What You Need to Know About Art Appraisals

Oct 4, 2022

If you are an art collector, then sooner or later you are going to need the services of an art appraiser. This is an important service in the art world, and yet many collectors have a lot of unanswered questions about it. We are going to clear up a lot of those questions today. Hopefully, this will give you more confidence in getting your artwork appraised when you need to.

What is an art appraiser?

An art appraiser will use their expertise to assign a value to a work of art. By considering things like the provenance of a work, its medium, the artist who made it, and other factors like style and era, an art appraiser can figure out a price you would expect to sell a piece for.

That information can be incredibly important in many different situations. If you are looking to insure your collection, you’ll need an appraiser. If you are dividing assets, like during a divorce, you’ll need an appraiser. If you are looking to resell and want to know a good price to begin at, you’ll need an appraiser. With art, value is seen as so subjective and difficult to pin down, that these professionals at pricing art have become invaluable.

How does an art appraisal work?

To get a sense of your artwork’s value, an art appraiser will track down exhaustive information on prices for similar works. It can be hard to find “similar” works in the world of art. An appraiser will have to take in a large amount of variables into account, including:

  • provenance
  • medium
  • artist
  • condition
  • size
  • market conditions
  • exhibition history

This list is not exhaustive, but it gives a good idea of just how many factors go into appraising the value for a single work of art. As you can see, researching a work of art can be a lot of work.

Art Estimate vs. Appraisal

Anyone can estimate the value of a work of art. When you watch a television show like Antiques Roadshow, that’s essentially what you are seeing. This is a quick and dirty version of an appraisal. But when you need a legal document, an art appraisal goes above and beyond. An appraiser will provide a complete assessment that you can use as proof, whether to a court of law or the IRS. That’s because a true appraisal will follow the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisers Practice (USPAP).

You won’t always need that level of detail. If you are getting a cash offer for a painting and just checking to see if it's a fair deal, you don’t need a legal document. However, if you are looking to insure your collection, you will need an accredited appraiser.

The three major types of appraisal are:

  • Insurance value: This will determine the current market replacement value when purchasing a similar work from a retail gallery.
  • Resale value: This will give you a fair market value — though it is certainly not a guarantee.
  • Donation value: This is specifically to see how much you can deduct from taxes if you donate a work of art.

There are still others, but these are the most common.

How much does an art appraisal cost?

The cost of an art appraisal comes down to many specifics, but you can easily spend several hundred dollars to appraise a single work. Many great appraisers will charge hundreds of dollars an hour. This can be prohibitively expensive for some works that you are fairly certain aren’t worth anything near that. But for works that are at least worth several thousand dollars, you may find the money well spent.

How accurate are art appraisers?

You could have a leading expert appraising one of your works and still end up selling a piece for less than you could have. In fact, this kind of thing happens all the time at the world’s biggest auction houses. That isn’t because art appraisers are bad at what they do — it’s because the thing they are pricing is extremely difficult to pin down, and prices can fluctuate rapidly.

A piece of bread or a certain amount of processed lumber can be easily compared to similar examples in the market to come up with a fair price. But you can’t ever really compare a one-of-a-kind work of art with another. That’s what makes them one-of-a-kind! The extreme difficulty of art appraisal leads us to our next important question.

What credentials should an art appraiser have?

It’s really important to check an art appraiser’s credentials before hiring them. You’ll want to make sure that they have accreditation for compliance with the USPAP. And it is also helpful to know if they are in a professional organization like the American Society of Appraisers. These will usually have certification that goes above and beyond, ensuring that you’re getting a well trained and vetted appraiser.

How often should I appraise my art?

No matter the reason for getting an art appraisal, you’ll want to update them from time to time. Most legally relevant appraisals are good for 10 years. But the market can change much quicker than that. If you follow those ups and downs, it will sometimes be helpful to reappraise works of art — especially if not doing so will leave you under insured.

When you are looking to sell a work of art, you’ll benefit from a recent appraisal, depending on the actual value of the piece. For instance, if you are going to sell a few limited edition prints for around $100 a piece, an appraisal will likely not be worth the added cost.

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