Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Quagmire of Value

QUESTION: I just inherited a lovely old armoire from my mother. As we were taking stock of her things, an antique dealer, who had come to look at some other items, told me he’d give me $1,000 for it. I really love the piece and am not considering selling it, but I would like to know its value. Can you help me?

ANSWER: While the answer to this person’s question may sound simple, in fact, it’s far from it. What type of value does she mean–retail value, insurance replacement value, fair-market value, auction value, or cash value? In the end, each of these values will be a different amount. Other factors determining value are age and condition. So where to begin.

Let’s start with retail value. This is the price for which an antiques dealer expects to sell an item after marking it up from the price the dealer paid for it in order to make a profit. This amount can  be anywhere from 20 to100 percent of the dealer’s purchase price.

The amount of money it would take to replace an item from a antiques shop or online if it were lost, stolen, or damaged is called the insurance replacement value.

The price that an item would sell for on the open market between a willing buyer and a willing seller is known as the fair-market value. This is also the value that’s used when an item is donated to a charity or is part of someone’s estate.

And when someone puts an item up for auction, the price that an appraiser feels the item should bring at auction, based on comparison of like items and recent other auction sales, is known as the auction value, but has nothing do with the actual value of the item.

However, being told something is worth a specific value is meaningless if the appraiser doing the appraisal has no knowledge of the item itself or the market for it. And auction prices, such as those eBay are not an indicator of true "worth," since many of these sales prices are inflated many times over in the heat of bidding up an item. And a verbal appraisal is worth nothing without a written one to back it up, especially in the case of settling an estate.

To learn more about how to value your antiques and collectibles, read my article, “What’s It Worth?,” on my antiques Web site, The Antiques Almanac. 

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