By Sarah McCullom

          You have decided it is time to get your estate in order, and one of the things you are doing is getting an appraisal of your personal property.  As you look for and hire an appraiser, consider the importance of ethics in the profession.

          The word ethics derives from the Greek work ethos which means character or disposition.The dictionary defines ethics as “a system of moral principles or values”.Ethics is important to the profession of personal property appraisal, particularly since the profession is not regulated by the government. That is, personal property appraisers are not required to be licensed by the state or federal governments. Instead, the profession works very hard to regulate itself.“Professional appraisal ethics go beyond rules, obligations, sanctions and discipline. They are a statement of identity, reflecting the changes in appraisal practice that have transformed the vocation from a business occupation to a profession.” (Appraisal of Personal Property, by the American Society of Appraisers (ASA), p. 4) Additionally, the profession has developed the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice.(USPAP)These are the guidelines that professional appraisers use to prepare an appraisal.

          John Alico in his article “Appraisal Ethics” discusses that the appraiser’s prime concern is the estimation of value, and the importance of judgment in that estimation.This judgment is guided by ethics and standards.What this means to you is that while you are paying the appraiser, his/her first allegiance is to an ethical determination of the value of the piece – not to what you may want the value to be.The Appraisal of Personal Property (p. 5) states that the appraiser’s primary duty and responsibilities are to “determine and describe the apposite value/cost with competence and due diligence, ethically and with an awareness of fiduciary responsibilities”. 

          All appraisers of personal property at some time or another have had a client who becomes upset when the value is not what they expected or wanted.An appraiser who is doing his or her job though, will make it clear that their requirement is to estimate the value as they see it through research of the appropriate market, not to pleasing the client. This is the reason why most appraisers request payment before the client receives their report. This will preclude the perception that the appraiser may have been coerced to give the client the value they wanted or they would not be paid.

          In addition, appraisers have a responsibility to their client to protect their confidentiality, give them competent service, honest testimony and deal in good faith.A good appraiser will provide “due diligence” in the research and preparation of the report. This means that the appraiser uses recognized principles, methods and considerations in the development of the value and report.This includes the appropriate type of value and methodology, as well as consideration of the scope and required expertise.(The Appraisal of Personal Property, p. 5)

          So, how do you know if the appraiser you have hired will conduct the appraisal in an ethical manner, and in accordance with USPAP?The easiest way is to insure that your appraiser is affiliated with one of the three major appraisal organizations:
American Society of Appraisers
International Society of Appraisers
Appraisers Society of America
Affiliation with one of these organizations means that he/she has had training in ethics and in USPAP. Additionally, however, be sure to check references and credentials.

          An accurate and professional report from a qualified appraiser is an important element in getting your estate in order, whether it is for yourself or your heirs.It will give you peace of mind and is essential when doing estate planning. You need to not only make sure you have enough life insurance and investments for the future, but you need to know the value of your tangible estate, and protect it as well.




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