Why Having Your Art Appraised is a Good Idea
Advantages of Professional Art Pricing
ArtBusiness.com is a consumer resource website for artists, collectors, people who own original art, people involved professionally with art, and anyone else with a love of or interest in art. The site receives thousands of requests for art price information annually and provides all manner of appraisal services so people can intelligently buy, sell, trade, price, insure, donate, value for legal purposes, or otherwise engage in transactions that involve original works of art. The following information about art prices is for anyone who wonders what the advantages are to having your art professionally priced or valued versus going it on your own. Many people think they can accurately understand and price art regardless of their knowledge about how the art market works, but that's simply not the case. Casual conversations about how much art may or may not to be worth are fine but when things get serious, art appraisers, consultants or advisors actually have knowledge and experience worth paying for.
To begin with, the art business is totally unregulated. Anyone can call themselves an art dealer, anyone can call themselves an artist, anyone can open an art gallery, anyone can sell whatever they feel like selling and call it art, and anyone can price their so-called art however they please. As long as they don't engage in fraud or misrepresentation and operate within the law it's all good. They can arbitrarily price a work of art at $1000, $10000, $100,000 or more whether it makes any sense or not. Believe it; it's true. In addition, all kinds of non-traditional transactions happen outside of gallery settings, particularly between private parties, and that's where art appraisers and advisors come in really handy. They're more than capable of determining fair market values no matter what the circumstances and providing the most up-to-date accurate price information available.
Let's say you either inherit or have owned art for years or even decades and decide to sell. Without current appraisals, you make an easy target for unscrupulous buyers who might tell you it's worth one thing when it's really worth much more. You have no idea what your it's worth; they do. So for them, taking advantage is simply a matter of gaining your trust. You can sell way too cheaply without any idea you're doing so, and the bad news is that if you do, you have little or no recourse for recouping your losses. Appraisers and consultants protect you from these kinds of unfortunate outcomes.
Think you can appraise art yourself? Think again. Figuring out how much art is worth and then whether to buy, sell, donate or trade based on those prices is by no means an easy task for people who don't know how the art business works. Art appraisers evaluate art prices in much the same way stock brokers evaluate stock prices or real estate brokers evaluate home prices. An experienced art appraiser researches and analyzes specifics pertaining to the art itself, the artist's background information, and the current markets and trends for that art before determining how much it's worth. Typical research includes assessing the artist's resume and career accomplishments, reviewing the artist's recent auction and gallery sales histories, and evaluating qualities of the art itself including it's size, subject matter, detail, level of craftsmanship, ownership history, age, condition, how it compares to other works by that artist, and so on. We're talking specifics here, way more than simply looking at the art and pulling a number out of a hat.
If you're not experienced at pricing art, contact an appraiser or advisor anytime you have questions about value. This is no different than consulting a doctor if you have a medical question or an attorney if you have a legal question. Paying a few dollars for accurate art price information up front can easily save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars later. Believe it; it's true. Here are some additional pointers to help you decide if, when and how to use appraisers in "art and money" situations:
** If you're an artist, an appraiser or similar professional familiar with your type of art can help you make sure your prices are in line with your market. Sensible selling prices make it easier to make sales. Appraisers can also show you how to explain your prices to anyone who asks. It's always easier to sell art to people who understand what kind of value they're getting for their money.
** If you own original art and have never had it appraised or you lack current price information, have an appraiser value it, at least for insurance purposes should the art ever get damaged or stolen.
** Avoid getting appraisals from whoever sold you the art. A gallery that sells you a work of art, for example, has an obvious conflict of interest, and a tendency to appraise high in order to make that art, the artist and their gallery look as good as possible. You need values from someone with no conflicts of interest.
** Avoid free appraisals. Free appraisals are rarely free. Please, for your own good, avoid free art appraisals. At worst, they can turn out to be far more costly than paid appraisals.
** Use an experienced art appraiser to value your art. Don't use your friend who's an artist or your aunt who has a booth at the local antique mall.
** Update appraisals every three to five years or before changing the disposition or ownership of any work of art you own. Art prices fluctuate over time. Updating appraisals is mainly done for insurance purposes.
** Beware of art price guides, auction records, online art prices or art price databases and other art price references if you don't know how to use them. They're fine for informal or entertainment purposes, but unless you know how to analyze and extrapolate their data, you risk seriously mis-pricing your art.
** Unless you know what your art is worth, never accept spontaneous or unsolicited cash offers from anyone who wants to buy it. These kinds of offers are usually low. Get current market values first.
** If you're not an experienced collector, get an appraiser's or advisor's opinion before buying works of art from dealers or galleries you don't know or have never done business with before, especially if you're shopping online at either fixed price or auction sites where you may not even be sure who the real seller is.
** If you're not an experienced collector, get an appraiser's or advisor's opinion before buying art by artists whose names, artwork, or market histories you're not that familiar with. Knowing the artist's name or maybe reading an article or two is not nearly enough.
** Get an appraiser's or advisor's opinion no matter what kinds of art bargains sellers tell you that you're about to get, even when they seem to have price information that proves it. Remember-- they want to sell whatever they're selling for as much money as possible.
** Unless you're an experienced auction bidder and buyer, ask an appraiser or advisor to inspect art you're thinking about buying before you bid on it. This is especially true when buying at online auctions. Online auctions can be extremely risky places to buy art.
** No matter what kind of art buying situation you find yourself in, if you're not 100% sure what you're doing, ask an appraiser or advisor any questions you have about the art, artist, or circumstances surrounding the purchase before you buy, not after. You'd be amazed how many people don't ask questions until after they've spent hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars. And by then it can be way too late. Saving your money in advance is far easier than trying to get it back after you spend it.
** Never give away, throw out or otherwise get rid of any art you own, no matter how bad you think it is, what you think of the person who gave it to you, what condition it's in or how unimportant you think the artist is. Always have an experienced professional inspect and evaluate it first.
(art by Nick Ervinck)
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