Home Estate Liquidation “Do I Need To Get An Appraisal Before Selling My Stuff?”

“Do I Need To Get An Appraisal Before Selling My Stuff?”

The answer can be complicated. We break it down for you here.

by Christopher Lancette
Published: Last Updated on

A windup Pink Panther bangs a pair of cymbals.People often call us to ask, “Do I need to get an appraisal before selling my stuff?” Just as often, they jump right into trying to hire us to provide appraisals for the contents of a home they inherited, or for their own home. That’s great, but we don’t want to take people’s money if they don’t need to spend it.

“Okay, let’s slow down a little,” we respond. “We need to back up a bit before we can answer your question.”

When you need to get an appraisal

Generally speaking, there are just three reasons you need to obtain appraisals.

  1. When required to do so by law.
  2. When required for insurance purposes.
  3. When you donate an item or items to a nonprofit organization with a value of greater than $5,000.

You do not need an appraisal to sell your own stuff that you bought with your own money.

The 2 Rules Of Determining Whether You Need An Appraisal For Estates

Let’s review the first two rules of determining whether you need to hire an appraiser/get an appraisal for the contents of a home you inherited, are an executor/personal representative for, or for which you have power of attorney:

  1. Consult an estate attorney to obtain a qualified legal opinion.
  2. Make sure you follow rule No. 1.

We are not lawyers. We do not offer legal advice.

Now that we’ve made our Orion’s Attic attorneys happy, let’s dig more deeply into the question. Let’s cover what you need to know about appraisals and appraisers. There are some tough truths you need to know.

If You Are Required To Obtain An Appraisal For Legal Purposes

If you need an appraisal for personal property — belongings exclusive of land or buildings — Orion’s Attic does provide appraisal services. Most appraisers charge by the hour or provide a flat rate for a project. We use both methods depending on the work required. (Appraisals aren’t cheap as appraisers provide exceptional experience and knowledge. Good appraisers charge anywhere from $100 to $250 an hour on average.)

A copy of Amazing Spider-Man No. 300 enclosed in a hard plastic case and professionally graded.

Certain comic books still command a premium, especially if they’re already graded by a professional grading company.

We can appraise just about everything that’s inside a home, garage, or outbuilding. We do not appraise houses or buildings. If you have certain items requiring a degree of expertise we do not possess — such as high-dollar fine jewelry, certain kinds of rare art, and very valuable automobiles, we bring in colleagues who are subject specialist appraisers.

In short, Orion’s Attic is your one-call-solves-it-all solution for personal property appraisals for legal purposes.

Insurance Appraisals

The second reason you need to get an appraisal is for insurance purposes. No insurance company is going to take your word for the value of what you had when your house burned down or flooded. Or when you got robbed.

This doesn’t really apply if you live a spartan life. However, you should absolutely get an appraisal done if you’ve got a house full of treasures. These include high-value furniture, jewelry, coins, vintage cars, art, and collectibles ranging from old advertising pieces to vintage toys. You should get a new appraisal if your current one is outdated. An appraisal from a decade ago generally isn’t going to be very useful today. Styles, tastes and trends — along with values — change all the time.

Note that appraisals conducted for the purposes of insurance often list higher values than ones performed for estate purposes. This is because they’re predicated on the need for a person to suddenly want to replace an item.  In other words, what that person would pay at full retail. (Compare that price to the lower price an item could be purchased for if a person had more time to shop around). This is normal, and it is widely understood by all the industries involved.

Orion’s Attic can certainly provide insurance appraisal services for you.

Charitable Donation Appraisals

It’s also important to note that you sometimes need formal appraisals when making certain donations to nonprofit organizations. As you might guess by now, there are two rules for determining whether you need appraisals in this case:

  1. Speak to your certified public accountant (CPA)
  2. Make sure you follow rule No. 1.

We are not CPAs and we do not provide financial or tax advice.

We can cover one basic scenario, though. You need to get an appraisal when you are donating any item or group of items worth $5,000 or more to a charitable organization.

Thinking of donating a big sports memorabilia collection to your favorite charity? Get it appraised. Do you want to donate a big-dollar painting to the Smithsonian? Get it appraised.

Orion’s Attic can provide charitable donation appraisal services. We’ve got you covered.

Appraisals and Appraisers 101 — What You Must Know

The words “appraisal” and “value” are so common that they’re easy to misunderstand.

A vintage Louis Marx windup tin toy features a circus ringmaster , vlown, monkey and an elephant.

Vintage toy collections are hot. We love appraising them. So much fun!

An appraisal is a formal written document provided by an expert that lists the contents and values of your possessions, along with notes about condition and other attributes as needed. An appraiser is allowed only to provide an appraisal for your personal property — and NOT allowed to make any offer to buy your items. This is unethical. No legitimate appraiser would ever make such an offer.

Any alleged appraiser who tries to both appraise and buy your items should immediately be ordered to leave your home. That is not an appraiser; that is a scam artist.

The word “value” can get really tricky.

You will hear all kinds of words and phrases for value. These include fair market value, and retail value (what an item may be priced at in a store). They include insurance value, replacement cost value, fire sale value (estate sale, estate buyout), auction value, and more.

At the end of the day? The only 100-percent accurate value of any object is what a willing buyer actually pays a willing seller on a given day. The proof is in the pudding.

Appraisers will generally state which values we are referring to in our reports. The most common choice is fair market value. This in theory refers to what a given willing buyer might pay a given willing seller on a given day. Appraisers may base these findings on such things as auction records, price guides, current prices companies are asking for in stores, on eBay, and other sites today — among other criteria. (Anybody can ask for any price; getting that price is not so easy.)

Don’t Think You’re Going To Get Rich Based On An Appraisal Report

Seven stacks of $100 bills.

You need to consider a lot of factors when determining how realistic an appraisal may be.

Now we’re going to slice into the innards of the appraisal world. This may upset a lot of appraisers even though we preface this clearly. We are stating that we’re speaking in general terms here — not absolute terms with no exceptions:

In general, when it comes to actually selling items, you are not going to receive in your pockets the dollar amounts listed in many, if not most, appraisals. In other words, many appraisal values listed by many appraisers are often slightly inflated to grossly inflated. 

The biggest reason items don’t often sell for appraised value?

  • Many appraisers have little to no real-world experience of actually buying items with their own money. No experience  busting their tails selling them for a profit or a loss. Or they haven’t done it in a very long time. [Check out our case study on a pair of greatly over-appraised limited edition prints.]

It’s natural for there to be some degree of range in the values listed by any group of appraisers looking at the same object. No two people are going to see something the exact same way. (Watch Antiques Roadshow. Even veteran appraisers will say, “After consulting with a few of my colleagues, I think the value is X.”) Totally normal there.

It’s another thing when appraisals are shockingly off-base because appraisers are so out of touch. Some just don’t know the daily challenges of selling items. They have little to no experience with the extraordinary amount of work that goes into removing objects from a home, storing them, selling them in every environment from retail stores to eBay, and shipping them. They don’t have experience accepting when it’s time to just sell for pennies on the dollar.  Or when it’s time to give up and donate items.

A large glass-front china cabinet sits unwanted in a home.

China cabinets, even beautiful ones, are usually over-valued in most appraisals.

Antiques price guides often not worth the paper they’re printed on

Many appraisers may list the value of an antique china cabinet at $500 because of whatever source they might base that number on. But good luck finding anyone today to pay that much for a china cabinet or many other big brown antiques. The same goes for a lot of other once-popular items like stamp collections and limited edition prints.

In general, there’s just a glut of most things on the market and not enough buyers for them.

A lot of appraisers seem to base their values on what they think people might pay if they woke up one morning and said to themselves, “Wow. I really want a late 19th-century china cabinet and I have to have it today — let me race down to an expensive antique shop and pay the full asking price now!”

If buyers are willing to look around, they can often find the exact same items for way less than full retail. Appraisals should identify reasonable sales prices, not the theoretical maximum value.

We received a call just yesterday, which is what prompted writing this article. The woman told us that she just obtained an appraisal and would like to sell the items on the list. She asked if we would buy them.

This very nice woman was optimistic about the money she hoped to make from an estate she handling. The inquiry included Lladro figurines. They’re nice, but they tend to be very slow sellers.

We looked at the appraisal.

All we could do was bury our faces in our hands.

A Lladro figurine depicts a girl waving a magic wand over a dog.

There’s not much magic left in the value of Lladro figurines. Most are very slow sellers.

How we determine true value

We had to gently explain that those numbers didn’t reflect anywhere near reality.

When we see appraisals like that, we say as politely as we can without disparaging any appraiser that we can’t help them. We recognize instantly that the appraiser has put stars in the sellers’ eyes. We’ve learned that many people will just get mad at us for making offers on badly appraised items. What we’re willing to pay is based on what it would take to make a deal profitable enough for all the work and risk that goes into buying and re-selling.

Our value scoreCARD

Value for us is determined by what we call our scoreCARD. It’s a combination of an item’s condition, appeal, rarity and demand. We also consider the work involved in the entire process.

An item can be as old as Moses but if it’s one of a zillion of them out there, it’s likely not worth that much.

An item can also be exceptionally rare, like an antique book, but still have little value. It can be worthless because it takes forever to find a buyer for it. If one can even be found. (Our own passion for collecting rare books is part of what led to us launching Orion’s Attic — but we don’t sell many rare books directly. Better to just dump them at auction and be done with it.)

And like most dealers, we don’t want to buy most common items that most people have in a home. In those cases, we certainly offer full estate liquidation and cleanout services in which we charge a labor fee in exchange for clearing a home — selling what can be sold for them (they get the money), donating what can be donated (they get the donation receipts), and hauling away the trash — but we certainly can’t buy the stuff.

Many antiques — especially furniture — are worth less than it costs to move them

We even tell people honestly that in many cases, the labor charge will exceed what they’ll get back from the sale of all the contents of their home because the appraisal report they’re looking at isn’t realistic. We frequently look at appraisals potential clients send us and see in an instant that they’re likely to get anywhere from 50 to 80 percent less than the dollar value listed in their appraisal reports.

We’ll see that appraisals don’t make it clear that a great many objects in a home absolutely won’t sell and can only be donated to charity. Those items carry charitable donation values established by using guidelines from the IRS, along with guidelines from resources including Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

A few rare, antique books sit on a shelf covered in red, blue and leather bindings. Subjects include Samuel Adams.

Appraisals don’t often make it clear how hard it is to find buyers for even nifty, rare items like old books.

Even without an appraisal, most homes today are what we call a “junk deficit.” (“Junk” to people in our business is a positive word and shorthand for what we handle, so don’t get thrown off by that.)

What we’re saying here is that it often costs more to do the work to clear out a home than the contents sell for.

Focus on the value of a house, not its contents when you’re getting ready to sell a house

When you’re getting ready to sell a home for a half million to a million-plus dollars, though, there’s no sense delaying the process of making the real money for months on end because you’re trying to squeeze $2 out of every Hummel figurine in a house.

The potential seller yesterday was so nice, however, and so poorly served by her appraiser, that we took the time to walk her through some of what we’re sharing here and told her that we really weren’t the right option for her.

We don’t hesitate to tell people when we don’t think we’re a good fit, that they should go with someone else.

It’s much better for us to turn down business than risk offending sellers by trying to make offers for antiques and collectibles after they’ve received appraisals with numbers so unrealistic that our offers would sound insulting to them.

We don’t even want to take on clients like that with our cleanout and liquidation services, in which we profit on a labor charge and not sales, because we don’t want people to blame us for how far short of their appraisals that their actual sales hit.

We just don’t need that kind of headache that comes from stepping in after a bad appraisal.

If we see a solid appraisal, we’re certainly interested in buying in-demand items. When we say solid, we of course mean this: In our experience of actually buying items with our own money and actually selling them for a profit or a loss with a tremendous amount of work and risk, we think an appraisal report has a place in the real world.

Our contention on our appraisals

When we at Orion’s Attic are hired to produce appraisal reports, we contend that we’re listing much more realistic values than what’s provided by the average appraiser without real-world experience. We often get the chance to track what happens when the contents of an estate we appraised sells — finding that we often come within 10 percent or less of our appraisal findings. We’ve hit some almost to the dollar. Compare that to the larger-than-it-should-be number of other appraisals we see that end up being off by that 50 to 80 percent figure.

A vintage Coca-Cola sign measuring perhaps 16 inches tall by five feet wide with the old Coke fishtail logo in the middle advertises ice cream shakes, hamburgers and more.

This vintage Coca-Cola sign is the real thing. Make sure any appraisal you get for such items indicates whether the appraiser has knowledge of their authenticity.

We can’t state enough that we know a lot of great appraisers whose work we respect greatly and who we often join forces with on projects. They have tremendous experience and knowledge, and they write appraisals with real-world numbers. And we see a lot of great appraisal reports by appraisers we don’t know. We see very accurate appraisals for items including big-bucks collectibles such as high-end art, sports memorabilia, automobiles, fine jewelry and other rare, in-demand stuff for which there are extensive public sales records and data.

We see great appraisals done by appraisers who take the time to make perfectly clear that items sold in environments such as auctions and estate sales may sell for a lot less than the listed values. (Every appraiser should do that.)

But more often than not, the appraisals potential sellers show us leave us no choice but to just walk away from buying, or helping them sell, their items. Their appraisals are just that misleading.

Don’t Waste Money On An Appraisal When You’re Not Legally Required To Get One — And You’re Just Going To Sell The Stuff Anyway

“Do I need to get an appraisal before selling my stuff?” the question comes.

We do the backing-up part.

The callers explain they want to get an appraisal before they sell their stuff so they know “what it’s worth.” They ask when we can do the job.

“Hold on,” we say. “There’s probably no need for you to plunk down money for an appraisal of your own stuff if you’re just going to turn around and sell it. It’s money you’ll never get back. It’s throwing good money after bad.”

While they’re stunned we don’t want to take their money for an appraisal, they’re thrilled to get a quick overview of what they have and whether we’d be interested in buying it.

Want to text or email us a ton of pictures? Great! We’re happy to look!

Do call (ask for Chris) before you start sending a hundred pictures, though. If you’ve got a lot of great stuff that we may want to buy, we’ll even set an appointment to visit you in person.

And we do all of that for free!

How we can help you avoid paying for an appraisal

No need to pay for an appraisal for that purpose. We’re not going to provide a free appraisal on everything in your house when you really don’t want to sell it. (Sadly, people do try to trick us into that sometimes.) But we’re absolutely willing to share information on the things we’re interested in buying, and to be honest with you about the rest.

Seven to nine times out of ten, a call leads to no economic opportunities for us. That’s okay. It’s part of the cost of doing business. We also take great pride in serving as a trusted source of information on all things in the worlds of antiques, collectibles, estate liquidation, appraisals and home cleanouts. We hope callers will come back to us again later and tell their friends about us.

Bigger picture, we’re humongous believers in all of our company values including just putting good karma out into the world.

Today’s offering?

Spend money on appraisals from the right kinds of appraisers when you need to. Don’t waste money on them when you don’t!

Do you need a personal property appraisal for probate court or insurance? We provide appraisal services. Contact us.

Learn more about selling all kinds of collectibles in Sell Us Your Stuff.

Learn more about liquidating entire estates in our Estate Liquidation and Downsizing Guide.

Getting good info from our site? Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter, too. And tell some friends!


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