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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Defense of Specialists and Specialty Studies Committee

When asked about the purpose and function of ISA’s Specialty Studies Committee (SSC), I simply recite what has become a mantra: “No one can know everything…” 

I usually follow with an analogy comparing doctors to appraisers.  You have a problem:  you have a headache, fever, your throat hurts, your neck is swollen, and it hurts to swallow.  Although a general physician may diagnose your infected tonsils, (hopefully) he/she will not remove them.  Instead, a competent doctor will refer a surgeon.  Your problem is solved, not by one doctor, but by a team of specialists.

The same is true for appraisers.  The competent general household contents appraiser refers specialists for certain properties--the gems and jewelry appraiser for the Cartier ring, the machinery and equipment appraiser for the 1952 Mercedes Gullwing, and the fine art appraiser for the Dali prints.  Certain properties have subtle market complexities that require more than comparables (or an internet connection), but also a certain amount of expertise and experience that only specialists can provide.

But there is a corollary to my mantra:  “No one wants to know what they don’t know…”  One of the more difficult tasks for the competent appraiser is to know when to refer a specialist.  Sometimes we are tempted to appraise property that may require a specialist, but convince ourselves that we can perform it, by rationalizing that, “I’m saving the client time and money by doing it myself.”  But because we don’t have immediate knowledge of an object/artist/market/etc., we have to spend extra time trying to access it, and that time adds up.  In our efforts to save a client time and money, we may cost them those very things.  Then, not only are our efforts counterproductive, but we fear our client comes to that same realization.  Or worse, the client takes action upon it.  How much time and money does court cost?

In fact, you save both your and your client’s time and money by referring specialists.  Moreover, you build a network of relationships with experts in their fields who likely don’t share your knowledge about other property.  By referring, you get referrals.  But most importantly, you may save your reputation by not appraising a property, and instead, referring a specialist.

Members who attended conference in Charleston, SC in 2009, may remember Roger Durkin’s excellent presentation citing how a really good lawyer needs only our resume to discredit us on a witness stand.  Next time, when deciding whether to accept an assignment by building a team and referring a specialist, or go it alone by doing it all yourself, maybe the mantra should not be, “No one can know everything,” but rather, “am I willing to take a witness stand?”

The need for specialists creates the need for a Specialty Studies Committee.

Scott W. Hale, ISA AM
Chair, ISA Specialty Studies Committee

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