Obtaining art and antique appraisals can be a critical early step when you’re ready to move. We’ve noticed that lovers of art, antiques and collections can find it very difficult to downsize.   In addition to the challenges of deciding what stays and what goes, there are additional concerns about gifting, selling, preserving or donating excess items.  How does one know the true value of art, fine furniture and collections?

Sarah Reeder provides art and antique appraisals as the owner of Artifactual History® Appraisal in Northern Virginia.  In this exclusive article, Sarah generously shares everything we need to know about art appraisals.

What Is an Appraisal?

An appraisal is an opinion of value prepared by an appraiser. Appraisers are qualified professionals with expert knowledge about the types of items they appraise and they prepare written appraisal reports to assist their clients for a wide range of purposes.

An appraisal is a legal document and appraisers like me who work in compliance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) are governed by an extensive series of regulations to protect their clients and maintain the public trust in appraising.

Expert Appraisals for Antiques and Art

When Do You Need An Appraisal?

Art and antique appraisals are written for a wide variety of intended uses. Two major purposes of appraisal reports are for insurance coverage and equitable distribution.

Appraisals for Insurance Purposes

Appraisal reports are needed to protect valuable items with insurance coverage. Depending on your specific insurance policy, you may not be covered in the event of damage or loss if you don’t have an insurance appraisal report already on file. I recommend reviewing your insurance policy and confirming its details with your agent, and then having the valuables that currently are vulnerable and unprotected appraised by a professional USPAP-compliant appraiser.

The vocabulary used in insurance policies can be quite complicated to understand so I’ve written an entire article explaining them here. If you are planning on moving, this is a great time to have an insurance appraisal report prepared so you will be well-protected with established appraised values before cherished items possibly may be damaged or lost during the move.

Appraisals for Equitable Distribution Purposes

Appraisals are also often written for equitable distribution purposes to divide inherited belongings among siblings and children. An equitable distribution appraisal report allows family members to receive specific belongings from an estate in an orderly, objective way that quantifies each object with an appraised value so that everyone can receive an equal value, or family members who don’t want items can be compensated with the corresponding amount in liquid assets from the estate. Tensions among survivors are often very high in estate situations and bringing in an appraiser who is independent, objective, and impartial can help reduce and prevent additional conflicts among heirs and help ease the stress of a challenging time.

Legal Considerations

While equitable distribution appraisals can be useful in many estate situations, certain estates are legally required to have an appraisal report prepared for probate or federal income tax purposes.  It’s always a good idea to consult with the attorney handling the estate to confirm what is needed for that particular estate.  Estate appraisal reports for probate and federal purposes can also often be used for equitable distribution among the family members

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Values and Levels

It’s also important to understand that in addition to the many types of appraisals, there are many different types of values that can be used in art and antique appraisals. These values are sourced from various levels of the market and correspond to different intended uses.

Insurance appraisal reports are typically written using retail replacement value (the highest level of value) and estate and equitable distribution appraisal reports are typically written using fair market value (a lower level, often sourced from auction sales). There are many different levels of value, and I discuss them in more detail in this article.

Appraisals are also needed to document non-cash charitable contributions when the fair market value will exceed $5,000.

Having an appraisal report prepared to assess the market when considering a planned future sale can be very helpful in guiding your planning.

Another crucial reason to have an appraisal prepared is to document your collection to reduce stress later for your children or heirs so they will be able to clearly identify everything and know which pieces are valuable.

Why Should You Get An Appraisal?

You should consider getting art and antique appraisals because it is a tool to protect yourself.  USPAP-compliant appraisers are required to be objective and independent, which will ensure that you can’t be taken advantage of.  Appraisals protect your treasured valuables in the event of damage or loss, help you create the most effective estate plan, make informed decisions about future sales of certain items in your collection, and bring you peace of mind that you have prevented infighting and stress among your heirs in the future.  

There are a number of excellent times to consider getting an appraisal:

  • One is when you are planning to move and wish to protect your items from potential damage in transit.
  • Another is if it has been several years since your last insurance appraisal update, or if your items have never been appraised for insurance at all.  
  • A great time to get an appraisal is when you are beginning your estate planning process because an appraiser’s findings can help your estate attorney structure your paperwork most effectively for your specific situation.  An estate planning appraisal can also help you designate certain items for later equitable distribution and give you the peace of mind that your children won’t throw out anything valuable by accident.  
  • An appraisal can be invaluable in emotionally charged times, such as equitable distribution during a divorce or if there are fighting heirs in an estate settlement.
  • If you are considering a future sale of certain items in your collection, an appraisal is a useful planning tool to assess the current market for similar items and help guide your identification of the best venues. 

How Should You Get an Appraisal?

If you want to get an appraisal, I strongly recommend hiring an appraiser who works in compliance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) like I do.  This will protect you as a consumer because USPAP-compliant appraisers must obey the rigorous ethical and professional standards specified within USPAP.  One of the most critical details is that USPAP-compliant appraisers are prohibited from charging based on a percentage of appraised value (which used to be a common practice).  There are also strict rules in place to avoid other situations where an appraiser could have a potential conflict of interest.


Appraiser Credentials

I encourage consumers to look for appraisers who are a member of one of the major professional organizations for appraisers as this also distinguishes them given the continuing education and ethical codes required for membership.  I belong to both the Appraisers Association of America and the International Society of Appraisers.

The three major professional organizations for appraisers in the United States are:

Appraisers Association of America 

International Society of Appraisers

American Society of Appraisers 

All three organizations have member databases that allow you to search for appraisers based on your local geographic region and the specialization you are looking for (such as an appraiser of art, or an appraiser of antiquities).

Levels and Specialties

Another useful thing to pay attention to is what level of membership within the organization has the appraiser you are considering hiring achieved? Each higher level of membership indicates the appraiser has met an additional set of rigorous requirements. For example, I am a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers (the highest level of membership possible) and I have also achieved the Private Client Services Designation for working with high-net-worth individuals. I am currently an Accredited Member of the Appraisers Association of America and am working towards achieving Certified Membership in the future.

Next, you want to make sure the specialty of the appraiser you are considering matches the type of objects you have. For example, if you have art to appraise, you will want to be hiring an appraiser of art rather than a jewelry appraiser. The professional organization databases have filters for specializations in certain object types to make this easy for you.


antiques auction appraisal downsize

Personality Matters

Finally, I always encourage consumers to select an appraiser with whom they have good chemistry.  Is your appraiser responsive to your questions?  Do they provide a written contract for you to review and sign and give an estimate in advance of total project size?  

Appraising is a very intimate activity where appraisers are evaluating some of your most cherished heirlooms.  I take the responsibilities of my professional role very seriously in my appraising work and endeavor to always be thoughtful and sensitive to the feelings of vulnerability these projects can elicit in clients.  I strongly recommend that everyone considering hiring an appraiser choose someone they feel very comfortable working with.

Common Mistakes You Can Avoid When Downsizing Art and Valuables

  • Not identifying what you have before you get rid of it. Appraisers are an amazing resource to assist with this!
  • Not considering the appropriate market for each specific item. Certain things sell for much more money in particular venues.
  • Not clearly evaluating where the most valuable assets are and how to maximize profit based on those factors. I’ve witnessed situations where people feel overwhelmed and bogged down about trying to achieve the best prices possible for household items that have relatively modest values and delay taking action that would maximize profits with the real estate, which often is worth exponentially more.
  • Not leaving enough time for a sale for higher-value items. Some types of items can bring much higher prices if there is enough time to market them effectively, while sales that are rushed with a tight deadline typically have steep discounting impacting the final sold prices.

It pays to involve experts.

Downsizing professionals in your area can help you identify and evaluate items of value when you are downsizing. They can also help you get the most possible money for your stuff and clear out your home completely.  Get in touch today for help locating qualified help in your area.




Sarah Reeder is the owner of Artifactual History® Appraisal and a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers with the Private Client Services designation, an Accredited Member of the Appraisers Association of America, and a graduate of New York University’s Program in Appraisal Studies in Fine & Decorative Arts.  

In addition to her professional appraisal practice, Sarah is Co-Editor of Worthwhile Magazine™, a free online magazine featuring educational content about personal property appraising, art and antique connoisseurship, and collecting accessible to the general public and professionals alike. Sarah can be reached at info@afhappraisal.com and 703-543-2567 and her appraisal firm’s website is https://www.artifactualhistory.com/