Beware mail-order 'appraisers,' unscrupulous dealers, experts say

Eye for antiques: Randeen Cummings, a Eugene, Ore., appraiser, speaks Wednesday night during an estate seminar at the Mendenhall Center.

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2001

For those splitting the sheets in a divorce or disposing of Grandma's parlor suite, there are serious pitfalls to avoid, according to personal property appraisers at a local antique show.

William "Randy" Nelson and Randeen Cummings of Eugene, Ore., a husband-and-wife team called Cummings & Associates, are in Juneau this week making appearances during the Mendenhall Center's second Antiques and Collectibles Show.

Nelson advised collectors to make sure the "appraiser" they hire did not get his or her diploma through the mail.

In the United States, there are only 200 appraisers certified by the International Society of Appraisers. Becoming certified requires an apprenticeship that begins with nine days of intense class work, followed by testing, backed up by three years of public speaking, concluding with the choice of a specialty. Cummings is certified while Nelson is accredited, still working through his three years.

Nelson also said collectors need to understand there are several "values" for items. Appraisals might be made for insurance replacement; for estate sale, or fair market value; for probate purposes; or for equitable value - used in dividing an estate among heirs or in a divorce.

"We work with lawyers in divorce cases. We try to get both sides to use us as their unbiased mediators, and we're paid on an hourly basis," Nelson said. "You don't want to use an appraiser who is paid by percentage of the value of items, because you will get a high value. You have to be careful choosing an appraiser."

"In divorce cases, we structure our whole report to save the parties the step of going to court and challenging values," Cummings added.

Nelson and Cummings held an estate seminar Wednesday at the Mendenhall Center, which repeats from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. A $35 fee covers two items for appraisal.

The items discussed Wednesday ranged from a 1911 schooner to a leather-bound second edition of "Hiawatha."

Charles Seslar brought in a miniature bureau, a furniture salesman's sample. Cummings pronounced it "Eastlake style," probably made between 1890-95, of ash or chestnut. "People are crazy about salesman's samples," she said, estimating its value at $900 to $1,100.

Cummings thought Lady Jane Mulready's tin Humpty Dumpty bank was made about 1920-30.

"Because the stock market is down right now, it wouldn't be a good time to sell it, but tin toys are hot" over the long term, Cummings said. "It's considered both a tin toy and a still (nonmechanical) bank," so it has crossover appeal. It could fetch $150 and up.

Other items examined included a 1970s antler spirit carving from Greenland; a gold Edwardian sovereign case, a lozenge-shaped British locket used to hold a lady's change; a Victorian glove box with faux tortoise shell painting around the sides; and an Iowa pencil box embossed with professions on its cover.

When choosing someone to run an estate sale, Cummings advised asking for a resume, references and a written contract. Ask what value approach will be used and what form of advertising will be used - and who pays for it. "Ask about the advertising budget. And ask for examples of their advertising," she said. And make sure you will be allowed to attend the sale.

"To see the abuse in the field of estate appraisals is horrifying," said Cummings, an appraiser for 15 years and an antique dealer for more than 25. "You don't want a liquidator. You want an agent that will work with you and handle your grandmother's estate with respect. If you don't have a contract, you are dead meat. Liquidators may set the price too high for the sale, and then bulk the remainder out to a second-hand store.

"Just last week I talked to a dealer who bought a Barbie from a little old lady who needed money. She took $100. The dealer knew the doll was worth $2,000. Dealers should offer 40 to 60 percent of an item's worth," she said.



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