08/11/2014 06:02 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2014

The ABC's of Personal Property Appraisal

With television series like "Antiques Roadshow" and "Flea Market Flip" growing in popularity, interest in collectables and other types of personal property is on the rise. Professional personal property appraisers are increasingly being contacted to evaluate objects ranging from a grandmother's ring to an old painting passed down through the family. While these items might have enormous sentimental value, in most cases, they don't have much monetary value.

As a result, we've compiled a few basic tips on how to get a sense of the value of an item before turning to a professional personal property appraiser.

Google is your best friend

If there are multiple copies of the object that you're evaluating, Google is a great resource to get a sense of the market. Let's say that you have a signed Mickey Mantle baseball. You can type in "autographed Mickey Mantle baseball" and see what they are selling for online. Be sure to be as detailed as possible, as minor differences may have a substantial impact. A baseball that has statistics such as Mantle's number of career home runs (536) or is personalized with "Happy Birthday" written on it, for instance, can be worth far more than one with a basic signature.

If you're selling, weigh your options

There are a number of ways to sell an item and it's important that you understand the advantages and drawbacks of each. The most common options are to sell it through the online retail market or through an auction house, which will sell the item for you and will charge a seller's commission. Generally speaking, you can get more money through the retail market, but you will have to do more of the work yourself if you post the item on a website. Another possibility is to sell the item to a dealer. However, dealers will pay far below market price since they have to make a profit on resale. You should contact several auction houses to compare their commissions and past successes in selling like items.

Quality! Quality! Quality!

The number one consideration personal property appraisers take into account is quality. A fine art appraiser will consider the reputation and sales track record of an artist, as well as where the particular painting fits in the overall body of work, when deciding the quality of a piece. An appraiser of collectibles often evaluates quality based on historical significance. For instance, the bat Babe Ruth used to hit his record setting 60th home run in 1927 is far more significant and therefore much higher quality than a bat he signed but never used in a game. The job of an appraiser is to place items in a hierarchy of quality and then determine what the market is willing to pay based on past sales of similar items.

Rarity and condition

Would you rather have a limited edition Mustang Shelby GT or the more generic version that was produced? In nearly all cases, the rarer an item is, the more valuable it is. Likewise, items in better condition are usually more valuable.


Perhaps most importantly, an appraiser must decide whether an object is authentic before determining its value. For paintings and other types of fine art, appraisers work with well-known scholars and experts to confirm that a piece is consistent with other works by the artist and determine the chain of ownership of that piece. Similarly, third-party authenticators are often brought in to establish the authenticity of autographs, worn costumes and uniforms, and other collectibles. Many times, appraisers will work with experts to establish the provenance of an object -- or place of origin -- as part of the authentication process.

When do I get an appraisal?

You should turn to a professional appraiser when you are finding conflicting valuations for the item online, or if you can't find it at all. In those cases, an appraiser will do the proper research, find appropriate comparable sales, and apply their years of experience to give you a credible opinion of value. Obviously, the more valuable you believe an object is, the more it makes sense to have an independent valuation from an appraiser. Certainly if you'd like to insure your item, an appraisal is required.

Understanding the steps that you can take before turning to a professional appraiser will save you time and money. More importantly, it will give you a sense of what goes into an appraisal and the objective criteria appraisers use to determine value.

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