Personal property appraisals

By Christine Barlow

FC&S Online


While at this time of year many people start thinking about Christmas presents and how to pay for them, many don't give a thought as to making changes to their insurance coverage. However, if a couple gets engaged, there is usually a diamond ring to insure, and many others may receive cameras, golf equipment, or furs that need more coverage than the basic homeowner policy provides. An important part of scheduling these items is documentation of their value; a simple receipt isn't acceptable for most carriers. So what is proper documentation for scheduled personal property? An appraisal is required in most instances, but not all appraisals are created equal.

Appraisals vary depending on the item being appraised; a gun appraisal contains different information than an appraisal on a diamond ring. It's important to have a completed appraisal by a certified expert for the item being insured so that in case of loss, the property can be properly replaced. Let's take a look at just what makes a good appraisal.

The appraisal

The point of an appraisal of any object is to describe the object and provide and estimation of its worth. Therefore, the more detail, the better. An item can't be replaced without specific details of exactly what it was, including substance, quality, workmanship, age, and other factors. Specific information is also required for certain items. Jewelry appraisals contain information that would make no sense on an appraisal for a fur piece, and vice versa.

It is also important to have the appraisal performed by an appropriate expert; someone who generally appraises guns is probably not the best choice for appraising antique furniture. There are standards set by various organizations as to what constitutes a qualified expert and a legitimate appraisal; we will look at some of these factors by category.

Jewelry

Because of jewelry's popularity, you would think all stores provide a similar appraisal form. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are several key factors that need to be indicated in a jewelry appraisal; a receipt that states a 1.4 carat diamond set in 14k gold is valued at $12,000 does not provide enough information. When dealing with diamonds, cut, color, clarity, and carat weight are critical factors in determining the quality and value of the stone. It is not sufficient to simply state that the stone is round; the proportions of the cut are a factor of quality. The dimensions of the table, depth of stone, thickness of girdle, and existence of culet are all important factors to know in case a claim exists and a stone needs to be replaced. A proper appraisal will contain this information, as well as a map of flaws, if any, that exist in the stone.

Similar characteristics exist for other gems. For example pearls need to have the luster, size of pearl, type (freshwater or saltwater), color, and shape described. Emeralds may be oiled to improve appearances, and can be synthetic or natural. The origin of the stone will make a difference in the value of the item. The depth of the color is important; some stones are more valuable the darker they are, while some are more valuable when they are a moderate shade; it all depends on the gem.

Appraisers themselves should be certified; the Gemological Institute of America and American Gem Society provide training and certification of appraisers.

Furs

Furs come from a variety of animals and the values range greatly. A proper fur appraisal will indicate the type of animal, whether or not is has been dyed to look like a different type of animal, area of origin, condition of the garment, manufacturer, and square inches of fur surface. Furs wear more than gems, and it is important that they be stored properly off-season. They need to have air space in the closet and need to be conditioned annually. Furs depreciate rapidly, so appraisals should be updated regularly. Any reputable furrier can create an appraisal for an insured.

Antique furniture

Because of the variety of items this category covers, it is one of the harder categories to appraise. The popularity of Antiques Roadshow has many people reconsidering that old chest of grandma's that has been left in the spare bedroom for years. As with any appraisal, detail is the key. Is the piece of European or American origin, what time period is it from, what is the type of wood, has it been repaired, restored, or refinished, and what kind of wear or damage exists are key bits of information that need to be identified. One of the biggest questions is where to find a reputable appraiser; the American Society of Appraisers is one of the leading organizations of professional appraisers and maintains a list of reliable appraisers. Training is also offered and the society maintains a set of standards and code of ethics.

Fine arts

Fine arts are another extremely broad category and bring up the issue of fine arts versus collectibles. Just because someone collects an item doesn't make it a fine art, even if it does have a significant value. Fine arts are just that; works of art with some historic or artistic significance that requires specific skill to create and is often rare or unique. Fine arts are not mass-produced; collectibles are, even though they may become rarer over time, such as certain baseball cards or comic books. Both at one time were mass-produced. Picasso painted many pictures, but he did not produce hundreds of copies of the same scene. Works by known painters or sculptors such as Rembrandt or Rodin are fine arts. Works such as Hummel or Lladro figurines, as pretty as they may be, are merely collectibles. Collectibles can carry great value, however, and many carriers will allow them to be scheduled as well. It depends on the carrier's underwriting criteria. Collectibles need to be valued in order to be scheduled, so appraisals are needed for them as well. Because of the popularity of many collectibles, there tend to be societies of collectors that can guide an insured to a reputable source for an appraisal of some sort.

These are just a few categories of frequently scheduled items. However they show the level of detailed information needed about any item being appraised. The more detail, the better. Age, origin, type of material, condition, manufacturer, rarity, and overall quality of the piece are important pieces of information that must be documented.