Appraisers' Knowledge Base

Just to make sure all VTN appraisers are on the same page, here are several issues I want to highlight. To most of you, these are non-issues, but I just want to make sure. - Dave Maloney, Chief Appraisal Officer

#1 Use narrow range of values

#2 Message the client if need be

#3 Difference between replacement value (comparable) and fair market value

#4 Are you competent?

#5 Preface comments with “APPAISER’S COMMENTS:”

#6 Do not use other appraisals as a basis for your opinions of value

#7 Appraised value less than cost of the appraisal?

#8 Are you an appraiser or just a “box filler”?

#9 How to REJECT an assignment

#10 Editing a completed appraisal

#11 Misspellings, bad grammar and poor punctuation

#12 What is the difference between the two "Save" buttons at the bottom of the appraisal form?

#13 What is that notification at the bottom of the appraisal form regarding "insurance" for?

#14 Is there a minimum word count for the Comment dialog box?

#15 What is the Additional Extraordinary Assumptions box for?

#16 Do I forfeit my commission if the client complains?

#17 What do I do about fakes or reproductions?

#1 Use narrow range of values. USPAP permits us to provide a range of values. We feel a range of values is more helpful than a specific point value because a range reflects the realities of life. Ranges also provide clients with a negotiating tool if they have the need. But ranges are useless if they are not tight and narrow.

These ranges are excessive: 

  • $200 to $1500
  • $25 to $350
  • $2000 to $3500

These ranges are acceptable:

  • $200 to $275
  • $25 to $50
  • $2000 to $2300

Remember, a “range” of values does NOT mean all possible prices for the comparable market data you found. Discard the outliers.

Base your ranges NOT on all prices you know to occurred; rather base your range of values on “transactions that most commonly occurred or on asking prices most commonly observed being asked for a comparable property”.

But just because you observed an antique bookcase sell for $100 at a yard sale on one day and then a similar one sold for $850 at a regional auction house the next does NOT mean its range of value is $100 to $850! Throw out the anomalies and you will find its value more likely is between $350 and $450.

Loose ranges of value help no one, so we need to keep them as tight as possible. The appraiser has a responsibility to identify the property and its value-relevant characteristics. If insufficient information is provided, the appraiser needs to use the VTN messaging functionality to dialog with the client to get whatever information is needed in order to properly identify the property. If the client says she has a clock, then an appraiser might value it at $5 to $500,000—a useless and misleading bit of guesswork. If the client says she has a kitchen clock, then the appraiser might value it at between $50 and $200. We are getting closer. If the client says she has a pressed-oak kitchen clock in good working order, then the appraiser might value it at between $75 and $180. If the client says she has a Seth Thomas pressed-oak kitchen clock with alarm and original dial in good working order, then the appraiser might value it at between $150 and $170. This is a workable and credible range.

It is the responsibility of the appraiser to gather sufficient information to properly identify the subject property in order to render an opinion of value that is credible. Asking for more information is sometimes necessary to do this.

You are the appraiser. You have the knowledge and experience to use your judgment in reporting the range of values. Keep it as tight as possible, otherwise the report is of no use to the client.


#2 Message the client if need be. Each assignment appraisal form has the ability for the appraiser and client to message each other. The purpose of this messaging functionality is to enable the appraiser to quickly gather missing information that is necessary for the appraiser to identify the item and its value relevant characteristics, and, ultimately, to develop a credible opinion of value . “Please send an image of the mark,” or “Does it work properly?” Use this feature as necessary. Here is what the feature looks like:


#3 Difference between replacement value (comparable) and fair market value

All appraisals must include a range of both replacement value (comparable) as well as fair market value.

Replacement value (comparable) is the highest possible price you can assign. It should reflect what the client would have to pay for a property if purchased from a retail source where he or she most conveniently and customarily shops and from which he or she can purchase a replacement in a reasonable amount of time. This normally means what the client would pay as full retail price from a dealer or gallery, antique mall or co-op. This value level is used, for instance, when the client wishes to obtain insurance coverage for a high-value property or is claiming full replacement value on a damage claim.

Fair market value is what, in your judgment, a property would sell for within the market in which such items “most commonly” sell to the end user, i.e., to the consumer. The “most common” market could be a yard sale for little Johnnie’s used blue jeans or a local, regional, national of international auction house for antiques and collectibles. You decide. Appraisers use their best judgment and experience to identify the most common market. Then they use comparable market data from within that marketplace as a basis for their opinion of fair market value. For our purposes, assume that the most common market is a well-advertised auction.  So, you can normally consider fair market value as the amount an item would mostly likely sell for at auction. By the way, fair market value will ALWAYS be lower than replacement value (comparable).

Our system allows you to place a range of values in different fields for each type of value. Be sure to put each range of values in the field where it belongs. Do not put replacement values in the fair market value fields. Here is an example of the values entered properly by the appraiser:

By the way, value low-to-high and not high-to-low. Be sure to note correctly which of the above boxes contains the “minimum” amount and which contains the “maximum” amount. If you get it backwards, the report will tell the client that the range of replacement value is $500 to $400 instead of the correct $400 to $500.


#4 Are you competent? Do you really have the product knowledge required in each category of property for which you have signed up to appraise on Many of us have years of market-related experience during which time we have appraised many types of antiques and collectibles. Some of us are “specialists” who focus on only one or two property types such as Orientalia, clocks or firearms, but many of us (like me!) are also “generalists.” Generalists know about many types of property but often do not have in-depth knowledge of many of the property types we encounter. Generalists might do additional research to overcome their lack of competence, but they also often call upon specialists to assist when the need arises.

We at want your experience as appraisers as well as the experience of our clients to be as rewarding as possible. This comes about when appraisers are comfortable with their reports knowing that they are appraising only items with which they are proficient. And for the client, this happens when they receive an appraisal report that is professional and credible—and is one upon which they can rely.

To this end, I would like all appraisers to log into VTN and review the property-type categories you have selected to appraise. De-select those categories in which you do not feel yourself to be completely proficient.

On my end, I will be limiting the number of appraisers in certain categories that require only the most experienced and knowledgeable of appraisers to properly value. Orientalia, fine art, stamps and coins (which I certainly do not appraise) come to mind. As the number of appraisal requests in those categories increase, I will seek additional qualified appraisers in order to handle the load in those specific categories.

But at all times, before claiming an assignment, be sure that you are perfectly comfortable appraising the subject property type.


#5 Preface comments with “APPAISER’S COMMENTS:” Please preface edits you make to client-provided information with the words “APPRAISER’S COMMENTS:”

When you claim an appraisal assignment and begin completing the various fields, you will notice that many of the fields are pre-populated with ORIGINAL client-provided information. Some of the fields, on the other hand (including Additional Extraordinary Assumptions field and the Comments field) will be blank because those fields are only for the appraiser’s use and not the client’s. Other fields will also not be editable by the appraiser. An example is family history and dimensions. They have a gray background. But some of the other fields are pre-populated and are editable BY THE APPRAISER. These editable fields have a white background and include:

Approx. Date of Manufacture
Country of Origin

The reason you can edit these fields is not only to correct simple client typos are bad grammar, but also to enhance the information from your point of view. Other than for minor corrections such as for typos and bad grammar, whenever you add supplemental information please ADD the information to the content already provided by the client (prefacing it with the words “APPRAISER COMMENTS:”), but do not remove the client-provided information when doing so. Leave it there. Readers need to know what information the appraiser originally had to work with, minor typo corrections notwithstanding. If you modify that information, or delete it and replace it with your own content, then the original client-provided information is lost forever.

So, from now on, if you want to elaborate (such elaborations will usually occur, if at all, in the Description or the Condition field but might also occur in the Date of Manufacture field if you feel clarification is needed), simply preface the supplemental information you add to the dialog box with the words “APPRAISER’S COMMENTS:” as is done in the below example. Also include the words “APPRAISER’S COMMENTS:” in the Additional Extraordinary Assumptions as well as in the Comments field to ensure the reader knows that the content of both those fields was provided by the appraiser as opposed to the client.  In this manner the original client-provided information remains intact and there is clarity as to who said what.


#6 Do not use other appraisals as a basis for your opinions of value. On occasion, we appraisers run across comparable properties to the one we are appraising that have already been valued in the past by other appraisers.

Should we take the easy road out and value the property at hand for the same value arrived at by the other appraiser? The answer is a definite “No”.

There are so many problems with this odd approach to value that I do not know where to begin, but not knowing the other appraiser’s level of appraisal experience and knowledge comes quickly to mind. Not to mention his or her type and definition of value used, the scope of work of the earlier assignment, the comparable market data on which the earlier valuation was based, how outdated now is the earlier market data used and have marketplace conditions changed? etc., etc. Oh, it hurts just thinking about all the things that are wrong with such an approach.

And speaking of “approach.” Exactly what would you call such an appraisal methodology? In real life, there are only three approaches to value: the sales comparison approach (which we appraisers use most of the time - and ALL the time for, the income approach and the cost approach. What would you call using past appraisals as your basis for value? The “past appraisal” approach? And exactly how many of your appraiser peers do you think would agree that it was appropriate to use a FOURTH approach to value that you simply made up and that is not recognized within the appraisal industry?

(BTW, I have run across something similar—appraisers using court monetary awards as an indication of value of a disputed property! Ugh!)

Stick to doing your own market data research in order to identify current comparable market data on which to base your opinions of value.


#7 Appraised value less than cost of the appraisal? Just because you determine that the value of the item being appraised is near to or less than the client's appraisal fee is not a reason to reject the assignment. Go ahead with the appraisal.

Our Terms of Service to which the client agrees states in Section 6:

"On occasion the appraised value of the subject property may be less than the appraisal fee. As noted in Section 8 below, the Company is not obligated to refund the appraisal fee merely because the appraised value is less than the Client's appraisal cost."

In addition, Section 8 states:

"8. Refunds

The Company:

  • ...
  • Will not refund the Client's appraisal fee merely because the subject property was valued at less than the appraisal fee."

So, do not hesitate to appraise items even if their values are nominal.


#8 Are you an appraiser or just a “box filler”? It is critical that appraisers go the extra mile to provide meaningful narratives to appraisal requests. This is particularly important for “Full” appraisals in which the client is paying a lot more money for a lot more information. But even the “Light” versions of our appraisals should contain meaningful information even though the client was charged less.

Below is an example of a great looking “Full” appraisal report. Note that the client provides little in the way of description or date or condition. The APPRAISER’S COMMENTS added to those boxes greatly enhance the report and made it much more meaningful. Whenever possible, please do the same. Never delete client-provided information and be sure to preface your remarks in boxes to which you add information with “APPRAISER’S COMMENT:” so the reader can tell which information was provided by the client and which by the appraiser. And be sure to explain any assumptions you are making in the Extraordinary Assumptions box. And be generous with your Comments box. Add extra information that you feel a collector would find interesting regarding the property. History? How it was used? How to care for it or store it? What club to join to learn more? etc.

Customers will feel cheated unless our appraisers make it apparent that they are extremely knowledgeable about the property type being appraised (do not claim an assignment unless you are!) and that the appraiser is making a concerted effort to meet the client’s need for information.


#9 How to REJECT an assignment. On occasion you will see an item that has been submitted that SHOULD NOT be appraised online. A case in point is a recent Rolex watch that is often faked. You might also find that you claimed an assignment without first reviewing it closely enough before “Claiming” it.

In both these cases you should REJECT the assignment. Here is how to do that. You will already have CLAIMED the assignment. Once claimed:

STEP 1: After logging in click to EDIT the assignment. The appraisal form will appear.
STEP 2: Scroll all the way to the bottom of the form and you will see the rejection functionality. It looks like this:

STEP 3: Check the little box. A REASON dialog box will appear. It looks like this:

STEP 4: Enter your reason for rejecting the assignment. Be as specific as possible.
STEP 5: When done, click on the “Save and update appraisal” button. A notification will be sent to Admin who will then take it from there. DO NOT click on the other button which will send the rejection notice to the client instead!

That is it. Admin will then take over and contact the client regarding the rejection making use of the reason you provided.


#10 Editing a completed appraisal. Sometimes we need to change an appraisal that has already been completed. Maybe you mistakenly reversed the values or maybe your value range was excessive. Maybe you found more interesting information that you would like to add. Maybe you noticed a typo or a grammatical mistake.

If you need to do so, log back in and select your appraisal. Click on the Edit button and make your changes. If need be, click on the “Check to notify client of edit” check box and then click on the green "Save and update appraisal" button. Do not tick off the check box for a minor change such as a typo. But if you change values or make significant corrections to the item description or if you add more narrative to the Comment box, then check off this box. Doing so will inform the customer by email that a change has been made.


#11 Misspellings, bad grammar and poor punctuation. Nothing destroys the credibility of an appraisal report like misspelling, bad grammar and poor punctuation. Double and triple check. Some browsers have built-in spell checkers. Some do not. Copy/paste into Word if need be.


#12 What is the difference between the two "Save" buttons at the bottom of the appraisal form? At the bottom of the appraisal form is a check box and two green buttons as shown below:

Use the checkbox ONLY if you intend on suggesting to Admin that the appraisal be rejected. Rejection is the subject of another topic in the FAQ. Normally, you will NOT use this checkbox.

The "Save and update appraisal" button is used should you wish to take a break and come back to the assignment at a later time. Another good use for this button is to save your work after you have put a lot of effort into it. Doing so will preserve your work in case, say, of a power outage when your work might be lost. So, use this button frequently as you are working on the assignment to help ensure you do not loose your work.

The "Save and submit appraisal to Client" button is used only when when you are completely done with the assignment. After reviewing your input and checking spelling and grammar carefully, click this button to complete the assignment. Doing so will send the finished report to the client. It will also change the status of the report to "Complete." Note that should you need to Edit a "Completed" report, you still can do so. Editing a completed report is the subject of another topic in this FAQ.


13 What is that notification at the bottom of the appraisal form regarding "insurance" for? Sometimes the intended use of the appraisal is to help settle an insurance claim. In such cases, the customer will note that when submitting his appraisal request. You are notified that the intended use is for insurance claims purposes by the display at the bottom of the appraisal similar to this:

Since this is an insurance claim appraisal, your comments need to address issues relating to the claimed damage that will be helpful to adjusters when trying to determine an equitable settlement. Of course, replacement cost (comparable) will be important in such claims. Also, your comments and additional extraordinary assumptions should address such issues that will have relevance to the parties involved in settling the claim such as pre-existing damages. Not seeing any in the photos, perhaps you will want to make the extraordinary assumption that there are none.

Note in the above that the item's location is also provided in case that information is helpful to the appraiser.


#14 Is there a minimum word count for the Comment dialog box? If the assignment is a "Light (short) appraisal," then there is no minimum word count. BUT. If the assignment is for a "Full (long) appraisal," then there is. This is because for a Full appraisal the client has paid a lot more money (and the appraiser is also compensated a greater amount) and expects a lengthy narrative regarding the subject property.

In the case of Full appraisal, you will see a red warning when you begin to process the appraisal form. It will look like this:

Note in the above that the required minimum word count for the Comment box is 100 words. Most appraisers even double that! As you prepare your Comment, a word counter will display:


#15 What is the Additional Extraordinary Assumptions box for? Extraordinary assumptions are assumptions the appraiser MUST make in order for him or her to continue with the analysis. Assuming that areas of the object not visible in the photographs are in good condition is an example. Assuming that an object made of a silver-looking metal material containing unusual hallmarks is not sterling silver is another example of an extraordinary assumption.

Did you know that the body of all our appraisals already contains some basic extraordinary assumptions? Expand a complete appraisal and scroll down through all that text. You will find that every appraisal contains the following extraordinary assumptions by default:

Extraordinary Assumptions:

  • I made the extraordinary assumptions that the property did exist and that its identity and value-relevant characteristics were as stated by the client.
  • Unless otherwise noted, I am assuming that the areas of the subject property not visible in the images provided are in excellent condition.
  • While I assume the information provided to be accurate, I am unable to verify the acquisition source, provenance or family history of the item as stated by the client.

So, there are the default extraordinary assumptions. But did you make others in the course of the assignment at hand? If so, you must disclose them in the Additional Extraordinary Assumptions box. This is important in order to ensure that the assignment is understandable and not misleading.

One more thing: when the clients submit their appraisal requests, they do not see or have access to either the Comment field or the Additional Extraordinary Assumptions field. Only the appraiser has access to those two fields. Only after the assignment as been completed do those two fields become visible to the client and other readers of the report. But those two important fields are only accessible for editing by the appraiser.


#16 Do I forfeit my commission if the client complains? Please refer to the Appraisal Provider Agreement, section 2.6.1 which states:

Client Refund Policy. VTN offers its customers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If VTN is unable to achieve that goal, VTN refunds the customer’s payment in full. Should the customer’s payment be refunded, the claiming appraiser’s assignment commission will be forfeited. Customer complaints received by VTN will be forwarded to the claiming appraiser. It is incumbent upon the appraiser to communicate with the customer in an expeditious manner (either via the VTN system messaging functionality or by email) in order to resolve the matter. Based on communications with the client, the appraiser should modify the completed appraisal report as necessary to add clarity, improve understandability or change values if the appraiser feels it appropriate to do so. Appraisers must have a sound basis for any changes made to the assignment results. When the matter has been finalized, the appraiser will so advise VTN admin via email to as to the outcome. Note that the appraiser commission will not be forfeited if the customer's only remaining unresolved complaint involves a disagreement with the appraiser's value conclusions.


#17 What do I do about fakes or reproductions? Some types of antiques and collectibles are notorious for being faked with the intent to deceive. There are also many different types of reproductions which, while not originally produced with the intent to deceive, often end up doing just that. While Section 5 VTN's Client Terms of Service requires the client to acknowledge that the submitted item is neither a fake nor reproduction (and to inform the appraiser if the client is not sure), it is the appraiser's responsibility to address the issue of genuineness if it is a matter for concern. It is also the appraiser's responsibility to communicate with the customer via VTN's messaging functionality to gather additional information as deemed necessary in order to clarify to the best of the appraiser's ability issues relating to questionable authenticity. To make the report more understandable, should such an issue arise, you might wish to add to the Additional Extraordinary Assumptions field of the report a statement something to the effect, "Based on the information provided to me by the client, I am assuming that the subject property is genuine."