Interview: Understanding Pricing and Appraisals in Art

October 4, 2018

Heidi Lee-Komaromi, Art Advisor and Appraiser at HLK Art Group and course instructor of Art Wealth Management, explains how art appraising and advising overlap, the difference between art appraisals and auction estimates and the importance of USPAP compliant appraisals.

What lead you to become a certified art appraiser as well as an art advisor? Do the two areas of expertise overlap?
Whenever I help a client buy or sell a work of art it is essential for me to have a thorough and accurate understanding of an object’s value in order to a conduct a successful transaction, evaluation or loan so indeed art appraising and art advising overlap to a great degree! As such, early on in my career I became a qualified professional appraiser and certified member of the Appraisers Association of America, a major respected appraisal accrediting organization in the US.  

How is an art appraisal different from an auction estimate?  
An art appraisal is a legal document that offers an opinion of value of an artwork that can be relied on by third parties such as attorneys and the IRS. It also has enough credibility to stand on its own merits. A properly conducted appraisal requires extensive research, analysis, scholarly documentation and calculation while following specific guidelines in compliance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisers Practice (USPAP). An experienced appraiser must be able to determine which type of appraisal and which kind of value is appropriate to apply and they are able to defend their value conclusion through an extensively written document.

In contrast, auction estimates are not intended to be relied on by third parties nor are they meant to be an accurate reflection of an object’s value. However, they do give prospective bidders a better context to help them understand what the current market for that object is. Estimates are based on comparables from which a median range is taken where the auction house believes the current market exists. Estimates serve as an effective tool for auction houses to entice potential buyers by either placing intentionally low estimates to attract more bidders or intentionally elevated estimates to give the perception of high quality in an effort to maximize the potential hammer price.

In which cases does an appraisal need to be USPAP compliant and why?
If you need your appraisal to withstand the rigors of the law, IRS scrutiny or to be mostly reliable, a well researched and well written report that is USPAP compliant would be necessary.  However, many appraisers are requested to provide expedited opinions of value that may not meet the minimum standards of a formal appraisal (ie. TV shows, newspapers, inquiries to help with an internal review or pre-sale) so the Appraisers Assoc. of America has now allowed for sub-services to be conducted where appraisers can administer Professional Opinions of Value (aka Value Opinions) without being subject to violation of the AAA Code of Ethics. 

Learn more about what factors influence the art market and the different types of appraisals. Enroll in our online Art Wealth Management program today!

New York-based art advisor, Heidi Lee Komaromi has 16 years of experience in the art world, specializing in Post-War and Contemporary art. She has advised, managed and built collections for individuals, estates and Fortune 500 companies and has acquired and appraised over 3,000 works of art by both emerging and internationally renowned artists. Having worked extensively on both the primary and secondary markets, she has in-depth art knowledge and a keen ability to source and evaluate fine art objects. She was a Director at Artnet, the world’s largest art data and media company and Waterhouse & Dodd Gallery. In 2010, she founded EditionedArt, the first online gallery focused on selling curated limited editions by contemporary artists. Recently, she co-built a multi-million dollar art platform for Twyla, an art e-commerce site funded by Google Ventures, Redpoint and IVP. Heidi holds a masters degree from Christie’s Education and is a USPAP accredited art appraiser.

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