by Bob Brooke
the onset of the Antiques Roadshow, the hit PBS version of The Price is
Right, it seems everyone is obsessed with how much their belongings are
worth. But what an item is worth and what you can sell it for are two
The most important method of knowing how much an antique or collectible
is worth is a professional appraisal—the paid opinion of an expert based
on known facts. In the case of antiques and collectibles, known facts
include records from more than one sale at more than one auction, the
latest published price guides, and personal experience gained from
buying and selling similar items many years.
While a verbal appraisal may give you an indication of how much an item
is worth, a professional written appraisal is the only one legally
recognized by insurance companies and the courts. It must be based on
fact and able to stand challenges in court. However, written appraisals,
even for one item, can take hours to prepare and are expensive, but are
absolutely necessary to prove an item’s worth.
A verbal appraisal, on the other hand, is an informal one. Usually, the
person giving the appraisal spends no time researching auction records
and price guides. Therefore, a verbal appraisal is an opinion based on
first hand knowledge.
appraisals fall into two categories—replacement and fair market value.
Insurance companies require the former, while estate valuations require
Replacement value is generally defined as the price at which property
would be available on the retail market. In other words, what a
retailer, dealer or gallery owner would charge for a particular item.
When you try to insure a collection, the insurance company wants to know
how much it will cost to replace it. The same applies for a single piece
of furniture. The insurance company won’t accept a verbal appraisal as
the basis of settling a claim. Instead, they require a written appraisal
with proof of replacement cost.
Fair market value, on the other hand, is best described as "the price
that property would sell for on the open market between a willing buyer
and willing seller, with neither being required to act, and both parties
having reasonable knowledge of the reasonable knowledge of the relevant
whatever the appraised value, you can only expect a percentage of the
replacement value when selling an item—generally between 40 and 60
percent below replacement cost. Items that sell extremely slow will sell
for only about 30 percent of replacement value, while those that sell
fast may bring 80 to 90 percent of replacement value. When you sells an
antique or collectible, the buyer is likely to be a dealer, who must buy
below market price in order to make a profit.
Fair market value is traditionally used in appraisals that pertain to
IRS, equitable distribution, donation, divorce settlement and other
estate evaluation matters. It does not apply to insurance affairs.
If you own an item you suspect to be worth a lot of money, it pays to
have a professional appraisal done. A professional appraisal adds value
to an item and increases marketability. This is especially true for
antiques, paintings, and estate jewelry.
A qualified appraiser thinks in price ranges—say between $1,500 and
$1,800. Unfortunately, you can’t go to the latest wholesale catalog or
"Blue Book" to find the exact antique or collectible currently available
at a specific price.
about price guides? The prices are averages and sometimes estimates,
based on auction sales. For tax and estate purposes, the IRS uses
auction prices. Even though similar items may sell for different prices
at different auctions, on average, prices tend to be within a specific
range. There are also regional differences in pricing to consider. You
also shouldn’t use retail prices, since dealers use different markups
and have different expenses. Additionally, not all dealers are aware of
the value of all of their inventory, and many price items based on cost
rather than on the item's market value.
The single most important point in valuing antiques is condition. Most
items found in mint or near mint condition bring a much higher price
than those with flaws. Still, it's very easy to overlook a chip or crack
while shopping, especially at live auctions where the excitement is
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