Top 7 Things to Look for in an Appraiser

Even if you receive a referral for an appraiser from a friend, your lawyer, insurance agent or wealth management adviser, check the appraiser’s credentials. There is no licensing for personal property appraisers, but reputable professionals are affiliated with at least one of the three major appraisal organizations: American Society of  Appraisers (ASA), Appraisers Association of America (AAA), and International Society of Appraisers (ISA). These associations require members to keep up to date with appraisal practices, continuing education, and adhere to a code of ethics. To work with the highest standard, here is what to look for:

1.  T R U S T
An appraiser must report the facts collected from data researched about a work or item appraised. They act as a disinterested third party, and not an advocate.  Appraisers should only charge fees based on an hourly rate or a negotiated project rate, and never on a percentage of the appraised value. Appraisers should never offer to buy a work from you after they have appraised it.

2.  U S P A P   C O M P L I A N T
An appraiser must follow certain procedures, conduct research methodology and make market selections which results in value conclusions that will differ depending on the various uses of an appraisal.  A report prepared for one purpose would not be appropriate for another.  Value isn’t just one value.  An appraisal for insurance coverage would not be acceptable for estate tax, charitable contribution or even to understand what you might receive if the work or item was to be sold.

The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) is a comprehensive set of standards that apply to all professional appraisal assignments in which appraisers must follow. In 1989, Congress confirmed USPAP as the accepted practice for federally regulated transactions. USPAP compliance is required by all professional appraisal organizations, as well as private and public entities, including the IRS. USPAP is revised and revamped every two years. Information about USPAP can be found at

Unfortunately, there are individuals misrepresenting appraisal credentials. There are no “certified appraisals.” Neither USPAP nor the Appraisal Foundation “certify” appraisers. By taking a 15-hour USPAP course and passing the exam, does not equate to becoming “certified.” An appraiser may be “certified” only by their association.

3.  E X P E R I E N C E
Not every appraiser can have experience in everything.  Your collection may call for several different appraisers: Asian expert, Furniture expert, photography expert, vintage movie posters, fine wines, and jewelry.  Find an appraiser with the right experience.  Ask what type of formal appraisal education training s/he has received. What is the breadth of experience they have had.

4.  E D U C A T I O N
A qualified appraiser needs to have formal education in appraisal theory, principles, procedures, ethics, and law.  The top three associations mentioned above provide these courses.  An appraiser should be up to date on the latest appraisal standards and take USPAP every two years. Some associations require a four-year college degree to become accredited or certified.  A degree or even a higher degree in the area an appraiser practices is extremely helpful as you can be assured the appraiser possesses a formal understanding of different cultures and epochs.  Reading knowledge of foreign languages are necessary to obtain at least a master’s degree, which helps the appraiser to navigate works and information from European, South American or Asian galleries and auction houses.

5. A W A R E N E S S   OF THE  V A R I O U S   M A R K E T S
Does your appraiser fully understand the various market levels and the appropriate market level in which to use for a specific intended use?  Is the value substantiated by market examples?  Do you understand why s/he has arrived at a particular conclusion of value?

6.  I S   Y O U R   A P P R A I S E R   Q U A L I F I E D
The IRS requires a written appraisal by a qualified appraiser for any deduction taken on items valued more than $5,000. A “qualified appraiser” is an individual who has earned an appraisal designation from a recognized professional appraiser organization (such as one or more of the organizations listed above).  A designation is awarded on the basis of demonstrated competency through successful completion of required courses, submission of several sample reports, demonstrated verifiable experience, and an examination in the area of specialization.

An additional requirement to being a qualified appraiser is that the individual regularly performs appraisals for which s/he receives compensation.

The IRS is getting increasingly serious about the quality and reliability of appraisals submitted with tax returns. Taxpayers and tax practitioners need to pay attention to the quality and reliability of an appraiser chosen to prepare these appraisals.

7. DO E S   Y O U R   A P P R A I S E R   O F F E R   F R E E   A P P R A I S A L S
Be wary of a “free appraisal.”  These are usually offered by a dealer or auctioneer, as they are likely to be an offer to purchase or consign.  Getting a valuation online is not usually very accurate. There is a lot of detail an appraiser will not  be able to see without examining the item personally. You don’t know who the appraiser is to evaluate your item, how do you know if they have met the minimum qualifications or an expert in their field?  Most insurance companies require an appraisal report by a qualified appraiser, and any IRS-related purpose required a qualified appraisal by a qualified appraiser.

A museum curator may be able to authenticate a work of art, a gallery director may be able to tell you about a particular market, an auctioneer can give you an estimate for sale, but none may be able to value your items correctly unless they follow appropriate appraisal principles and procedures.

Do not accept an appraisal if:

  • The fee is based on a contingency or upon the value of the property.
  • If it used as an offer to buy.
  • It is one page or unsigned.
  • The use of the appraisal, the users, type of value, and effective date are not stated.
  • If an Approach to Value and relevant markets are not identified.
  • The property is beyond the appraiser’s expertise.
  • The appraiser is not willing to defend his/her report in court.

SBA exclusively performs appraisals. We do not buy, and we do not sell. We will assist you in finding the appropriate venue in which to buy or sell. We are one of only a handful of appraisers who can claim we truly have no financial interest in your property.