How Much Should an Antique Appraisal Cost?

Man appraising antique

Appraisals determine the monetary value of an item at a certain time (the personal value may be priceless, but that doesn't impress the IRS.) Since there are different variables, there are different kinds of appraisals and costs may vary widely.

Appraisal Pricing Expectations

When you commission an appraisal, you are paying for the appraiser's knowledge, experience at the going rate. Appraisals aren't cheap, and you cannot get a good appraisal for free. Expect to pay several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars for a full antiques appraisal that will stand up to the IRS or in court. Also be aware that some appraisers charge a consulting fee to look at your items even if they do not take on the appraisal.

  • Hourly fee: Most appraisers charge by the hour. The hourly rate varies widely from $80 up to $300 or more, depending upon the appraiser, his or her skills, and location. An appraiser may give you an estimate of the hours, but that's all it is - an estimate.
  • Other options: Instead of charging by the hour, some appraisers charge by the item (such as appraising three pieces of rare Georgian silver) or through a flat fee (such as appraising a large collection of antique postcards).

If an appraiser offers to charge you based on a percentage of the total value of the items appraised, don't consider it. That's a conflict of interest on the part of the appraiser, and it can cost you in the long run.

Factors That Impact Price

It's difficult to know how long an appraisal will take, as so many variables affect how long it will take a researcher to come up with an accurate value. As Deborah Thompson, an accredited member of the International Appraisers Association, has appraised fine art for years, states, "I can spend several weeks of research on one painting or three hours. Every item is different."

Thompson offers tips to help you plan for your appraisal so that it goes as smoothly and quickly as possible. She recommends:

  • "Decide what you want appraised and make it easy for the appraiser to look at it closely."
  • "Know why you are having your property appraised. The appraiser is there to provide you with the value you need for specific purposes like insurance, donation, resale or equitable distribution."
  • "Gather all the paperwork, like receipts and letters, relating to the property you are having appraised. All these items will help the appraiser develop a value quicker and easier. Since most appraisers charge by the hour, being organized translates into savings for you."

Reasons for Appraisals

There are situations where an appraisal is desired or even required in order to establish the value of one or more items. The most important reasons include the following.

Establish Fair Market Value

A fair market value (FMV) appraisal determines what an item is worth when a willing buyer and seller agree to the sale in a reasonable time.

  • A retail replacement value figures the current cost of replacing an item. So, while an etched glass vase from the Iowa State Fair might cost $200 to replace in Mount Pleasant, IA, $50 could be the going rate in New York City.
  • A liquidation appraisal establishes the value of the items if you had to sell them immediately, as with a divorce or bankruptcy.

Meet a Legal Requirement

There are times when appraisals are required by law or insurance companies.

  • For example, the IRS requires a written, formal appraisal when you donate an item worth more than $5,000.
  • Your insurance company may request an appraisal when you want extra coverage (a rider) for your salt and pepper shaker collection.
  • During a divorce, you may need to establish the value of those antique paintings for the settlement.

What You Are Paying For

When you order a full appraisal, you should expect a detailed report that includes the reason for the appraisal and the methods and reasoning used to determine the value of the items. A qualified appraiser will follow the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

Your appraiser should take the time to explain how and why she did what she did. When an appraiser signs on the dotted line, she is standing behind her work. That's why shows or events like Antiques Roadshow do not offer appraisals, but instead, give verbal approximations of value, which are fun to hear, but they would not stand up to a legal challenge.

Choosing an Appraiser

Personal property appraisers (antiques appraisers) do not have to be licensed. Although some of them get certification from professional organizations by attending classes and taking tests, others have learned on the job and are experts in their field, such as an appraiser who specializes in old postcard values.

Finding an appraiser takes research. Some are generalists who appraise general collections or household items. Others are specialists who appraise only in specific fields like books or jewelry. To begin, you can ask your bank manager, an attorney, or your accountant for recommendations. Ask museum directors or librarians to see who they use. You can also look online at the Appraisers Society of America webpage or the International Society of Appraisers (ASA) where you can search by location and specialty.

Once you have some names, call and ask to see an appraiser's resume or references. Once you've done that, meet so the appraiser can see the items and establish a timeline for the work.

An Appraisal Is an Important Investment

When you need an antiques appraisal, it's well worth your while to spend time finding an appraiser who comes with references and experience. Expensive as they are, appraisals can be the best investment you make when it comes to antiques. And if the Antiques Roadshow comes your way, don't hesitate to attend. The appraisals are free, and you just might wind up finding out you have one of the most expensive items in Antiques Roadshow history. Wouldn't that be nice?

How Much Should an Antique Appraisal Cost?