Many reputable auction houses offer free appraisal days, and some dealers advertise free appraisals as well. Regrettably, these are not really appraisals at all. It’s a bit like putting a worm on a hook really. These necessarily cursory evaluations are based more on feeling, instinct, or possibly even outright deception than they are on verifiable research. Within that context, the resulting price estimates should certainly be taken with a grain of salt. And if that estimate is followed by an offer to buy...Danger, Danger Will Robinson!!!
In order to be credible, a true appraisal requires the professional appraiser to inspect the object, to research it, and to analyze comparable sales. A formal appraisal report is prepared stating the reason for the appraisal, the kind of value being determined, and describing the property being valued, along with the methods used to conclude value. The appraisal report also includes a statement that the appraiser either has no personal financial interest in the property, or alternatively describes any financial interest that may exist. The report is signed by the appraiser and includes (among other things) the appraiser’s personal qualifications. (For more information on professional appraisals, The American Society of Appraisers offers a thorough outline of the appraisal process and how to find qualified appraisers on their website.)
Of course, in many cases a professional Appraisal Report is neither necessary, nor cost effective. A professional appraiser may still be of help, however. If warranted, a Market Study outlining information on recent sales of comparable items can often be prepared in a minimum amount of time. In this case, the client gains the advantage of the appraiser’s knowledge, research skills, and access to information gathered from sources which may not be readily available to the general public.
As a last resort for items of modest value, or for someone who is truly “just curious,” appraisal days at auction houses or charitable events may fill the bill. But if you need to rely on a “free appraisal,” it’s best to remember the old saw -- You get what you pay for!