The Appraiser’s Diary: What’s the Difference Between an Appraisal and An Offer?

Rachel G. HoffmanBy Rachel Hoffman

As an appraiser that also works in the retail antique industry, the subject of what an “appraisal” is comes up a lot. I find that in my retail store, Turn of the Century Antiques on Antique Row, people come in or even email me quite often asking for an appraisal for their item.

What is an appraisal? There seems to be some confusion on that question and I am here to clear that up so if you are a consumer and are reading this, you will have a better idea of how to navigate the territory of selling your item and if you are a buyer, you can avoid unnecessary confusion and save yourself a lot of time. What is an “appraisal”? An appraisal is putting a value on something. It’s an opinion from a qualified individual for a piece of property – such as a tea set, piece of artwork, or even a piece of “real property”” which is real estate. There are several kinds of appraisals based on needs of the client. These can include appraisals needed for insurance, estate tax, or an insurance claim for a damaged item to replace the item. Sometimes you sim- ply need to know the fair market value of an item, and each one of those values are going to be different. When someone asks me for an appraisal, I have to then ask them what they want to DO with the appraisal. I would say 9x out of 10, when someone emails, calls, or comes in my shop and asks for an appraisal and I ask them my customary question back, I hear “I want to sell it.”

Let’s pretend we have a really nice Wallace Grande Baroque silver flatware from Grandma that someone brings into my store and asks me for an appraisal because they want to know what it is worth. Let’s pretend that it is in good condition, hardly used, and is a ser- vice for 8 people. After examining it, I might say, “The value for this item is $8,000.00.” The customer might get wide eyed and say, “Great, I will take it!” UH OH. Right there we have a miscommunication. Putting a value on something is not an offer to buy because that estimate could mean many things.

285340_fpxHere is an example of the different ways that an opinion of value can go for that same silver flatware set. I will go with three different scenarios: fair market value, insurance value, and offer to buy.

Fair Market Value: what the item would SELL for TODAy between a willing buyer and a willing seller, knowing all the relevant facts with no compulsion to buy or sell on say, a random Tuesday. This is the amount of CASH someone would spend today for a gently used set of flatware. This number would be around $3,500 for the Wallace Grande Baroque sterling set on the secondary market.

Replacement Value New: to insure the item and keep it in your home and the value would protect you in case of damage and you might have to replace it new. This number would be around $8,500 to REPLACE the 42 piece Grande Baroque set.

Offer to buy: Here is where things get sticky. I don’t wear my appraiser hat and dealer hats at the same time – ever. If someone wants an appraisal report, then I am wearing my appraiser hat and give them a true, unbiased report, with no intention to ever purchase the item. If someone wants to sell me something that I have to turn around and sell myself, I am now a dealer, not an appraiser. An honest dealer with overhead will generally offer you around half of what the fair market value is. This leaves them room for profit and the costs associated with selling the item such as running a brick and mortar store with employees or booth rent at an antique show. So for our scenario, it would be around half of $3,500 – so the offer to buy would be around $1,750.00 – $2,000.00 depending on the condition of the set. It always amuses me when customers ask me if I will pay them the same amount for their like item as I have mine priced in my own shop and I know it’s because a lot of people don’t understand and I simply explain it.

Let’s recap that Wallace 42 piece Grande Baroque Set:

Fair Market Value: $3,500.00 – what it would sell for Today on the secondary market in my shop.

Replacement Value New: $8,500.00 – what you would to replace the whole set, brand new.

Offer to buy: $1,750.00 – what I would pay you for ask from an insurance company your item and then turn around and sell it for the fair market value listed above.

Pretty wide range, huh? If you are a dealer and are wondering how to quickly qualify a person that “wants an appraisal” – ask them what they want to do with the appraisal. Usually they are looking for a fair offer to buy. If you are a consumer, just remember that when you ask for an appraisal, especially to someone who is also a certified appraiser, it’s like asking a hair dresser for a haircut. It’s a service. Not an offer to buy. Next time you are in the situation to sell something, maybe try saying, “I am looking to sell this item and would like a fair offer if you are interested.”

If you are wanting to sell your item, just do your homework first. That homework can be hiring someone to appraise your items and give you fair market values. If you have a lot of items, this knowledge is very important for you to have. As long as you know the tentative fair market value of your item, you can decide to sell it for an honest offer, which to a dealer, is going to be around 40-50% of the general selling price to the public or a collector. If you want the very highest price for your item, you will want to sell it yourself to the collector – which is hard. Dealers are networked in with the consumers so a lot of times, it’s just easier and less dramatic to sell to a dealer and be done with it. They can get higher prices than you can but they also have a lot of costs associated with getting that price. If you are computer savvy, you might be able to list the item on eBay or another website but keep in mind, you have to pay commissions to those sites.

Hopefully this helped clear up some of the crossed wires that happen a lot in our industry. As long as you know all of the facts, you can feel good about your decision and the role of the appraiser and dealer is to be honest and let you know the facts.

For more information or to get in contact with Rachel, visit her website at or email her at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *