Appraiser or Auctioneer: Who Should Prepare Your Appraisal

Sometimes a prospective client will ask us to explain the difference between the services of an appraiser and an auctioneer. The conversation usually includes references to the “high cost” of a qualified appraisal versus an auctioneer “doing the same thing for free” and selling the property to boot. We almost always conclude the talk with the prospect asking, “So tell me why I need an appraiser?”

While the short answer to this question is “A qualified antique appraiser is a trained and skilled professional who provides unbiased opinions of value,” a more thoughtful response is due.

As appraisers, we are expected to give valuation services competently and in a manner that is independent, impartial and objective.[1] Our professional code of ethics requires us to provide opinions of value that are both balanced and accurate. Therefore, we are cannot act as client advocates. So this means we cannot take sides or report predetermined values as facts, just to please a client. We must report our findings truthfully. Most importantly, we cannot accept an assignment, or have a compensation agreement for an assignment, that is contingent on the amount of a value opinion or assignment outcome. In other words, an appraiser cannot have a vested interest in the antique he or she is appraising.

This is what separates the appraisers from auctioneers. It is common practice for auctioneers to base their earnings on a percentage of a sale. However, an appraiser does not and cannot work that way. An appraiser cannot appraise “high” for insurance purposes, appraise “low” for estate tax purposes, and charge the client a percentage of the valuation. In short, an appraiser does not work on commission. It is perfectly acceptable for an auctioneer to inflate or deflate a presale estimate to raise interest in an upcoming sale. But it is unethical for an appraiser to knowingly skew results for a client’s benefit.

Let’s be clear here. We have nothing against auctioneers. Some of our best friends are auctioneers. But an appraiser is a different kind of professional. His duty to be fair, truthful, honest and accurate in his work extend beyond his immediate client. They extend to the intended users of his appraisal who have as much right to rely on the appraiser’s value as the person paying the invoice. And that is why you should hire a qualified appraiser.

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