Last updated on July 6th, 2023 at 10:02 pm

If you aren’t a professional art appraiser, it’s hard to tell how much your art is worth. You may need an official written appraisal before selling your art in an auction or estate sale, paying estate taxes, donating it to a nonprofit, or buying insurance.

An appraiser can help you learn more about the art you own, including what to expect if you sell it or need to pay taxes. Read on to learn more about the appraisal process.

What Does an Art Appraiser Do?

An art appraiser estimates the value of a work of art by researching its maker, history, condition, rarity, the current market for similar works, and other characteristics. They use a wide variety of research methods and resources, like auction records, private sales records, books, photographs, and samples of other art.

A qualified art appraiser usually has a designation from a professional appraiser organization like the International Society of Appraisers (ISA). They must know how to meet IRS requirements and defend their appraisal in writing and before a court of law.

People often hire appraisers to analyze their art for insurance purposes, inheritance taxes, or before selling the art in an estate sale or auction. An outside opinion from a professional carries a lot of weight, especially if someone later claims damage or loss. A valid written appraisal will help you prove the value of your art and get reimbursed if the art is lost.

If you need an art appraisal in Seattle, reach out for a free 30-minute consultation with Fruitcocktail Collectables. We provide expert art appraisals for many different situations, including appraisals of paintings, sculptures, photography, and other works of art.

Types of Art Appraisals

There are several types of appraisals that often result in different values. Some of the most common types of art appraisals are:

  • Replacement Value. The replacement value is the cost of replacing your work of art with a similar work in similar condition. It is typically used for insurance purposes, and it is usually a higher value than you would see in other types of appraisals. Replacement values are based on recent retail prices for comparable works advertised by galleries.
  • Fair Market Value. The fair market value is the value used for estate taxes. It’s the most probable price by which a piece of property would exchange hands between a willing buyer and willing seller. It assumes that neither the buyer nor the seller are under compulsion, that both have a reasonable knowledge of the facts, and the sale is made to the public in the most relevant market given the location of the property. The FMV is often used for charitable donations and inheritance taxes on property bequeathed to an heir. The evaluation is primarily based on records from previous auctions and sales of comparable pieces.
  • Marketable Cash Value: The marketable cash value is the net amount a seller can expect to receive after paying all costs associated with the sale, including auctioneer or broker commissions, advertising, transportation, and photography.

There are other types of appraised values, like Actual Cash Values (which describe the amount an insured person would receive in the event of a loss) and Liquidation Values (which are used when someone is forced to sell under limited conditions and time constraints).

If you aren’t sure what kind of appraisal value you need for a piece of art in Seattle, please request a consultation with us.

The Art Appraisal Process

Before the art appraisal

Art appraisals often involve quite a bit of time and research. Your appraiser will need to do a thorough inspection and sort through a lot of documentation before they can prepare a written appraisal report.

If you want to make life easier for your appraiser and reduce unnecessary costs, we recommend taking these steps early on:

  • Choose the items to be appraised. If you have an entire home or estate full of things to sell, you might be tempted to have an appraiser look over everything. Appraising a house full of items is usually cost-prohibitive, so it’s generally better to appraise only the items you think may have gained value over time. Check out our previous post about whether your art is valuable if you aren’t sure what is worth appraising.
  • Find a qualified appraiser. Schedule an initial consultation with a local company accredited by the ISA, or another well-known appraisal organization. Your appraiser should be licensed and insured in your state, and they should be clear about their fee structure.
  • Explain your goals. There is more than one type of valuation for art. For many works, the auction value, marketable cash value, and replacement value will all be different numbers. The ISA defines market value as the price a buyer will likely pay and a seller will likely receive in a market at a specific time, so the value of your art depends partly on how you intend to sell, insure, or donate it.
  • Take photos. Appraisers need clear photographs of the front and back of the entire piece of art. Pictures alone are generally not enough to assess the value of a work of art, but they give the appraiser a better sense of what they are appraising.
  • Take measurements. For paintings and other framed works, the appraiser will need to know the size of the frame and the size of the canvas (without the frame).
  • Collect documents. Your appraiser will need to see any documents that could add insight into your item’s history or value, like past appraisal records, invoices, receipts, restoration reports, book references, and other related documents.
  • Finalize the appraisal plans. Make sure you and your appraiser are on the same page about appraisal-related tasks, payment, and whether or not you are using a full appraisal contract.
  • Organize and prepare the art for evaluation. Make your art easy to see and access. Before the appraiser comes, remove it from the wall or display place. Place small, fragile items on a towel or other padding on a table. If you are getting multiple items appraised, organize them in an area with plenty of light and power. You may also want to clear a work surface and chairs for the appraiser, or let the appraiser know if they need to bring their own working table.

During the Art Appraisal

You should be available to work with the appraiser during the inspection. The appraiser will need you to show them where your work of art is and answer questions about the items’ history, including any undocumented information you may have.

After the inspection, your appraiser will research auction records, private sales records, and other details about comparable art. They will also do more research on the history of your work of art and any past exhibitions. They may have post-inspection questions for you, so be sure to check your email, phone, and other provided contact info during this time.

Factors that affect the value of art

Art that was created by a well-known artist or has unique cultural value tends to be more financially valuable. However, several other factors can come into play:

  • Whether a painting is genuine or a print
  • Whether a print is rare, signed, or part of a special edition
  • Rare or challenging artistic techniques
  • The quality of materials used
  • Antique frames
  • Whether a work is representative of the artist’s style or created during a specific stage of their career
  • The subject of the work
  • The size of the work
  • The condition, including whether the work has been restored
  • The provenance (history of ownership), especially if a famous person previously owned the work
  • Market trends
  • The purpose of the appraisal

After the Art Appraisal

Once the appraisal is complete, you will get a written document that shows the value of your art. You can use it to sell or donate the art, or you can use it to protect your investment in case the art is stolen or lost in a natural disaster.

Some professional appraisers ask for payment after the inspection, while others charge the full fee after completing the appraisal report. Ideally, you and the appraiser should have agreed on a fee and payment schedule before the appraisal.

If you have questions about the appraisal process and live in the Pacific Northwest, reach out for consultation with Fruitcocktail Collectables. We have provided art appraisals in the Seattle area for over 20 years.

What the Owner Can Expect to Gain From an Art Appraisal

A valid written appraisal document should include:

  • A description of the art. The description should be detailed and accurate with measurements and photos.
  • A statement of reason. Appraisals are generally done for a specific reason, such as preparation for a sale, donation, or estate/inheritance taxes for the IRS. This reason should be documented.
  • A statement of limiting conditions. Appraisal findings are always subject to limiting conditions, contingencies, and liabilities which should be listed in the appraisal document.
  • A description of the appraisal method. There should be a description and explanation of the appraisal method(s) used.
  • A statement of the appraiser’s disinterest. The appraiser should not have a personal or financial interest in the work of art or any parties involved.
  • A notation of the art’s condition. The written appraisal should note any damage to the art, regardless of whether it occurred because of negligence, natural disasters, or the passage of time.
  • A summary of provenance. If possible, the appraisal should discuss the previous owners of the work.
  • Additional commentary. An appraisal will usually include additional commentary about the valuation factors that were considered and how the art fits into the artist’s market.
  • A certificate of appraisal, the appraiser’s qualifications, and the appraiser’s code of ethics. Many appraisers practice under the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).
  • The appraiser’s signature and a note of any dissenting opinions. If you request evaluations from more than one appraiser, they may have different opinions that should be noted in the appraisal document.

Art Appraisal in Seattle

Fruitcocktail Collectibles is an ISA-accredited, licensed, bonded, and insured appraisal company based in Seattle. We have been helping clients throughout the Greater Seattle area with high-quality appraisals, estate sales, consignment, auctions, and more for over 20 years.

We appraise art, antiques, jewelry, and other valuables for a wide range of situations, including:

  • Estate taxes
  • Estate planning and equitable distribution
  • Probate
  • Divorce
  • Trust inventory

We guarantee that we will meet every requirement to help you accurately determine the value of your belongings. We understand that clients’ needs can vary, and we do our best to accommodate every unique situation.

If you are looking for an experienced Seattle appraiser with a well-trained eye, contact us today for a free consultation.