Thursday, November 16, 2017

Planning Your Appraisal Appointment

Janet Madrigal, ISA AM

Ready, Set... Form!

First things first, when that phone rings or that email pings with a potential client, I like to have a client data form/activity log handy. You can find an example in our Core Course manual and the ISA Means Business! Toolbox or make one up yourself. I have many copies made and have them in a folder so that I can just grab one when needed. Because our lives are so hectic, I like to write down as much info as I can. Then I peruse my form just before my appointment. Maybe your client’s mom just passed away or they have a child going off to college for the first time. This is a great way to “break the ice” when you first speak to them again or meet them. C’mon guys, we’re selling ourselves!

What, Why, When, Where

What are the pertinent questions to ask when you receive that call? Start with, “What, Why, When and Where!” People love to talk and love to tell you about their treasures, right? Just like when your seat companion on an airplane inquires what you do for a living and they immediately think, “Antiques Roadshow.” Then the stories really start. We can all relate! It’s not usually too difficult to get the client to tell you the pertinent info, but getting them to stop talking may be another matter entirely!

By now you’ve filled out your intake form and your appointment is set! If you’re a generalist (like I am) the average person expects you to know everything about everything that was ever produced! Now, we all know this just isn’t possible (thank you again, Antiques Roadshow). Hopefully, you have a few extra minutes to do a google search or whatever else floats your proverbial boat to have some good information on the client’s collection. I don’t suggest faking knowledge but rather ask good questions and listen well. Then reach back into your core course or something you read and WOW them with your knowledge!

Gear it Up

I always have my appraisal bag at the ready. Contents include:
  • A decent digital camera (with a charged battery, even though most of us have a phone with us if we run out of camera battery)
  • Two measuring tapes (one retractable and one without metal at ends for measuring art or scratch-able items)
  • Pens and pencils
  • A small flashlight
  • Magnifier
  • Loupe
  • White cotton gloves (available at CVS)
  • Mask (you never know when you’ll need one)
  • Pointer (if you use a pen or a pencil to point out a condition issue you may leave a visible mark)
  • Extra batteries
  • A package of hand wipes or sanitizer (if there isn’t running water to wash your hands before or after)
  • My notebook and client file.
I like to put my client form in a manila file for confidential purposes. More than once I have caught clients snooping on what I wrote! Business cards are a must and a pocket-size Hallmark book may be helpful. You'll also want to include client contracts, invoices and other relevant paperwork for the assignment.

Bag contents may change if you’re an art or jewelry appraiser (a black light, scale, and acid test kit may be added). I cannot stress enough how important it is to be prepared. Having everything you might need at your fingertips makes you look professional and prepared. The client form has space for the client’s address and the owner’s address. Where are the items located? Are they at the deceased mom’s house or moved to the daughter’s house? Make sure you know where the items are located to save time and trouble.

Waze It

I use an app (which I found thanks to my millennial children) called WAZE. I can put in a client’s address and when I’m traveling (day and time) and it will calculate how long it will take me and will send me a ping when it’s time to leave! It considers time of day, traffic and construction. Let’s face it, it’s a lot less stressful to be a few minutes early rather than late. If you’re early you can take those few minutes to scan your intake form once more before meeting the client.

Dressing the Part

Depending on the client and situation, dress the part. For instance, in July, I had a client that had no air conditioning, no fans, and no open windows. Besides that, I had to trek into a gravel sub-basement and several out buildings through grass and one-can-only-guess. Since I had been there previously, I was thankful for my capris and ECCO shoes. Wearing the right clothes and shoes for the situation adds to your professionalism, not to mention, your comfort!

Your Gut (Feeling, That Is)

Safety is very important in any profession and ours is no exception. The Waze app allows you to send an “ETA” to family and friends. It’s the last thing I do before I ring the doorbell. My family, then, has the time and address of where I am located. Generally, I am alone on appointments going into a stranger’s home. Use your instincts and go with your gut feeling. It will never let you down. If you feel uneasy about the situation, drive to a safe location and reschedule when someone else can be with you. If everything feels and looks right, have your business card ready to hand to the client along with a big welcoming smile!

Janet Madrigal, ISA AM, has been a member of ISA since 2014. She is located in Joliet, Illinois and owns the company Attic to Appraisals, where she assists homeowners in finding their everyday items that may have more value than they think. She earned her MBA from Lewis University.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Less is More: How Appraisers Can Assist You in Your Downsizing or Minimalism Journey

Courtney Ahlstrom Christy, ISA CAPP
You are ready to downsize.
A spring-cleaning is overdue.
It’s finally time to go through that storage unit.
You have decided to donate your prized collection.
The family is about to move across the country.

Many of us have a large quantity of belongings that must be sorted and evaluated. Whether it is because you are moving to the other side of the country, helping a loved one downsize into a smaller home, or simply in the mood to declutter, dealing with a houseful of items can be a daunting task to undertake on your own. What is an excellent early step to alleviate some of the burden? Hire a professional appraiser who can both catalog and provide an unbiased opinion on the value of the property.

The Minimalism Trend

Less is More, More or Less
Poster, Etsy
Downsize, minimize, de-clutter, tidy up, let go – whatever buzzword you wish to use, having “less” is a trend in today’s culture. But what are the origins of this trend?

Baby Boomers Downsizing: With more baby boomers preparing for the retired life, there is a large population in the midst of downsizing. They have transitioned from acquiring to disposing. Many struggle with deciding what to do with their lifetime accumulation. In addition, younger family members often do not want to inherit everything, especially if their own closets are already full. One common route is to rent a storage unit for the assortment of items that they aren’t quite ready to part with. This limbo state for belongings can last for a few months to several years. The general ambivalence towards inheritance has resulted in a flood of goods in the secondary market that outweighs current demand. Choosing how to handle unwanted possessions is a growing dilemma that families will face for years to come.

Millennial Taste: Some say minimalism is the influence of the millennial generation. Due to growing up in post-recession America, millennials often choose to spend their money on experiences over material goods. They will also more likely reside in smaller dwellings with no space for formal living rooms, like an apartment in the city, and own objects that can have multiple uses, such as modular furniture. Their taste has veered away from previous generations, who typically enjoyed acquiring the antique look. Instead, millennials generally prefer the streamlined aesthetics of midcentury and modernism. They are also considered to be an eco-conscious group with the philosophy of using what already exists in the world. This attitude makes retro and vintage items alluring to the green-minded shopper, which can be helpful to know when determining what to sell during the downsizing process.

Design for a dining room,
Chris Williams, 1976
Victoria and Albert Museum,
De-Clutter and Change Your Life: Increasingly there is a belief in the correlation between decreasing materialism and increasing happiness. If you declutter your physical surroundings, then you will achieve mental clarity and emotional contentment. The popularity of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing highlights how a minimalist lifestyle has indeed gone mainstream. Clearly Ms. Kondo has tapped into the American psyche by connecting the desire to materially purge with the desire to declutter the mind. In addition, there is the phenomenon of the “small house movement” which advocates living simply in smaller homes (between 100 to 400 square feet). Of course, a tiny house with a closet that can only hold ten articles of clothing is an extreme example, but nevertheless, the small house movement indicates a widespread trend to pare down one’s belongings in the pursuit of well-being.

How Appraisers Can Help

Whatever your reason is for sifting through a large amount of personal property, hiring a professional appraiser during the early stages makes deciding what is worthwhile much easier.

An Objective Professional: You know the personal significance of each object, but what about its monetary worth to the rest of the world? A professional appraiser has not only years of experience in the field, but also formal education in appraisal methodology to determine appropriate values. An appraiser will also conduct valuations without bias. While professional organizers and liquidation companies can certainly be helpful and efficient, they are not necessarily qualified to discern the quality, rarity, and current desirability of pieces. Unlike a liquidator or a dealer who expects to receive a commission from the sale, a qualified appraiser will not base his or her fee on the percentage of the property’s value. This objectivity and ethical standards of a professional appraiser means that the opinions of value are provided with no other incentive than to be truthful to the best of his or her ability.

Preliminary Walkthrough: If you are unsure as to which items should be appraised, a preliminary walkthrough may be beneficial. In a preliminary walkthrough, the appraiser will visit onsite to get an overall sense of what the property entails. Through a cursory examination and conversation with the client, the appraiser can provide non-monetary opinions and give you a better sense of what may need further evaluation. Although a preliminary walkthrough as described is not considered an appraisal since no values are given, it can be a useful way to figure out what needs to be appraised for your particular needs. Another option is to email the appraiser an inventory list and/or images beforehand so that you can both agree on the scope of the assignment.

My Work Room, Cassel by William Orpen,
1917. Oil on canvas.
Imperial War Museums
Take Inventory: Do you even know what you have? An inventory is a complete listing of the property and is a great record to have for a variety of purposes including estate planning. Having all items noted in one document will give you a much better sense of the entire picture. Most appraisers offer inventory management as an additional service so that items may be properly identified. You can request items be listed in the inventory either by room or by category. Descriptions will typically include details about the maker/artist, material, measurements, model/serial numbers, known provenance, etc. Many will also include a thumbnail image of the item (or group of items) catalogued. Since the appraiser is already cataloging, why not take it a step further and request an appraisal to be performed at the same time?

Items That May Surprise You: Not every home or storage unit contains an unknown treasure, but the appraiser’s eye will always be on the lookout. Often, there is a space like a closet or attic that has evolved into a receptacle for overlooked items that may be worth something. Here are just a few examples:
  • Silver – Is it silverplate or sterling silver?
  • Handbags – Are those really haute couture?
  • Art – Is it a giclee print or an original painting?
  • Books – Is it a first edition or first printing of a collectible volume?
  • Vintage – Are all those pieces from the 50s to 70s worth something?
  • Toys – Is it a rare and popular Star Wars figure?
A generalist appraiser can help with a large variety of residential contents. And a good generalist will know his or her limitations and communicate when outside consultation is needed. If you feel strongly about a specific item or collection, consider contacting an appraiser who specializes in the particular category.

When Google Fails You: Performing some preliminary internet research is how many start to figure out if an item may have significant worth. But keep in mind that not all sources are created equal. Listed asking prices may not accurately reflect current market trends. Understanding the various factors when looking at prices and sales results is a skill that appraisers hone daily. In fact, appraisers frequently use paid subscription databases in their research that are not accessible to the public. After you have exhausted your own web searches and still believe that something could be valuable, call a personal property appraiser for assistance.

The Etching Amateur, Honore
Daumier, c. 1860
Petit Palais, Paris
Preparing for the Appraiser: In order to expedite an upcoming appraisal, consider the following suggestions:
  • Decide which items you want to have appraised. A previous preliminary walkthrough (see above) may help with this decision.
  • Ensure that items located in the attic, basement, closets, drawers, etc. are unpacked, unwrapped, and ready for viewing. You don’t want to be charged hours for someone to open all the boxes and unwrap all the china.
  • Put all things of like kind together such as flatware, crystal, and dinnerware services. This will not only help the appraiser group items appropriately but also give you a better idea of what exists.
  • Gather any receipts, sales slips, or relevant documentation near the appropriate items.
  • Gather any historical information or family history that relates to the items being appraised.
If you don’t have time or unable to do these suggested preparations prior to an appraiser’s arrival, there is no need to worry. Most appraisers will manage and are used to expecting the unexpected.

Keep in Mind

Sifting and moving a sizable amount of items can easily become overwhelming. It may even feel like you have become an archaeologist excavating layers of content that represent a lifetime of memories. In addition to hiring an appraiser to help you determine value in the marketplace, what else will help in your minimalism or downsizing journey?

Have the Right Attitude: It’s probably the moment you’ve been dreading for years – figuring out what to do with it all. Whether the items belong to you or someone else, you have become responsible for determining their fate. But keep heart and momentum. Remember the good that you are doing and how you will feel when all is complete. This too shall pass.

Manage Your Expectation: Cultural taste has changed and so have values. Even if your grandmother told you time after time that her Victorian sofa is worth a great deal of money, furnishings and d├ęcor that have been in the same home for thirty years or more may not be in vogue anymore. The current fashion for a modern look along with the waning popularity of antiques are reflected in current prices. The items that achieved top dollar decades ago may not perform as well today.

Portrait by Jo Spence, 1989
Color photograph, Victoria
and Albert Museum, London
The Swiss Cheese Approach: You walk into the room or storage unit and just see too much too handle. Looking at the totality of what needs to be down can quickly lead to panic. Instead of hyperventilating, tackle a smaller task that you feel is manageable. Then take on another small project, and then another. As you work your way through your property, start making piles of items you plan to keep, sell, donate, and toss. Avoid “maybe” piles. Why handle the property more than once? If you hesitate to keep an object, then it is probably not necessary to own any longer. This can be helpful to keep in mind if you are helping a loved one choose what to take during the downsizing process. Remember that the items you sell or donate will be finding new homes too.

Avoid the “Just in Case” Syndrome: Sometime the “maybe” pile can transform into a “just in case” pile. Nevertheless, consider parting with items that fall into the “what if” or “someday I might need this” category such as water skis in Arizona or a snow blower in Florida. This is especially true for duplicate items. When on the path of minimizing, one must let go of keeping two vacuums just in case the other one breaks.

Consider Giving Now: Take the time to decide if you want to donate both big and small in the near future. Perhaps you wish to gift a wristwatch to your nephew or a valuable painting to the local museum. Why not now when you can decide? If you are not sure if you need an appraisal to claim a tax deduction for a donation, consult your attorney or accountant. They should let you know when an appraisal report by a qualified appraiser is required by the IRS.

Digitize: Have an assortment of family photos, paperwork, old letters, kids’ drawing, or even manuals for electronics? Digitizing may be your best option. Thanks to technology, ephemera can be scanned and saved onto a hard drive or a cloud-base system. Younger family members can usually guide you in the right direction for current software. If rebellion from sentimentalists ensues, you can argue that you are still keeping the nostalgia but just transforming it so that posterity may continue to cherish it.

Enlist Help: You don’t have to do it alone. It likely took years to acquire the contents you are sorting therefore it’s no wonder you will need a few helping hands. Assistance from family, friends, and professionals (from appraisers to movers) will lighten the burden.

Ready to find a professional personal property appraiser?

Check out the International Society of Appraisers' Find An ISA Member page. You can search by location, category, or name. May your journey to a less-is-more lifestyle be a successful one.

Courtney Ahlstrom Christy, ISA CAPP, is a personal property appraiser who has in-depth knowledge when investigating the value and past life of objects. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in fine art history at University College Cork in Ireland and a master’s degree in the history of decorative arts from Smithsonian Association/Corcoran College of Art. In addition, she is a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers, an Accredited Member of Appraisers Association of America, and in compliance with USPAP. Along with an education in the arts, Courtney has worked in museums, galleries, and auction houses, all of which have provided great opportunities to examine works ranging from the antique to the contemporary.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The ISA Ambassador Program's First Anniversary

Jan Robbins Durr, ISA CAPP
Membership Retention Chair
As we approach the first anniversary of the Ambassador Program, I would like to thank all our ISA appraiser volunteers who have participated in making it a success. If you remember back to your first years, beginning an appraisal career can seem a daunting task. Wouldn’t we all have been more confident in our business decisions with an experienced person as our sounding board?

The Ambassador program brings strength to our members and organization by:
  • Providing connections to our membership
  • Supporting our newest members in a tangible, consistent manner
  • Forging friendships with like-minded colleagues in multiple disciplines
Our Ambassadors are AMs and CAPPs assigned to all new members. The Membership Retention Committee provides a short manual for reference to guide the Ambassador through our member benefits, membership levels, ISA Means Business! Toolbox, and maneuvering the ISA website. Ambassadors refer all educational questions to the Director of Education, Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP, at

Please consider volunteering in 2018 as one of your New Year’s Resolutions! We are an organization that prides ourselves on our strong networking. Attending Assets is proof of the camaraderie that develops when we share our knowledge and passion for this career. Contact ISA's Senior Account Coordinator Michelle VanAlstyne at to serve as an Ambassador.

"Joining the Ambassador Program has been a life saver. I live in a remote area and the connection and support from Cindy [Charleston-Rosenberg] has been invaluable. Her generosity in sharing her experience and ideas has made me feel more comfortable and confident with my new appraisal aspect of my business. I can't thank her and the ISA enough for this support, and hope that one day I'll have enough knowledge to share with a new appraiser." - Larissa Wild Gould, ISA

- Jan Robbins Durr, ISA CAPP, Membership Retention Chair

Friday, October 20, 2017

Protecting Your Collection and Your Wallet: What You Could Lose If You Suffer a Loss Without an Appraisal

Kirsten Rabe Smolensky, JD, ISA CAPP
As an appraiser, I have worked on a lot of insurance claims, including losses due to fire, theft, transit damage, and flood. The number one mistake most insureds make is not being prepared in advance.

Imagine that your house has burned to the ground and everything inside it destroyed. The insurance company requests an inventory of EVERYTHING inside. Do you know how many kitchen pots you have? Shoes? Tools? Most people remember the large, expensive items, but forget numerous smaller items. These items add up quickly.

And, those large, expensive items? They may or may not be covered depending upon how your policy is written and whether you have the appropriate riders in place. Most insurance companies will require an appraisal to insure these items.

This article will help you prepare for a potential loss. Some steps you can take on your own, but others will require the assistance of a professional appraiser.

Understand Your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy

The biggest problem I see after a devastating loss is underinsurance, meaning that homeowners suffer a loss yet fail to recover tens of thousands of dollars just at the time when they have lost everything they hold dear. How do you prevent this?

Every insurance policy is different and you should work with your insurance agent to understand how your policy works. However, there are a few common traits most homeowner’s policies share. If you understand these commonalities, you can ask the right questions to ensure that your coverage is adequate.

Take steps to insure your home - and its contents.

Most homeowner’s policies have a total coverage limit for household contents that is based upon a percentage of your home’s value. For example, if you have a $400,000 home, you might have 50% in personal property coverage ($200,000) or you might have 75% in personal property coverage ($300,000). You need to know what that amount is and feel confident that you can replace every item of personal property in your home, from fine art to furniture to clothing, for that amount. If you are buying furniture from designers, have some nice rugs and fine art, or are a collector, these limits can be easily exceeded. If you have expensive tools or lawn equipment in your garage, you should also consider those items.

Next, even if that limit appears sufficient, your policy may have special limits for certain categories of items. Most homeowner’s policies have dollar limits on jewelry, fine art, rugs, silver, collectibles, antiques, guns, etc. The limits generally range from a few thousand dollars to $5,000 or $10,000 per category. However, if you have two or three nice rugs or pieces of fine art in your home, you can quickly exceed those limits.

For example, assume that you have three nice, original paintings in your home. You inherited one and are unsure of its value, you purchased one ten years ago for $3,000 and you recently bought a third painting for $4,000. At this point, you know you have at least $7,000 worth of fine art. If you have a $5,000 special limit on fine art, you will need a rider adding coverage to your homeowner’s insurance. Otherwise, in the event of a loss of the three paintings (and any other fine art you may own) you will only be reimbursed up to $5,000, regardless of the total value of the paintings. So, if the inherited painting turns out to be worth a fortune, you just lost it. Adding a rider, or additional special coverage, to your homeowner’s policy will protect against that loss. And, it will often require a professional appraisal of the paintings in advance. Understanding your policy and making sure you have adequate coverage is crucial to protecting yourself against such unanticipated losses.

Be sure to keep track of all your antiques and collectibles,
not just fine art.

The most common mistake that I see clients make is that they remember to get their jewelry appraised but forget about their rugs, silver, antiques and collectibles. Make sure you ask your insurance agent the right questions and fully understand your homeowner’s policy.
I recommend having a conference call with an appraiser and your insurance agent so that everyone can be on the same page as to which items need to be appraised. Many competent, ISA-trained appraisers can help facilitate a discussion with your insurance agent to ensure that you get the necessary items appraised and properly insured.

Create an Inventory

Create an inventory of items that you own. This can be done on your own or with the assistance of a professional appraiser. A written, photographic, or videoed inventory can mean the difference between coverage and non-coverage.

The purpose of an inventory is two-fold. First, it proves to the insurance company that the items existed and were in your home. Second, a good inventory will provide details about the items (type, style, quality, condition, brand, etc.) that will ensure accurate replacement should replacement become necessary.

If you do not want to do this yourself, or fear you may not know what information to capture, many appraisers will create an inventory for you. If you know you have valuable items that will require a rider, then ask the appraiser to create an inventory for you while they are already on site appraising your other items.

Take stock of all the contents of your home and garage -
You may be surprised at how much you own.
Many appraisers can photograph every room of the house in an organized, orderly fashion that is easy to follow, and focus on the more valuable items. Appraisers generally have a good eye for value and quality and will know what objects to focus on and what types of photographs to take, but we never want to miss anything that is important to you. Make sure that you point out items in advance that you know are particularly valuable or important to you so the appraiser knows what to capture.
Photographic inventories can be invaluable in the event of a loss, and I generally recommend clients store photographs on a flash drive (or two) and keep at least one flash drive off site in a secure location.

Keep Good Records

For those expensive purchases, including jewelry, fine art and the riding lawn mower in the garage, make sure that you keep receipts. Insurance companies will often ask for proof of purchase price for expensive items, particularly if they are not listed on a rider prior to the loss and/or you paid cash for them. Keep copies of the receipts in a secure location offsite or digitize them and save them in the cloud. Alternatively, you should be able to look up major purchases on your credit card statements. Insurance companies will often accept those records as proof of purchase.

For items such as fine art or an important antique, keeping the receipt may also help prove provenance. Provenance is an item’s record of ownership that is often used to help determine authenticity, quality and ultimately value. An item with a good provenance often has more value than an item without a provenance. Keeping good records should become a habit whenever a substantial purchase is made.

If the Worst Happens

Unfortunately, claims sometimes happen. Here are a few things you should keep in mind if you need to file a claim:

  1. File your claim as soon as possible. Do not miss the deadline for notice. If you do, you may not be covered.
  2. Make sure that when you file a claim it is as complete as possible. If you’ve had items damaged in a move, take an extra day or two to make sure you’ve listed EVERYTHING as long as it won’t cause the claim to be late. If you find items later and add them to the list, it may look suspicious.
  3. When asked how old an item is and what was paid for it, be honest and reasonable. When possible support your statements with receipts and/or credit card statements. If you are unsure how much was paid, just say so and explain why. Perhaps the item was a gift or it was inherited.
  4. Once you open a claim, keep a file for that claim. The file can be electronic or printed, but it should include all correspondence, any photos, any receipts, all emails, etc. Ideally, you should also keep a notepad handy to record every verbal interaction with the insurance company. Include the date of any call, who you spoke to, what was discussed and how long the call was. Keep a copy of the insurance policy handy too. If you do not have one, ask for it. If you need to hire an appraiser, it may be helpful for the appraiser to see the policy. This will let them know the type of policy and any special limits, etc.

What You Should Do TODAY

Call your insurance company and make sure that you understand your policy. If you have items that need to be put on a rider, call an ISA appraiser and have them assist you in:
  1. Figuring out which items should be appraised 
  2. Creating an inventory
  3. Writing an appraisal for high-value items.
A little bit of work up front can save you LOTS of time, money and frustration should the worst happen.

Kirsten Rabe Smolensky, JD, ISA CAPP is the owner of Minerva Appraisal, LLC, a general personal property appraisal firm offering a full range of professional appraisal services in the Nashville, TN area. She appraises antiques, fine art, silver, furniture, ceramics, etc., and considers herself a "general contractor" of appraisal services.

For more information on the importance of working with a credentialed ISA appraiser and to search for one by location or specialty, please visit the Find an ISA Member page.

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