For serious art collectors, there will no doubt come a day when they want or need to have all or a part of their collections appraised. Perhaps they’re donating a piece to a museum and must have a report by a “qualified appraiser.” Or perhaps they wish to insure the collection and need an appraised value on each piece of art. Or perhaps they want to sell a piece of the collection or satisfy their own curiosity about the value of their investment.
Whatever the reason, collectors are well advised to work with someone who is reputable and knows what they’re doing. And it helps if the collector understands the appraisal process and output required by insurers or the IRS. Two Utah-based appraisers spent some time and effort educating me about their businesses: Melissa Soltesz of Soltesz Fine Art Consulting, based in Park City, and Tom Alder, co-owner of Williams Fine Art in Salt Lake City.
What do you look for in an appraiser?
“Handsome, charming, educated,” quips Alder, but quickly adds “someone who is very familiar with the particular kind of art [you want appraised].” Alder, who holds a M.A. degree in art history, specializes in early Utah art and contemporary landscape art by Utah artists.
Soltesz, who also holds degrees in art history and studio art, emphasizes that the appraiser should be educated in the practice of appraising and should adhere to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). Soltesz completed a certificate program sponsored by the American Society of Appraisers (ASA) and is a “candidate member” of ASA working toward full accreditation.
Are there different kinds of appraisals?
The purpose of your appraisal will dictate how the appraiser will approach the work and the type of report produced. For example, for insurance purposes, says Soltesz, “you want a report that is based on the ‘replacement’ value. I would look for other works by that artist in the marketplace. I would look for works of similar size, time period, medium, style, and subject.” With as many comparables as possible to consider, Soltesz can then analyze what the replacement value would be.
If you are planning to donate your art to a museum or other charitable organization, “you want to know ‘fair market value,’” says Soltesz. In certain circumstances, the fair market value might be different than replacement value.
The nuts and bolts of an appraisal report include a description of the work – size, medium, approximate date created, condition, signature, and other details – as well as a photograph and the provenance (ownership history) of the piece. The report will then estimate the value of the work based on the appraiser’s research. This relatively brief report might be all you need.
However, if the report is to be used for insurance purposes, estate planning, or charitable giving, and/or if the appraisal covers an entire collection, the report could be lengthy. Soltesz recently appraised a collection of 18 pieces of art resulting in a 75-page report.
What is the appraisal process?
Alder says that if a client just wants an estimate, they can bring the artwork to his gallery. If the artist is familiar, i.e., an artist, like LeConte Stewart, of special interest to the gallery or appraiser, it may take only a few minutes to consult the gallery’s sales records, or other sources for comparable information and then estimate a value.
However, if the artist is relatively unknown, considerable research may be needed to arrive at a well-researched estimate of value.
Both Alder and Soltesz will also go to clients’ homes to see artworks or collections that are too large to take to the appraiser. They will discuss each piece with the owner to learn as much as possible about the history of the artwork. They make notes and take photographs, and then return to their offices to complete the research and prepare reports.
This could take days or weeks.
What does this cost?
Appraisers generally charge an hourly rate or a price clients agree to in advance. Appraisers who follow the USPAP standards do not price appraisals as a percentage of the value of the art, as this could lead to inflated valuations.
The best way to find out the cost is to meet with the appraiser, describe the project, and ask for an estimate.
Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.