Here's What You Need to Know About Antique Appraisals

Getting accurate information about your treasured items is essential.

People get antique appraisals for all sorts of reasons: They're curious about the value of a certain heirloom (coins, artwork, or furniture) that's been in their family for years, they need an appraisal for insurance purposes, or they're downsizing and want to know an object's value in preparation for selling it. If you're thinking of getting a personal property appraisal, here are a couple of important things you should know.

An appraisal can be written or verbal.

There are two kinds of appraisals—written and verbal. Both rely on current market trends and a professional appraiser's knowledge of antiques to place an accurate value on an object; neither is a legal entity. "According to generally accepted appraisal standards, both a written valuation and an oral valuation are an appraisal—an opinion of value," says Cynthia D. Herbert, president of Appretium Appraisal Services, in New Canaan, Connecticut. "An appraisal from a qualified appraiser can be relied upon for specific intended uses, whether issued as an oral or written report." A written appraisal is often required for insurance purposes, while a verbal valuation is ideal for someone who just wants an idea of how much to ask for if he intends to sell an item from his home.

A written report should include detailed information.

Expect the appraisal to include a full description of your item, the current market estimate, and how that current value was arrived at. "Many other elements must go into an appraisal, including what the appraisal is intended to be used for and what type of value, such as Fair Market Value and Replacement Value, is being concluded," says Todd Paradis, chief marketing officer for the American Society of Appraisers, in Reston, Virginia. The report should also include the appraiser's qualifications.

You can get an appraisal from several different sources.

You can go in person to a local appraiser or an appraisal fair such as Antiques Roadshow. Increasingly popular, online appraisers allow you to get an estimate of an item's worth without leaving your house. Even such longtime New York City auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's offer online appraisals for free. The catch: The items must be deemed "appropriate for auction" to receive an appraisal. It's worth a try: Upload a photo of your antique's front and back, add its dimensions, history, and any documentation you may have, and a specialist will get back to you. If you have a collectible such as dolls or comic books, you may be able to get an idea of its worth by looking it up in a well-established collectibles guidebook.

For best results, find the best appraiser.

You can find one through an accrediting organization like the American Society of Appraisers (ASA), says Paradis of his organization. It can refer you to experts who specialize in everything from clocks to sports memorabilia. ASA has a Find-an-Appraiser tool on its website, says Paradis. You can also phone ASA to get referrals. Other accrediting organizations include the Appraisers Association of America and the International Society of Appraisers.

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