Appraisal Fairs: Why They Make Me Cringe

New England Queen Anne Tray Top Tea Table sold by Cottone Auctions for $313,650 on 2/21/2015

New England Queen Anne Tray Top Tea Table sold by Cottone Auctions for $313,650 on 2/21/2015

Queen Anne Style Tea Table sold by Michaan's Auctions for $220 on 12/7/2014

Queen Anne Style Tea Table sold by Michaan's Auctions for $220 on 12/7/2014

The annual Appraisal Fair here in Chico has just come and gone again. It’s an event rooted in good intentions, that raises money for an excellent organization. Why, then, do I cringe every time it rolls around? 

I cringe because promising an “appraisal” to those willing to stand in line and dish out $8 is misleading. A true appraisal requires careful (not cursory) inspection of the object to be considered. The next step often requires research to properly identify the object. (For example, is it period, or just a faithful reproduction? There’s almost always a vast difference in value depending on the answer to that question.) Only after the item is properly identified can the professional appraiser begin searching for comparable items to establish a credible value.  What makes an opinion of value credible?  It must be based on actual sales or asking prices at the appropriate level of the market. Basing a value on “twenty years in the antiques business” is not an appraisal, it’s a guesstimate.  

Then I cringe some more, because the assembled experts who are offered up as “appraisers” are usually a mix of experienced and not so experienced dealers. They may be expert in the finer details of the types of items they sell, but they are rarely experts in valuation. (Jewelers are often the exception since they base many of their opinions of value on readily measured characteristics like precious metal content and carat weight).

Professional appraisers who belong to one of the three major appraisal organizations are, at a minimum, required to follow a stated code of ethics and the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). The main purpose of both requirements is to avoid misleading the public. The American Society of Appraisers (ASA) requires completion of a lengthy and rigorous course of valuation study and passing the 15 hour USPAP course and test.  Additionally, ASA appraisers are tested in their area of specialty, and submit appraisal reports for peer review prior to being awarded accreditation.  Once accredited, ASA appraisers must remain current in USPAP and continuing education hours to maintain their accreditation.

I’m not really a cranky appraiser. I do understand that appraisal fairs are fun and often support a good cause.  It’s the blurring of entertainment and the promise of an appraisal that crosses the line and tends to confuse the public. For instance, if an appraisal is to be used for the purpose of obtaining insurance coverage, are you confident in that guesstimate you received at the appraisal fair? Maybe you’re just thinking of selling something on Craigslist.  Can you rely on that $8 appraisal?  Are you sure the information you received is accurate? That’s why I cringe.