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Are the Services Really Free?

Posted Feb 06, 2014
Written by Fran Zeman
Category General

As an appraiser, there have been times when a past, present or potential client informs me that our services will not be needed because they are having an appraisal that is being done for “free”. It’s almost impossible to combat the promise of getting something for nothing, no matter how savvy the client and how long-lasting the relationship has been.  We undertake many auxiliary services at no charge or at a nominal fee for past and current clients; these services are “arm’s length” and objective, not based on the premise of greed. 

If an entity offers to provide professional consulting or appraisal services for no fee, there will usually be a catch.  Perhaps with luck, the information provided will be dependable; but in most cases it should be questioned. Trolling for art and objects to sell is part of what auction houses do; they are very adept at this and can afford to assign values to properties without charging a fee, especially if this activity endears them to the property owner and leads to a future (generally commission-based) sale.  The big questions are: is the “number accurate” and would it be defensible in court. Past and more recent tax court litigation shows negative judicial comments made about supporting valuations. Also be wary of well-meaning dealers who offer to provide appraisals for free as a service to their clients.  While this practice may be acceptable for insurance coverage, it is not so for estate and other tax matters.
Professionals in the art world should work in tandem: start with an independent consultation and assessment of the valuation question/needs. Consider the possibility that having a vested interest (present or future) in the properties being appraised may considerably undermine objectivity. Seek the opinion of an independent, professional and qualified appraiser who will provide services pertinent to your goals based on a complete market snapshot, not greed.