Personal Property and Peace of Mind

In 2014, Consumer Reports published a handy flow chart outlining the process of dealing with personal property, or what they called “stuff.” And at the very top, directly beneath the first item, what do we find? “Get an appraisal.”

Seems simple enough, right? One of the more frequent calls I receive involves folks with “stuff.” Yes, stuff. But often they are unsure of what this stuff is – let alone its worth.

Sometimes the caller is managing an estate of stuff left behind by a relative. There may be other family members involved in overseeing its administration. Sometimes the family is in no hurry to deal with the stuff, other times the stuff has become an albatross, a time-sucking personal property stuff vampire that has raised tension between family members and just needs to be dealt with as swiftly as possible.

Other times it may be stuff the individual has collected but are now unsure of value. They know what they paid for the stuff, but they also (rightly) suspect that doesn’t really mean anything anymore.

Sometimes grand tales have been appended to the stuff, and a client is curious what effect it might have on the stuff’s desirability.

Of course they’re understandably hesitant during the call because they really don’t want to pay for a formal written appraisal on stuff that just isn’t worth it. And why should they?

In short, when they call me, they’re really looking for assurance and protection. They want to know they’ve done due diligence regarding the stuff by finding a professional to assist with discovery and identification.

They’re tired, overwhelmed, intimidated, or generally confused about their next step. Happily their challenge is not as big or daunting as they might believe!

My goal in this phase is to arm my clients with knowledge, perspective, options, and ultimately, peace of mind. I provide information about the items that will help the client with resolution, so they can confidently take their next step with the property, whether that involves liquidation, donation, equitable distribution, personal accession, or some other eventuality.

Now, appraisers like myself that work to maintain membership in professional appraiser associations like the International Society of Appraisers (ISA), American Society of Appraisers (ASA), or American Association of Appraisers (AAA), are “cap specific,” that is to say we define our role in any situation very precisely.

If I am acting as an appraiser, I am bound by a very specific code of ethics that does not allow me to wear multiple caps at once. For instance, I cannot be an authenticator and an appraiser at the same time. The conflict of interest is, I think, obvious. If you call an appraiser that offers to do both, hang up.

So, how are my services different?

As outlined above, I may serve as an appraiser or a consultant. As a consultant I can freely inspect a client’s stuff and search for pieces that might have a value worthy of further consideration, judged by whatever criteria the client has outlined. The reasoning may have nothing to do with monetary value.

What the client stands to gain from our association is security, confidence, peace of mind, and knowledge. The cost for this type of service is considerably less than a formal appraisal, and in some cases can even be credited toward a formal appraisal of items the client already had in mind, or have discovered along the way.

Is Donation Right For You?

Going back to the flow chart, one area that is underemphasized is charitable donation. This is an avenue that clients often find serves their interests more effectively than worrying over marketplaces they’re unfamiliar with.

Having worked the auction side in the past myself, they’re almost always up front with how afraid they are that an item being sold at auction for less than they believe it is worth, but they don’t have the time or patience to micromanage a consignment shop situation.

The fastest solution for these clients is to use the inspection process to:
  • Discover the stuff they want to keep.
  • Identify the stuff having what they deem to be significant value – again often regardless of monetary value.
  • Consider the avenues for donation according to the highest and best use of their stuff.
  • Order a USPAP-compliant donation appraisal on the remaining stuff for tax relief.

Now that we’ve worked our way through some options, let’s figure out what appraisers mean by USPAP-compliance.

If you’ve bought or sold a home, you have probably heard the property appraiser mention USPAP. This is because both real property and personal property appraisers use the same basic standards during the valuation process.

Now, we know risks associated with personal property are mitigated by having a formal appraisal. It follows that appraisals are vital to obtaining accurate and adequate insurance coverage, settling a claim, helping determine estate tax liability, documenting a charitable donation, aiding in equitable distribution, or even just in preparation for resale.

The fact is, more and more people are realizing, sometimes too late, that their basic homeowner insurance policies is not enough to cover their collection of antiques, artwork or artifacts. Other times items are shrouded in mystery and folks are simply curious about what they have, especially inherited pieces thought to have historical significance or special value. Accurate identification and valuation is vitally important because it almost always determines your next step in protecting the property.

You may have already had an appraisal on items, but the report is more than five years old. A updated report not only protects you with more accurate current numbers, but I am often able to append an even greater amount of detail and historical perspective to your items that will serve your future generations when they look back on the family heirlooms, as well as ensure that they will not be fooled by unscrupulous selling agents or auctioneers that might otherwise want to take advantage of holes in your knowledge about your own items.

But not all appraisers are equal!

There are three main professional appraisal associations operating in the USA, the International Society of Appraisers, the American Society of Appraisers, and the American Association of Appraisers. Members of each association are held to the highest standards and continually work to maintain their credentials within their association. When you do finally choose an appraiser or consultant, be sure they are a member of one of these three organizations.

You will hear those of us that are part of these professional appraisal associations talk about “Uniform Standards of the Professional Appraisal Practice,” or USPAP.

What are these standards and why are they important to an appraisal?

Think of them as quality control standards for appraising both real estate and personal property. In the United States they are administered by the Congressionally-authorized Appraisal Foundation. The IRS requires appraisals for their use to be USPAP compliant. Appraisers that are members of reputable associations like the ISA are required to maintain USPAP-compliance.

Whether you need a formal or verbal appraisal, or just basic advice, USPAP compliance is the truest indication of an appraiser’s seriousness and professionalism.

Create your own file or database with an inventory and photographs of your personal property. Include your original receipts and any pieces of provenance, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant. These can provide clues or act as evidence to a future appraiser that might help your valuation. Inspect your items frequently, and call a professional if things don’t seem right. 

If you have an artifact, antique, artwork, rare book, general collectible, or even an entire estate filled with different kinds of “stuff” – give me a call at (816) 289-5400 or send me an email, I’m ready to help!

For more information on USPAP, see my website: