How to determine value of items?

decisionsdecisionsMay 23, 2010

I have a POA over my mom who has Alzheimers. She has many items in her home that I suspect may be valuable antiques. Unfortunately, due to her health, she is unable to advise the details pertaining to each item, such as where and when it was acquired, the history behind each piece, or what she paid for it. When it's time to liquidate her furniture/furnishings, what is the best way to ascertain the value of her property so as not to undersell it? How do you find reputable appraisals?

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Reputable appraisers....that's a hard question. My best advice is to look for similar items in the completed sales on ebay....that will tell you what they sold for.
Ask your mom about things....alzheimer's patients can often remember stuff from long ago...
Hard stuff...I am sorry.
Linda c

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 8:51AM
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If you can accurately identify her objects you can look for hammer prices at auctions and even ebay. That is a dedicated undertaking and will consume plenty of time. You also need to understand the the market is naturally volatile as people's tastes are fickle, especially with the later objects. What sells for $100 one day won't sell the next, and a similar object will shoot for the moon next week. Please note that MOST ebay sellers are unschooled in their offerings, they just want to make lots of money, so you may see things listed very differently from one to the next. Typically the seller has a highly inflated idea of what their things are and what they are worth. These sellers have driven out many of the more honest ebay sellers.

You can also hire a certified appraiser. These are listed after passing years of study in property then the chosen property specialty, and law; apprenticeship; and examinations. And a person can't just 'go to appraiser school'-he or she must be sponsored by a member in good standing, must have experience in accurate appraisal to even begin the course of study, and must already be degreed in one of the coincident fields. Following these requirements, they work through the legal requirements of appraisal while concentrating on their specialty. Beware of people touting certification, though, as you can pay for 'certification' just to have a piece of paper with no background. This is pretty common-open up any trade paper and you can see plenty of adverts promising easy certification. There are a very few antiques dealers who are competent appraisers but these are probably not your local group shop dealers. Nor are they the guy who does 'on the spot' "appraisals" at the lower-end antiques shows. ISA or ASA accreditation are ideal.

If the objects fall within my specialty, I could do the job but I am not certified nor do I do valuations. I would stand up in probate on my authentications. My reputation is excellent but I will always have a distaste for valuation, which, of course, may colour my results. I have a good friend who is one of the best appraisers I know-who also stands in court to support his appraisals-and he is also not certified. But YOU would have a very hard time trying to find someone like us. So go the certified route, and go through either insurance, the better salerooms, or the aforementioned appraisal organisations.

If you suspect that some of your mum's things are exceptional antiques, she may have insured them, so check her property insurance coverage riders. She may also have the bills-of-sale filed away which would certainly be helpful. Or she may have made notes on the objects after purchase. If you can find these you're in good shape.

If you're interested in selling them off, then either an insurance appraiser or an appraiser from the better auction salerooms can help. The auction appraisers will often do a spot appraisal (with no writing) for a small fee but often the fee is by-passed if the object is intended for the block. Bear in mind that probate typically does NOT accept valuation done by other than properly certified appraisers, unless the non-certified appraisers have already proven themselves. If the objects are high quality, desirable and rare, or possessed of any other qualification for substantial value, you will need to pay for appraisal. Probate is there to protect the estate from unscrupulous dealings, thus the requirement that valuation be undertaken by professionals.

Another thing you need to understand is that "undersell" is a fluid concept. You can see that objects that would sell for $20k a few years ago might not sell for 10k this year, as the economy has affected the market. You also may see that the only interest in your mum's objects are by trade-which need to profit in order to make a living, so you're not getting top dollar. You must decide whether you'll hang on to the objects for years (or forever) in order to get top dollar, or if you just want to move them. Too many people keep things forever because they believe that they ought to get all the money for them. Even the ultimate collector likes to believe that he's getting a discount.

Whew. It's excellent that you are already giving this situation serious thought, it gives you time to prepare. Give some thought to how you would choose to liquidate the property, then follow your decisions.

I wish you well. Alzheimer's is a difficult thing to endure and I'm sorry that you're dealing with it now.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 10:28AM
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Interesting in this state to become a certified appraiser all you need to do is be a dealer...which means have a tax license and pay the licensing fee....and it was at one time the same in New jersey and in years of study and no exam to pass...
That's why I am so skeptical of appraisers. My mother was hooked on having things appraised...and one appraiser set a value of $85 (this was in the 1980's) on a spoon marked A.1 Rogers bros and totally missed a lovely sheraton mahogany night stand....calling it a sewing machine!
I know one husband and wife who "went into antiques appraisals" after retirement. To their credit they won't even look at anything which is out of their field of expertise, but if they weren't good people, they could.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 10:55AM
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I think, if you have the time, you can do a lot of preliminary research on your own. The big auction houses all have online details of past sales.

The hardest part is distancing yourself from the memories and family lore. "Grandma said this came over on the Mayflower." Right--Mayflower Van Lines.

I learned this myself--I was my father's sole heir, and he was the sole heir of his mother, and she of her father. Fortunately, my grandmother kept great notes--otherwise I would have passed by a nice oil by a listed American artist while I was dithering over old dishes which I thought were immensely valuable. My father thought it was an ugly painting and kept it in a closet.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 12:32PM
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Linda, that is precisely the sort of 'appraisers' that are 'certified' through a magazine ad. Which I already mentioned in my earlier post. I'm sorry that you suffered at the hands of an unscrupulous sort. It happens too often but maybe I can put this into words that might make other folks pay heed. Here goes.

Buyer beware! A person looking for a professional must expect to pay a professional, and certified appraisers are of the same professional standing as are lawyers, doctors, and any other profession required to undergo lengthy and focused study in their specialties as well as in ethical standards and the law, then proving proficiency through examination, and required to maintain status through ongoing education.

Those who pursue the course of study and fulfill legal requirements are much different than the folks who claim that they are appraisers because they clipped a coupon from a magazine and sent it somewhere with a fee. It doesn't matter WHAT your state says-those adverts for easy appraisal certification are a marketing ploy. The issuers are getting money without having to provide anything in return. Go to ISA OR ASA. These are the real appraisers. Without either certification you don't know WHAT you're paying for. Forget about "what your state requires". That's like saying that all doctors are quacks because someone poses as a doctor without licensing. Maybe your state doesn't require licensing to engage in medical practice-so, do you just run to the cheapest guy who puts out a sign stating that he is certified to practice? Or do you look for one through the AMA? It is no different for appraisers. Unless you know a person with pristine reputation in his specialty, you need to find the most suitable appraiser through the entities under which they are legally certified. You can check member lists on the respective web-sites too.

I find it very odd that people pay for medical care ONLY through a properly licensed doctor, and that people ONLY go to a lawyer who passed the state bar and maintains a practice under the governing law of his state, but that people REFUSE to pay a true certified appraiser then paint ALL appraisers with the same brush when the comic-book ignoramus screws them and runs. Please don't insult an entire (and valid) profession based on that. Of course everything I just put here precludes anyone seeking MY help-but as stated before, I am not certified-especially not certified through a clip-out coupon in a magazine. If I sought certification I would only undergo it through ASA or ISA. Knowledgeable clients or fellows in the trade would seek my help without qualm, as I would theirs, but I don't recommend that anyone else do so.

It is vital that people make the distinction. What I state is fact designed to help the OP who needs help with a future estate disposal and who will be required to do this according to probate.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 1:35PM
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"The hardest part is distancing yourself from the memories and family lore. "Grandma said this came over on the Mayflower." Right--Mayflower Van Lines. "

That is SO TRUE!
I just found out last week that the 'Paul Revere silver baby cup' that family legend held to be my grandmother's garage sale find was, in fact, a John Coney caudle cup she bought for a pittance in an antique store -- even more interesting if you really know early American silver, though not as good a story for public consumption...

Another thing to consider is that often, appraisers are only truly competent in a few areas, and much, much less so than in others. I did hire an ASA appraiser to value some antiques I had inherited, and some of her findings were blatantly wrong. She misattributed some well-known sterling hallmarks and I suspect (but don't know for sure) that she was very wrong on a furniture piece.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 8:08PM
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>I did hire an ASA appraiser to value some antiques I had inherited, and some of her findings were blatantly wrong. She misattributed some well-known sterling hallmarks and I suspect (but don't know for sure) that she was very wrong on a furniture piece.

That is why the associations list members according to location AND by specialty. Have you ever tried to know everything about ALL antiques and collectibles? It'd be kind of hard, wouldn't it? I have been in the trade my entire life and I don't claim to know everything about everything. Heck, I don't even claim to know everything about MY specialties! If someone comes to me expecting authentication on something outside my specialty I'd be making mistakes too. It'd be like hiring a labor law attorney for a divorce proceeding. If your appraiser knew what objects were involved when you hired her, and that those were outside her specialty, she should probably have referred you to another more expert in those objects. Her report will explain everything she did in her research of your objects. How did you know that the hallmarks were incorrectly identified? Is it possible that the marks were let in? Many hallmarks are quite similar until you've seen enough of those in question to spot the differences (eg, Robert Rew and Richard Rugg marks seem identical without having seen them each on several pieces to be able to distinguish them). You can suspect til the cows come home but there's only one way to know for sure what your furniture piece was. And that's to put it in front of another appraiser whose specialty includes that object. Or put it on the block and see where the hammer falls when knowledgeable collectors have a chance at it. Appraisers are human as are doctors and lawyers and are also entitled to error as are the other professions. Appraisers must stand ready to defend their appraisals in court. If you hired a written appraisal then you may have a court case. If it was a free verbal appraisal (thus no research involved) then it might be tough to prove a loss based on that. Maybe you can pull out the appraisal (it's often a report covering several pages and which will cite sources) and see exactly where you disagree. She may have been correct, she may have been incorrect. But she is required to defend that appraisal if it's resulted in a loss. And you can check member standing too-so if a certain appraiser has been sued to defend an appraisal or for an ethical misdeed you'll know right off. I believe that memberships are suspended when ethics fail. We watched a well-publicised case develop with a certified appraiser not far from here. He really overstepped ethics, not just in appraisal but also in other related dealings and is now passing time in prison. He's not a listed member now. He is also not representative of the entire profession.

It's sad to see how eager people are to drag an entire profession through the dirt based only on anecdotal evidence. But, then, I am an antiques dealer and am very accustomed to this treatment.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 9:47PM
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I am sorry about your situation and your mom's illness. I recently had to deal with the same situation, only I inherited a home full of things from my cousin. Nearly all the stuff in the house was vintage 30's and older. I have collected, bought and sold antiques and vintage things for years so I knew what most things were. I kept the home for 2 years in which time I researched some items. In the end I used a reputable auctioneer for most everything except the house. They advertise well and have an extensive list of clients. They worked on a 20% commission with no buyer premium. They did all the work, cleaning, sorting, and paid for all the advertising. In the end it worked out well, the only things that I was disappointed with were some nice printed large rugs, but tons of other stuff went for way more than I thought it would. The auctioneer knew what to advertise and to whom. I took a few items before I contacted the auctioneer and went through everything pretty well. This saved a lot of work and time on my part and it was all finished up in one day. We had an estate sale when my mother passed away and we worked and haggled for what seemed like an eternity, and the results were not as profitable. Since you are working ahead of time this should give you plenty of time to research most of the items that you are really concerned about. I wouldn't worry to much about what your mom paid for things, because prices go up and down. I was sick when my mom sold all her depression glass and silver in the late 70's, it was the smartest thing she ever did the prices still are not what they were then. In the end something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Good Luck

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 1:26PM
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This is a long story about appraising and how things get missed.

There is a relatively famous story of a find in suburban Philadelphia in the past few years. One of the last of a very old family (pre-Revolutionary) was selling his house and going into a nursing home, and a number of appraisers and dealers etc. had been through and pieces were sold off.

At the very end of the process, a used furniture dealer came to take away the lesser stuff and it was a hot day, so the man who was waiting in the truck came in the house.
He looked at a small piecrust table in the corner and said "Who is auctioning this piece?" And he was told that all the good stuff was gone.

He told them he felt that this one table was probably worth more than the house and land it was sitting in, and they laughed because the house was worth over a million dollars.

He persisted, and after several experts (including the Keno brothers, I believe) flew in, the table was identified as a previously unknown piece by the Garvan Carver, which had been in this family since it had been made. Then there was a battle between auction houses to see who would get the honors. If he had been less honest he could have bought the table for a hefty but reasonable sum, sat on it and sold the "newly discovered" piece later.

I don't remember the exact hammer price, but the buyer paid almost $8 million all told, for the table.

As an aside, I know someone who is friends with the man who bought the table, and who has a pair of pieces that are attributed to the Garvan Carver himself. He said the auction was solely for the purpose of publicity and spectacle (since the buyer, for obvious reasons, remains anonymous).

Apparently my acquaintances father in law bought the highboy only to find that the finial was too tall for house--so it ended up in the son in laws house because it had higher ceilings :) When the lowboy was re-discovered in an estate, someone contacted them and said "the matching piece is going up for auction". My acquaintance said: "Now, there are only about a dozen people in the US, who have both the interest and the money for something like this, so I called the ones I knew and contacted the others and said 'Listen, I have the highboy and I want the lowboy, so I would appreciate it if you let me buy it instead of driving the bidding up".And so he got it. ("Of course" he said "I paid under a million for mine." 8-[ ) He feels they could have called up the dozen people in the US who would buy something like this and conducted the sale privately.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 5:03PM
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Hey There,
I live in PA and have had this question posed to me many times as I am an "auction junkie". My first advise to you is to "beware" of auctioneers and appraisers that come to give you an estimate on the value of items and then offer to purchase some of them from you or take them off your hands. Do some of your own research... Check on ebay, go to the bookstore and look up specific items in antique books. If you have a lot of items... have an appraiser come but sell nothing to them! If they offer to buy something from you... I'd look that one up for sure. If you have a listing of items, or pictures I could possibly give you some ideas on their values as to what I've seen in my area. The thing you want to do is be careful and do your research. If you need to sell things to help take care of your mom, you can talk to a local auction house and take things there a little at a time or all at once BUT, make sure you have a list of what you take and GO to the auction and write down what everything sells for so you make sure you don't get robbed.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 6:06PM
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My husband and I are selling our cottage on the river. I have a few antiques there and the real estate agent offered to buy them, plus some other objects. Her husband is an antiques dealer.

One is a cherry drop-leaf table and another is a pine one-drawer table. They also want to buy the tomahawk stone. I have no idea what to charge for the furniture. We called a friend of ours who is a cabinet maker and he said furniture is not bringing much anymore. I thought $200 for the cherry one and $150 for the pine one. She also wants to buy a butcher block coffee table that we bought about 50 years ago for $11. Not having seen the objects, you really don't know if the figures are in the ball park, but do you have any thoughts on the prices?

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 8:29PM
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The secret to a successful sale is if both parties are happy.
I have no idea if your table is worth $200 or $2000 or maybe more.
If the sale makes you happy...go for it. It obviously makes the Real Estate Agent happy.
However, anytime anyone approaches me about buying something I haven't advertised, I say they are getting the deal and I am getting took.
Linda C

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 8:44PM
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Not if you set the price.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 9:48PM
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