zip website
, but some of the most well-known in the U.S. include:
"Authenticating" a collectible is different from appraising it. When you have an item authenticated, you're simply establishing that the item is what it's supposed to be, not what its value is.
How Do I Choose the Right Antique Appraiser for My Items?
Once you've shortlisted a few appraisers based on their area of expertise, location and availability, you need to ask questions of them, just like you would any other contractor you're hiring.
- Request a copy of their curriculum vitae (CV) that includes their experience and past clients.
- Contact their references/clients and ask how the experience was working with them.
- Find out how the appraiser bills for the services. Do you have to pay upfront? By cash?
- Ask if they belong to any appraisal societies that require ongoing education and testing.
- Finally, determine exactly what they will provide in your appraisal report.4
How Much Do Antique Appraisals Cost?
Appraisers often charge a flat fee or an hourly rate for their services. The total cost usually ranges from $125 to more than $300 based on the expertise required.5
Many appraisers will ask you to email a photo upfront so they can determine whether it's worth it for you to hire them.
Keep in mind that hiring a less expensive and inexperienced appraiser isn't always the best idea, especially when you're paying by the hour. It could take them longer to complete the evaluation and cost you more in the end.
How Can I Be Confident That My Appraisal Was Fair?
Naturally you want to know that you weren't ripped off. Here are some good rules of thumb to follow to ensure your appraisal is fair and true:
- Don't hire any appraiser whose fee is based on a percentage of the item's value. This is strictly prohibited by reputable appraiser associations like the International Society of Appraisers. It's a conflict of interest, since it encourages appraisers to inflate the value of your item in order to collect a bigger fee. Plus, the IRS won't accept appraisals prepared this way.4
- Don't take your item to the nearest antiques shop and ask the staff to give you an appraisal, either. They may have an interest in buying your item, and so they could give a lower assessment than an outside appraiser would.
- Don't assume that the appraised value of your items will stay the same over time. Just as the market fluctuates, so do the appraised values. It’s a good idea to get your collection appraised every five years.5 That way you won't run into surprises if you want to sell them or give them away.
Finding an appraiser is the just the first step in securing your most precious collectibles. Once you've found the right appraiser for your pieces and had them properly assessed and documented, you're on the right track to guaranteeing your collection will be insured if the worst happens.