What's it Worth? Find out with an Online Appraisal

First Published: Auctionrover.com
Date Published: 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Kevin Savetz

Wondering what that antique object d'art in the foyer is worth? An expert appraisal is the way to find out its value. You could find an appraiser in your area, or wait for the Antiques Roadshow to come to town. Or, have it appraised online.

Getting an appraisal online involves submitting digital photos and a description of the item. An expert will provide an estimate of the object's value based on the information you provide. You can find online appraisal services like eppraisals.com, as well as traditional appraisers who have branched out to the Web, such as Wilcox & Hall. (www3.sympatico.ca/appraisers)

Eppraisals.com charges a flat rate of $20 for an "eppraisal," and Wilcox & Hall charges $15. The cost is certainly less than an in-person, professional appraisal (which can cost upwards of $100 per hour.) While an online appraisal is convenient and cheaper than a conventional appraisal, it may not be as reliable, either. What you get is, in appraisal lingo, a "hypothetical appraisal" in which the expert must form his or her opinion based on photographs and your description of the item. These simply may not provide all the details an up-close-and-personal look would give.

Any antique or collectable item can be appraised. The list of categories at eppraisals.com, for example, includes books and manuscripts, timepieces, jewelry, and tribal art.

"Online appraisals are becoming more popular as a result of all the online auction action," said Mike Wilcox, owner of Wilcox and Hall. "No one wants to find out an item they sold at auction last week for $62.40 is worth two, three, or even ten times that amount after they've sold it."

"We do run into more than our share of wonderful finds for clients, for example a chintz breakfast set worth $1200, bought at a yard sale for $15.00, and a Art Nouveau lamp worth $4200 that almost got thrown out -- the husband didn't like it," Wilcox said. "The most expensive thing we have come across online was a Roman mosaic (5th/6th century) valued at $25,000-$32,000," he said.

But online appraisals aren't right for everyone. The Professional Association of Appraisers - Quilted Textiles warns against them. Its Web page (http://www.quiltappraisers.org/internetappraisal.html) says, "Any evaluation conducted from a picture is not an appraisal. It is an opinion that is a 'best guess.'"

When asked his opinion of this statement, Wilcox said, "I agree with parts of it. All online appraisals are hypothetical because they are based only on information and images provided and no physical examination of the item takes place. Appraisers are allowed to make hypothetical appraisals as long as conditions under which the appraisal is completed are spelled out in the appraisal report."

"We use the same methods of determining value for our online appraisals as we to for our regular 'house call' or office appraisals, the only difference being that with online appraisals the valuations are based on the client's description and images of the item in question," he said.

Although an online appraisal isn't an in-depth study of an object and can't replace an in-person appraisal for all purposes, one may be just fine to help you set a reserve price for your auction, or to get an idea of what a family treasure is worth.

Articles by Kevin Savetz