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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Ask an Instructor: Charitable Donations

ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to ISA's instructors. One of ISA's instructors will share answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to

Question: If a donor incurs expense to remove an article and make it available to a charitable organization, is that expense considered part of the donation? Or if a donor pays for shipping of the item to the charitable organization, is that expense considered part of the donation?

Answer: Unfortunately, no. These expenses cannot be included in the item's fair market value. There may be another way to write off these expenses, but that is a question for an accountant to answer.

- Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP
Director of Education

A Really Scary Halloween Story

Kirsten RabeSmolensky,
Recent question:
Does my report meet USPAP requirements and the ISA report writing standards? I copied the template in the Core Course manual.

One of the scariest creatures that I have ever met is the dreaded TEMPLATE MONSTER!! She sneaks into appraisers' templates, making little changes or gnawing at key words necessary for one appraisal and not another, ultimately making items from the ISA checklist disappear. She appears in an appraisal report in the form of unclosed parentheses (example below), or in useless paragraphs that have no particular relevance to the report at hand. Worst of all, she makes appraisers think that they do not need to use their brains! Oh my!! And, while the template monster can sometimes just take a nibble out of your report, sometimes she bites REALLY HARD and leaves big gashes in your USPAP compliance, appraisal methodology, or justified reasoning. OUCH!!

Even if you are using a template that meets USPAP and ISA report writing standards, you need to edit it for EVERY report EVERY time. Each appraisal report is unique, and no two reports should ever be exactly the same. Even with a really good template, you should know that every appraisal report you write will have different requirements. That is why there is a list of items on the ISA checklist that only apply "if applicable." USPAP clearly states that an appraiser must "perform the scope of work necessary to develop credible assignment results." The scope of work will differ for every appraisal report. Therefore, an appraiser needs to understand what they are doing and adjust any template accordingly. Borrowing a template will not guarantee that you are doing a report correctly. This is a common misconception. Instead, as one of my favorite high school teachers used to say, "You need to put on your thinking cap!" This is particularly true when writing your market analysis, choosing your effective date, listing the intended users of the report, etc.

"What were you thinking?"

And for goodness' sake, when copying the USPAP certification statement, PLEASE remove the parentheses. The appraiser needs to make a choice. The sample certification statement provided in Standard 8 of USPAP is an excellent place to start and ISA suggests that you copy it word for word into your templates. BUT THEN, you need to edit it. For example, USPAP Standards Rule 8-3 reads in part:

I have no (or the specified) present or prospective interest in the property that is the subject of this report and no (or the specified) personal interest with respect to the parties involved.

I have performed no (or the specified) services, as an appraiser or in any other capacity, regarding the property that is the subject of this report within the three-year period immediately preceding acceptance of this assignment. 

You need to either take out the language in the parentheses or explain what your interest was. Did you previously appraise the items for an estate and now you are doing an insurance appraisal of certain items for one of the heirs? Did sell the item to your client two years ago and now you are doing an insurance appraisal? Is the client a friend? Have you discussed with the client the possibility of selling this item at your auction house? If so, then you need to disclose that information in your USPAP certification statement, and this is the perfect place to do it. Change that template!

So this Halloween, make every effort to bust those monsters and ghosts.

Helpful Hints for Avoiding the Template Monster:
  1. Create one good template for every intended use you regularly do. If you add a new intended use to your repertoire, then save a copy as a template.
  2. Highlight, italicize, or bold all parts of the template that should be revised for every appraisal. This includes your paragraph on market analysis. In fact, instead of having any language there you might just have a paragraph that reads "INSERT MARKET ANALYSIS."
  3. After you complete the appraisal report, make sure that you set it aside for a day or two (or at least overnight) and then give it a fresh read from start to finish before you send it out. It is horribly embarrassing (and scary) to send out a report where you fail to edit your template.
Now, go get that template monster!!

Happy Halloween from all of us at ISA!

Friday, September 21, 2018

An ISA Member in the Far East

Khadinn Khan, ISA AM
I was the Chief Claims Adjuster and Risk Surveyor for AXA ART, the global art insurance specialist, in Asia, when I applied for ISA membership in 2016.

Art insurance is still a developing business in the region, where more collection owners or custodians elect to self-insure rather than taking up specialist coverage. I worked with a small team at AXA ART and was the only member with adequate art knowledge, therefore, I was tasked with the responsibility of verifying and approving the sum insured (on agreed value basis) of artworks proposed by brokers and clients on their insurance policies. People began to approach us with items which they thought were of high worth and wanted to insure, including items purchased many years ago or passed down to the family, and expected us to provide a solution or referral for valuation. These requests were particularly common when I was conducting risk surveys at clients’ homes. After a while, it became apparent that if I could add art appraisal expertise to my skill set, it would help to progress my career.

There are a very low number of professional art appraisers in Asia due to lack of demand. In Hong Kong, we have a low tax rate and a simple tax system that provides no tax relief for charitable donations, except for cash contributions. Additionally, estate duty has been abolished, so neither estate duty accounts nor clearance papers need to be filed. With no governmental requirements for appraisal, there is simply limited demand to support professional appraisal businesses. At the same time, China and Hong Kong have emerged dramatically as an art market and are now considered the world’s second largest, according to The Art Market 2018 report published by Art Basel and UBS. The lack of professional art appraisal service is hindering the growth of other financial services, such as art insurance and art-backed loans.

There is clearly enormous potential for appraisers in Asia, but what convinced me to obtain a formal education in art appraisal was my personal involvement in a unique damage claim.

Hong Kong Harborfront © Art Basel 

An auction house client reported a claim for damage to a Song dynasty ceramic vase that was on consignment to them. The damage was a hairline crack to the edge of the base. In these situations, restoration may not be the best option, as the market preference is to avoid alteration on minor damage. We agreed with the client and consignor to settle on a diminution of value basis. As there was no qualified appraiser available to take up the assignment, and because of an urgency to settle the claim, all parties agreed to a proposal of having two antique dealers inspect the damaged vase. Each dealer would separately suggest the percentage loss in value, then we would use the mean as the basis of settlement. In the end, both dealers came up with the exact same extreme percentage, which took everyone by surprise. They did not provide any reasoning or justification of their valuation, and were not obligated to. We had no option but to settle the claim accordingly. This experience motivated me to source an independent, transparent appraisal process for future claims in order to leave no party confused or suspicious. My research subsequently led me to ISA.

Attending ISA courses in Naperville turned out to be one of the best decisions I made for my career. First of all, it was achievable. I was able to start from scratch and complete the Core Course, the 15 Hour USPAP course and Fine Art course in three weeks. The courses were well structured, with visits to art museums and a printmaking studio. The classroom discussions were particularly lively and often based on real-life examples shared by fellow colleagues encountered in their daily businesses.

Coming home with my new credential, I was determined to spread the word and do what was necessary to promote good appraisal practices with the goal of raising overall personal property appraisal standards in the region. Using knowledge I gained through my ISA education, I was able to educate industry professionals and art collectors. I informed bankers and insurance professionals on what USPAP is and asked them to consider USPAP-compliant reports only for their insurance policies or lending out loans. For art collectors, I promote periodic appraisal as part of a good collection management program, together with a robust inventory system, maintaining good documentation of provenance and purchase records, a secure display/storage environment, and adequate insurance coverage. My message is that an appraisal report is essential for accounting and estate planning purposes, or if one wishes to secure loans using their art collection as collateral.

Lecture at Art Taipei Forum 2017

My ISA education helped me a great deal in improving communication with our claimants. Although I would not perform appraisal on damage claims that I directly handle, I could use my knowledge to guide loss adjusters to look for the correct data and comparables, seek opinions from the right experts to determine the settlement offer amount, as well as make sure their communication with the client is clear and appropriate. I demand that the loss adjusters demonstrate clearly how they arrive at the settlement offer. There are always brokers or clients who are dissatisfied with the offers, yet there has never been any complaint on the communication or lack of transparency since. Also, we’ve seen a significant drop in claim disputes for my department and my company was able to highlight our claims service as a selling point for our insurance products. I’ve also noticed in places where there is no local law governing personal property appraisal, highlighting USPAP and the ISA Code of Ethics always provide confidence to clients in knowing that the appraisals are being conducted in a responsible manner.

I would advise fellow appraisers living outside of the USA to try to attend courses on site or attend the ISA annual conference, Assets. One can feel isolated sometimes due to having few peers in the market, and for our profession, it is important to build a network of experts of different backgrounds and knowledge. Attending ISA courses or the Annual Conference is a great way to tap into the vast experience of fellow appraisers, and from my experience, they are always happy to share.

Khadinn Khann, ISA AM, is an appraiser based on Hong Kong and has been a member of ISA since 2016. To learn more about ISA membership, visit the ISA website.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Revisiting the ISA Dealer Directory

Christine Guernsey,
At Assets 2018, we announced the new ISA Dealer Directory. This new directory connects prominent invited and vetted antique, jewelry, and fine and decorative arts dealers with our qualified ISA appraisers across the United States and Canada. The purpose of the Directory is to provide ISA appraisers and dealers with opportunities to facilitate appraisals, acquisitions, and the disposition of fine and decorative art as well as antiques and jewelry. This directory is a subscription-based service for dealers and gives free access of the postings to all ISA members.

The ISA Dealer Directory is an exclusive ISA member benefit. Only ISA members and subscribed vetted dealers have access to the Directory. It is completely private and not accessible to other appraisal organizations, non-subscribed dealers, or individuals. The directory is the first of its kind to be created by a professional appraisal organization.

The directory provides many unique benefits for our membership. Most importantly, the directory introduces our appraising members to leading dealers across the US and Canada. Using the directory, appraisers will discover top dealers along with the areas of collecting and selling in which they specialize. This creates opportunities to meet and build relationships with these featured dealers.

Whether we are in search of replacement cost information or have general questions about an artist, creator, movement, or market trends, working with dealers directly can give our appraisers access to current information they wouldn't normally find researching online. Asking price information for works in galleries or works which will be sold privately, usually isn't listed publicly. Calls have to be made to acquire this type of information. Dealers unfamiliar with an appraiser are often hesitant or too busy to share this type information. In becoming known as a qualified ISA appraiser and developing relationships with dealers who specialize in what you are appraising, you can gain valuable information about sales and market trends, discover unpublished asking prices and learn about private sales which will elevate the credibility in the final valuations of your appraisal reports. This alone can help you stand out among your appraisal competition.

Knowing which dealers specialize in specific areas of collecting and what items they are looking to acquire helps our appraisers add another service to their appraisal practice. Often appraisers are in the front line of knowing when their clients are thinking about selling something from their collection. This is especially true when we do estate appraisal or work with a client who has recently inherited something that they don't particularly want to keep.

There are many options for disposing of an item. Often these many options are confusing to the client especially if they are unfamiliar with collecting. Being able to connect your client with an appropriate dealer who can offer a fair deal, adds additional service for your client. The client is able to dispose of an item in an efficient and private manner, often for a higher sale amount and without additional fees. A successful transaction will make your client very satisfied with your services.

If you have clients who are interested in selling an item, be sure to log into the ISA member site and check out the Dealer Directory. Dealer requests change often. Our list of dealers continues to grow. If you know of a dealer you feel should be included in the Directory, please let us know so we can send them an invitation.

- Christine Guernsey, ISA CAPP, is recent past president of ISA and currently serving on the ISA Board of Directors. She appraises all areas of American paintings, works on paper, sculpture, and outdoor sculpture, specializing in 19th and 20th centuries.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Announcing Your 2018-2019 Board of Directors

Voting for ISA's 2018-2019 Board of Directors has ended and we would like to congratulate our recently elected members! Joining the Board of Directors for a three-year term are three new additions, pictured left to right:

Tara Ana Finley, ISA AM
Helen de Rohan, ISA AM
Irene Szylinger, ISA AM

These three members will join the six returning members of the Board of Directors for the 2018-2019 year:

Hughene Acheson, ISA AM
Michelle Conliffe, ISA CAPP
Monica Fidel, ISA CAPP
Perri Guthrie, ISA CAPP
Rob Hittel, ISA CAPP
Fred Winer, ISA CAPP

ISA would like to especially thank our three retiring members who are concluding their term on the board in October, all of whom have generously contributed countless hours of dedicated service to the ISA:

Christine Guernsey, ISA CAPP
Suzanne Sellers Houck, ISA CAPP
Terry L. Oldham, ISA AM

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What Appraisers Can Learn From the Expanding Global Art Market

The following is a sponsored post by ISA Affinity Business Partner (ABP), Learn more about the ABP membership.

While planning a marketing and relationship-building trip to Art Dubai 2018, Find Art Experts received a personal invitation by Emirati and French representatives of the Louvre Abu Dhabi to attend a presentation titled A Unique Cross-Cultural Collaboration. The invitation represents an important turning point for international recognition of America's art appraisal community.

Find Art Experts visited Art Dubai as part of its global expansion plans to introduce American appraisers to the Middle Eastern art market. Future marketing endeavors on the part of Find Art Experts include visits and meetings during Art Basel in America at Miami Beach in December 2018, Italy's Venice Biennale in May 2019, and a return to Art Dubai in March 2019. We are making our presence known in these markets and art fairs to open our 15,000-member database to markets all over the globe.

Appraisers in America may be surprised to learn that reaching global markets is not as daunting as it initially seems. Like any endeavor, there are steps to take and pitfalls to avoid. We learned:
  • Marketing to a global customer base can cost a lot of time and money
  • The right help can slash the time it takes to educate consumers about your service
  • Focusing on markets that provide the best return on a minimal investment is a good strategy
  • To avoid chasing too many opportunities and to stay true to our service
  • The importance of educating ourselves about a region's cultural heritage and the unique needs of a new clientele
Our trip to the United Arab Emirates was dedicated to learning more about these challenges and it was extremely informative.

Art Appreciation and Collecting is Blossoming in the Middle East

While attending Art Dubai, we also decided to plan a road trip and drive from Dubai straight to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. We quickly discovered that along the way there was no need to play any road trip games like the childhood favorite, "I Spy" to keep us entertained.

Much to our delight and amazement, a drive-by "highway gallery" sits in the middle of the desert alongside the 85-mile stretch of busy road from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Before arriving at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we were able to view three important works from the museum collection showcased on 30 by 20 foot billboards.

We didn't have to squint an eye to see masterworks such as Vincent van Gogh's Self Portrait, the sarcophagus of Egyptian princess Henuttaway, and Piet Mondrian's Composition With Blue, Red, Yellow and Black. To enhance the experience, you can tune to an Emarat radio station to hear a 30-second description of each work of art from a curator. All this without even shelling out a single dirham!

Louvre Abu Dhabi was born from a unique intergovernmental agreement between the United Arab Emirates and France. The agreement embodies a vision shared by France and Abu Dhabi to develop the first universal museum in the Arab world. It has invaluable access to expertise and training from 17 French partner institutions, as well as loans of 300 significant works from 13 leading French art museums, such as the Musee du Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musee d'Orsay, Musee Rodin, and the Chateau de Versailles.

This initiative, in collaboration with the Department of Culture and Tourism, was created "to reinforce the role of art in elevating everyday life into something beautiful and memorable." It indicates a sea change in how the region sees art for aesthetic and investment purposes.

Louvre Abu Dhabi's Gift to the World: A Da Vinci Masterpiece Revealed

One of the most rare and lavish gifts from an art museum to the public will be unveiled later this year at the museum: Salvador Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci. The painting sold last year at Christie's New York for a record $459.3 million by Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. It will be exhibited until October 24, 2019, after which time it will be loaned to the Musee du Louvre in Paris.

Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Culture Department Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak remarked that Salvador Mundi, which has been hidden from view for so long, "Is now our gift to the world - it belongs to all of us."

One striking observation during our tour of Louvre Abu Dhabi was how women play an integral role in the pieces on display. Featured throughout the 600 pieces shown, women can be viewed in a variety of forms: painted in exquisite portraiture, encased in sarcophagi, and formed in sculpture.

La Belle Ferronnaire, one of Leonardo da Vinci's less than twenty known surviving paintings, is among the high-profile loans made to the museum. The painting is one of the many "Ladies of the Louvre" worth viewing when visiting the museum.

The museum provides a fascinating link between Leonardo and Bellini, a painter whose technique he admired. Madonna and Child is an oil on panel painted between 1480 and 1485. Considered the father of Renaissance painting, Bellini specialized in devotional paintings. This piece depicts the Christ child sitting on a parapet atop the Madonna's scarlet robes, gazing up at her as she looks lovingly down on him, her hands in prayer position.

Another female subject on loan to Louvre Abu Dhabi from the Collection Centre Pompidou, is Albert Giacometti's Standing Woman II, c. 1959-1960. With its rough surface and elongated frame, the Surrealist Swiss artist's figure embodies one of his traditional subject matters, the unclothed female form.

Contemporary Women of the Arab Art World

The depiction of Arab women in art is a recent phenomenon, as explained in this New York Times article. One of many important Arab women artists who caught our attention is Thuraya Al-Baqsamiwho was born in Kuwait in 1951. In 1956, Thuraya was sent to the Choueifat boarding school in Lebanon, however she returned to Kuwait as a civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1958.

In 1974, she moved to Moscow. She enrolled in the Surikov Institute, one of Russia's most renowned art universities, and eventually completed her Bachelor's and Master's degrees there. Her exposure to a Russian art training was extremely beneficial. She was taught that being an artist was a profession, and that she should view her work as legitimate labor, a revolutionary idea for her at the time. Having that mindset lit a spark, and motivated her to tackle her work with a much more dedicated attitude. She learned various graphic printmaking techniques, namely lithograph and linocut that greatly affected her creative output. Later in life, her work became best known for these graphic techniques, which were virtually unheard of in the Arab world.

Her work presents a strong voice in the region, one that does not bow down to the societal and political pressures it faces. Her idiosyncratic background and multi-cultural exposure creates a mélange of histories, concepts, and forms in her works that are still ever changing and evolving today.

How Appraisers Can Reach Global Markets

Collector interest in artwork by Thuraya and other emerging Arab female artists will only increase. As the number of wealthy collectors in America and in other countries escalates, so has their need for the advice of specialists to help curate and service these collections in many different ways.

Art market data shows that 66% of collectors are turning to galleries or dealers to purchase art and luxury accessories. 52% of collectors seeking advice on a purchase or art services turned to an industry expert and 14% sought advice from auction experts.

Few appraisers and art service professional businesses are making this investment, but Find Art Experts considers it a priority. Last year our database consisted of 5,000 members and we have added an additional 10,000 since. This expert database is gaining international notoriety. We recently assisted the Saudi-based Arab News, the Middle East's newspaper of record and the biggest English language daily in the Kingdom, seeking one of our Art Service Professionals on authenticating art.

This is just one example why Find Art Experts believes it is crucial for appraisers and fine art experts to continue opening new markets. While marketing our client base in high-wealth, art-centric cities we learned the time is right to reach international markets to:
  1. Diversify for the long term. We believe it is important to increase an appraiser's influence in markets outside the United States.
  2. Smooth market fluctuations. Appraisers can stabilize seasonal market fluctuations by working with clients with different or even countercyclical art market demand. For example, while June, July and August means North American art collectors focus on family vacations rather than acquiring art, the art market for Australian collectors is perfect as they wait out their season's three coldest months of the year.
  3. Become a leader. U.S. appraisers have a unique opportunity right now to be the first to create relationships in an increasingly shrinking and interconnected global marketplace.
  4. Advocate excellence. Appraisers capable of international expansion comprise the majority of Find Art Experts' database.
Meeting collectors and dealers, we learned the need for art service professionals is also expanding in new and important collecting categories. Look for Find Art Experts at International Society of Appraisers meetings and conventions as we work with fellow professionals to find cost-effective ways to building a stronger online presence to reach these growing markets. Viewing the world as one marketplace that needs our advice and services helps all of us all build a stronger, brighter future.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Ask an Instructor: Replacement Cost

ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to ISA's instructors. One of ISA's instructors will share answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to

Question: I'm confused as to what to call the insurance value in my appraisal report. Some people call it Replacement Cost, some call it Replacement Value, and some call it Replacement Cost Value. What is the right term that I should be using?

Answer: ISA prefers the term Replacement Cost to be used in insurance appraisals. Why is that? Let's go back to Lesson 1 in the Core Course. Cost is the amount of money paid for an item. Unlike value, cost is not always justified. Just because you paid X amount of dollars for an item, doesn't mean it's worth that much. The monetary worth of an object is its value. Thus, for insurance, when you are estimating the cost to replace an item (either by production, reproduction, or purchase), the correct term to use is Replacement Cost. Other organizations may use the term Replacement Value to mean the same thing as Replacement Cost, but we wish to differentiate ourselves by using the proper words. As for Replacement Cost Value, this term is sometimes used by insurance companies to mean Replacement Cost or Replacement Value, but really it only causes more confusion. Replacement Cost is the most correct term to use.

- Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP
Director of Education

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Determining Value

An essential aspect of our valuation services and specifically in our appraisal practice is determining value. The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) provides guidance in the form of a definition of value and a comment as follows, "Value: the monetary relationship between properties and those who buy, sell or use those properties. Comment: Value expresses an economic concept. As such, it is never a fact but always an opinion of the worth of a property at a given time in accordance with a specific definition of value. In appraisal practice, value must be qualified - for example, market value, liquidation value, or investment value."

This one definition is brimming with information and guidance in determining value, so let's take a look at the various elements of the definition. Looking at the first part of the definition, it states, "the monetary relationship between properties..." This means comparing the subject property with comparable items of like kind and quality. It is important to remember when comparing the subject property with comparable items, consideration of all physical characteristics and overall condition must be taken into account to establish a good relationship between the properties. This correlation between the various comparable items with the subject property helps to justify a value conclusion. If similar items under similar conditions are selling for X dollars, than it is reasonable to assume the subject property would sell for X dollars, supporting the value conclusion.

Continuing with the definition, "and those who buy, sell or use those properties." We take into consideration the context of the subject property and comparable properties. Does the subject property possess a certain provenance making it more desirable than other similar items? Is the subject property a rare example? Or was the subject property was mass-produced? This context provides a foundation for understanding the piece and its significance or lack thereof in the marketplace and will provide guidance in determining value. It is our job to understand if buyers are actively seeking out these properties and paying a premium, suggesting an uptick in the marketplace, or if the opposite is true, where there is a large supply and little demand, indicating declining value.

Take Victorian furniture for example. Knowing that the marketplace is inundated with pieces, causing a large supply coupled with a decrease in demand for such items, the values generally go down. However, each piece in an appraisal assignment is evaluated on its own to determine the monetary relationship between the subject property and comparable items to determine the qualified value.

The Comment after the value definition states value is never a fact because it is an economic concept based on an opinion as of a specific point in time in accordance with a specific value definition and must be qualified. The economic concept represents our value conclusion and is an opinion based on research of comparable items in the marketplace as of a specific point in time, taking into consideration the requirements of the value definition for the assignment. Our value opinions are qualified to indicate fair market value, retail replacement value, or other value depending on the assignment. These opinions are established at one point in time and are not to be used at any other point in time or for another qualified value.

In dealing with personal property, remember the various levels of trade for the huge variety of items you will be appraising. These levels include but are not limited to auctions, galleries, retail outlets, flea markets, consignment, garage sales, or the like. They will produce a variety of sales results and depending on the problem you are solving for your client, the selection of the proper marketplace is paramount in order to determine value and provide credible assignment results for your client.

- Tim Luke, ISA AM, CAI, BAS, MPPA has 28 years of experience in the auction and appraisal industry, and is currently the Executive Vice President, Senior Appraiser for Gurr Johns, Inc. based in Florida. He travels the United States doing appraisals, valuations, and brokerage for clients.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ask an Instructor: Workfiles and USPAP Updates

ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to ISA's instructors. One of ISA's instructors will share answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to

Here's a great question from the most recent USPAP Q&A distributed by The Appraisal Foundation:

Question: I completed an appraisal report that was used by my client in litigation. My report was entered into evidence, but I did not provide a deposition and did not testify at the trial. How long must I retain my workfile since there was a judicial proceeding?

Answer: The RECORD KEEPING RULE states: "An appraiser must retain the workfile for a period of at least five years after preparation or at least two years after final disposition of any judicial proceeding in which the appraiser provided testimony related to the assignment, whichever period expires last." (Bold added for emphasis) In this scenario, the appraiser did not provide testimony, therefore the workfile must be retained for a minimum of five years after preparation.

Question: Do you know what's coming ahead in the 2020-2021 edition of USPAP?

Answer: Although the 2018-2019 edition went into effect a little over six months ago, the Appraisal Standards Board (ASB) has already issued a first exposure draft of the 2020-2021 edition. Read more about the proposed changes that could be forthcoming. ISA supports the recommendations included in ASB's First Exposure Draft which endeavors to further clarify and refine protocols related to Reporting Options, Scope of Work, Comments in Standards Rules and Definitions. A second exposure draft will be distributed by the ASB later this year for further review and comments, and final revisions will be adopted in early 2019 to become effective on January 1, 2020.

- Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP
Director of Education

Tips for Writing a Great Appraisal Report

Libby Holloway, ISA CAPP
Members of ISA can give a wide range of answers when asked why they joined the organization. Popular answers are for networking, continued education, and taking advantage of name recognition. The less exciting but basic truth is that most of us joined ISA to learn how to write an appraisal report.

During the Core Course, students are instructed in what the required elements of a report are according to ISA and USPAP standards. Students practice developing the report by determining intended use and objective use, appropriate values to seek, and which markets to use. Checklists to help members include necessary information are provided, and students are required to present a successful report properly using these lessons in order to earn designations. Subsequent courses help members stay up to date on changes. Anyone with the designation of Member or above has all the information they need to write a good appraisal report - but do we all always follow through?

ISA does require that certain essential elements be included in reports created by members. After these elements are met, there is little direction in how they are expressed within the report. Here are a few common pitfalls (assuming the correct intended use, objective and approach to values are used) and how to avoid them:

  • Adding confusing extra information. State the facts. In an effort to include required elements pertinent to the appraisal assignment, extra elements not needed for the intended use are sometimes included. This extra information can be confusing and misleading to the reader.

  • Boilerplate boredom. I know it is easy to feel you've written the same report a hundred times but beware getting lazy with boilerplate text. Every assignment is individual, and nothing is more embarrassing than including information within a template that doesn't apply to the current client.

  • Presenting correct information in a confusing manner. Following the order of items as they appear in the checklist might seem to cramp your individual creativity, but in reality, following the order helps you present information in a cohesive manner which makes it less confusing to your reader.

  • Writing as if your client is a professional appraiser. Remember that your client, even if they are a collector or an attorney, is probably new to appraisal terminology. Make sure you fully define each concept within the cover document so that your reader understands what you are telling them. I suggest reading the completed report through your appraiser eyes to make sure it is compliant then through your client's eyes to make sure it is understandable.

  • Making grammar and spelling mistakes. Make sure you properly edit your work or hire someone who can. Misspelled words and poor grammar dilute your report and give your readers the idea that you don't know what you are talking about even if you are an expert.

  • Improper placement of the USPAP certification. ISA standards do not specify where the USPAP Certification must fall in the cover document. USPAP does require that it is signed by the appraiser/appraisers performing the appraisal. Put the statement in a place in your report where it is easily read and where your signature is affixed. It is fine to put the statement at the end of your cover document above the signature for the entire document. If anywhere else, it must have its own signature.

  • Incomplete descriptions of items in the body of the report. Remember the rule of thumb that the reader should be able to pick out the item by your description whether or not a photo is included. Write the descriptions so that every intended user for the report can understand what you are describing. If you include a lot of descriptive terms that may be new to your user, include a glossary.

  • Missing out on the bottom line. Your client is looking for the bottom line, don't hide it. Make sure you clearly express the values sought, markets analyzed along with their conditions, and make sure your values are easy to find.

In order to be seen as the professional you are, make sure that your report is a carefully prepared product. Never fail to check and re-check your final report no matter how anxious you are to collect the balance and move to the next project. Word of mouth is still the best advertising for your services and you want all those words said about you to be positive.

- Libby Holloway, ISA CAPP

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Defining Fair Market Value

Kirsten Rabe Smolensky,
Many of us remember sitting in Core Course and memorizing, yes, memorizing, the Federal definition of Fair Market Value (FMV). This was back when the Core Course exam was short essay, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice. Now the exam is multiple choice and memorizing the definition is not a prerequisite to passing the exam. However, if you were one of the people who memorized the definition, do not stop reading! FMV is probably a little bit more complex than you remember. First, there can be multiple definitions of fair market value depending upon the intended use of the report, and perhaps the state or province that you live in. Second, even though there is only one Federal definition of FMV, you should cite the definition of FMV differently depending upon the intended use of the appraisal report.

The Definition of Fair Market Value

Let's start with the federal definition of FMV and a brief history lesson. The first place to find guidance is within the IRS regulations.

A long time ago (pre-1985), the definition of FMV for a noncash charitable contributions was simply:
    ...the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts... (Treasury Regulation §1.170A-1(c)(2)).
The definition of FMV for estates was a slightly different and an expanded definition. It came from the Estate Tax Regulations:
    The value of every item of property includible in a decedent's gross estate under sections 2031 through 2044 is its fair market value at the time of the decedent's death, except that if the executor elects the alternate valuation method under section 2032, it is the fair market value thereof at the date, and with the adjustments, prescribed in that section. The fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts. The fair market value of a particular item of property includible in the decedent's gross estate is not to be determined by a forced sale price. Nor is the fair market value of an item of property to be determined by the sale price of the item in a market other than that in which such item is most commonly sold to the public, taking into account the location of the item wherever appropriate. Thus, in the case of an item of property includible in the decedent's gross estate, which is generally obtained by the public in the retail market, the fair market value of such an item of property is the price at which the item or a comparable item would be sold at retail. (Treasury Regulation §20.2031-1(b)).
So, while the definitions were similar, the IRS argued that there were differences between the two definitions. In 1985, the IRS lost that argument in court. In Anselmo v. Commissioner, 757 F.2d 1208 (11th Cir. 1985), the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the Tax Court held that "there should be no distinction between the measure of fair market value for estate and gift tax and charitable contribution purposes." Therefore, when determining fair market value for any federal function, the full definition of fair market value applies. (Read more in the updated 2018-2019 ISA Core Course Manual, 2-3 through 2-8). This means that an appraiser must cite the full definition of FMV in their appraisal report. But, what is the best way to cite the definition?

ISA's Core Course Manual recommends the following language for your charitable donation reports:
    Fair market value is defined in Treasury Regulation §1.170A-1(c)(2) as, "The price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts." Treasury Regulation §20.2031-1(b) expands upon this definition, "The fair market value... is not to be determined by a forced sale nor is the fair market value of an item to be determined by a sale within a marketplace other than that in which the item would be most commonly sold to the public, taking into consideration the location of the item wherever appropriate." (See ISA's Core Course Manual, 12-20 (2018-2019 Ed.))
Remember that the effective date for a charitable contribution is the date of donation or anticipated date of donation. The date of donation is the date that the charity accepts legal title to the item. Often there is a deed of gift documenting this transaction. If possible, it is nice to include a copy of the deed of gift in the addendum of the appraisal report.

For estates, the Core Course Manual suggests the language:
    The definition of fair market value is set forth in Treasury Regulation §20.2031-1(b), which states that the "fair market value is the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts. The fair market value of a particular item of property in the decedent's gross estate is not to be determined by a forced sale nor is the fair market value of an item of property to be determined by the sale price of an item in a market other than that in which the item would be most commonly sold to the public, taking into consideration the location of the item wherever appropriate." (See ISA's Core Course Manual, 12-20 (2018-2019 Ed.))
The effective date for a taxable estate is the date of death or the alternate valuation date (i.e., six months after the date of death). The appraiser should ask the client which date the estate is choosing. Generally, which date is chosen has more to do with stock valuation than the value of the personal property unless there has been a big change in market conditions.

As an aside, Anselmo also clarified what is meant by "the public." The court said that "the public" refers to "the customary purchasers of an item." The most appropriate purchaser of an item is not invariably the individual consumer. For example, the general buying public for live cattle would be comprised primarily of slaughterhouses rather than individual consumers. The fair market value of live cattle accordingly would be measured by the price paid at the livestock auction rather than at the supermarket. In this case, the Tax Court found the "public" for low quality, unmounted gems to be the jewelry manufacturer and jewelry stores that create jewelry items, rather than the individual consumer. The 11th Circuit affirmed this finding. So, knowing the appropriate marketplace for the items you are appraising is crucial to determining an accurate fair market value.

Oh Canada...

The definition of fair market value in Canada is similar to that in the United States, but differs slightly. The Canada Revenue Agency and the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board have endorsed this definition of fair market value:
    The highest price, expressed in terms of money, that the property would bring in an open and unrestricted market, between a willing buyer and a willing seller who are knowledgeable, informed, and prudent, and who are acting independently of each other. (See ISA's Core Course Manual, 2-5 through 2-6 and 12C-8 through 12C-10 (2018-2019 Ed).)
Note that in Canada, the "highest price" does not mean the highest price ever achieved. It means the highest price that is consistently achieved near the effective date of the report. Just as in the United States, the appraiser should be looking at the mode (i.e., the most common achieved price). However, in Canada if there is a "modal range" (i.e., a range of commonly achieved prices) the appraiser might choose a number at the top of that range. In the U.S. the appraiser would likely choose a number in the middle of that range.

One other difference is that in the U.S. the appraiser determines fair market value. However, in Canada, the appraiser estimates fair market value and the government determines fair market value.

Other Definitions of Fair Market Value

Appraisers should also know that different definitions of fair market value may exist for different purposes and that these definitions may vary from state to state or province to province. For example, in the four or five states where I have done divorce work the property was to be valued at "fair market value" per state statute. However, none of the statutes defined fair market value. So, what definition do you use?

The first step is always to ask the client or the client's attorney if there is a specific definition that they would like you to use, either from the state statutes or regulations governing divorce law or from the case law (i.e., the legal cases that have been decided and published). Sometimes they can email you the definition to use along with the appropriate legal citation. If you receive a definition, use it and the appropriate legal citation in the appraisal report. Note that #14 on the ISA Report Checklist requires not just the definition of the value sought but also the appropriate citation.

In my experience, however, a question about the state definition of FMV is often met with silence (you can hear crickets in the background). When this happens, the appraiser can suggest using the federal definition of fair market value used for estates, gift tax and charitable donations. In almost all instances where I have suggested this, the attorney has agreed. You can use either of the full definitions above. I usually omit the language about the "decedent's gross estate" in the second definition because it is irrelevant to a divorce situation.

The effective date for a divorce appraisal varies from state to state. In many states, it is the date of separation. However, I have used the date of separation, the date of inspection, or the date of the report depending upon the needs of the client and their attorney. Ultimately, it is up to the client's attorney to make a legal determination as to what the appropriate date should be.

Fair market value may also come into play in a tort suit (i.e., a lawsuit dealing with a civil wrong that might include a negligence or similar claim). In most tort suits the definition of fair market value will come from case law. Again, ask the attorney what definition you should use and get the appropriate citation. Also ask what the effective date should be.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Ask an Instructor: Effective Date in Cases of Damage

ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to ISA's instructors. One of ISA's instructors will share answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to

Question: I'm assisting with a damage claim for my client who suffered the loss when there was a leak in a storage unit. I know the effective date of my appraisal should be the date that the damage occurred, but what if I don’t know the exact date? The damage occurred sometime between when the items were placed in storage on February 3 and when the damage was discovered a few weeks later on February 24. What is the effective date of my appraisal?

Answer: This is a great question that comes up frequently. Since you don't have an exact date of the loss, you would use the date that the damage was discovered as the effective date of your appraisal. In this case, February 24. The only exception may be an instance where the client instructs you to use another date as per their agreement with the storage unit and/or insurance company. Then you would state that the effective date is the date specified by the client.

- Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP
Director of Education

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Announcing ISA's Private Client Services Program

Christine Guernsey, ISA CAPP
In the beginning of my appraisal career, I marketed to the general public. Marketing to such a broad audience was time-consuming, expensive, and not always fruitful. The clients I attracted usually needed an appraisal for a particular function and one time only. After every assignment I would need to begin marketing again for my next assignment.

I soon discovered that developing "clients who had clients" was the most efficient way to build my business. The professional service providers whose clients needed appraisals could and would refer me to many of their clients. This began my appraisal practice's marketing strategy of concentrating on large collections and working solely with the various gate keepers who specialize in the high-net-worth individuals market.

High-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) are considered those whose financial investments are in excess of one million dollars. In 2016, there were over four million of these individuals in the US alone. Their collections of antiques, fine art, decorative arts, and collectibles may comprise a significant part of their assets. Procuring, investing, protecting, and maintaining their collections requires a team of highly-trained professionals who work exclusively with this group to help meet their specialized needs. Developing long-term relationships with museums, curators, art and object shippers and handlers, private dealers and consultants, estate attorneys, lawyers, bankers, insurance companies, and charitable foundations, among others, are excellent sources for repeat referrals. As you work closely and regularly with these professionals, an appraiser learns exactly what they need and expect to best serve their clients.

This July 13 and 14, the International Society of Appraisers will present its inaugural ISA Private Client Services program, "Appraising in the World of High-Net-Worth Individuals," at UBS, Legacy, Plano, TX and as a live stream. This new ISA marketing program will provide appraisers who wish to become involved with this sector with an inside look as to who these private client professionals are, why and when they hire personal property appraisers, and what types of appraisal reports and valuations they require from appraisers to best service their clients. Those who attend this program, either in person or streamed live, will gain valuable information on how to market to this group, which they can universally use in their own markets and practices.

Register for this two-day seminar, "Appraising in the World of High-Net-Worth Individuals" in Plano, Texas or as a live-streamed course

Toro Quieto (Calm Bull), Tom Lea
The Bryan Museum
The opening presentation, "Starting Points: The Collection," features J.P. Bryan, a prolific, lifelong collector of western history, artifacts and art. His eclectic collection of over 70,000 objects led to the creation of the Bryan Museum in Galveston, Texas in 2015. Mr. Bryan will share his personal story of collecting, discuss which private client service providers helped him to develop and maintain his collection, and what factors led him to create a museum to house his vast collection. The Director of the Bryan Museum, Joan Marshall, will join Mr. Bryan in what promises to be a very engaging and informative presentation.

The presentations in this two day seminar will include a close look at which professions work most closely with HNW market. Friday's presentations focus on personal property collections and their procurement and management. Saturday's presentations deal with the business side of maintaining and protecting the future of collections, estates and taxes, loans, investing and charitable giving.

View the full course program

The July 13-14 seminar "Appraising in the World of High-Net-Worth Individuals" is part of a larger marketing program, ISA Private Client Services, which ISA has been developing to help our members learn best practices and promote their services to the HNW sector. Completion of this seminar along with other criteria will allow our interested ISA members to apply to the program and be promoted as an affiliate of the ISA Private Client Services Division. More details on this program will be announced July 13.

This seminar is open to all ISA members. Whether you intend to apply to the ISA Private Client Services program or not, you are still welcome to take this marketing course.

Explore the Legacy West area this summer
I hope I will see you in Plano this July, or tuned into our live stream. In addition to a fantastic learning experience, The Legacy area is a very cool and fun spot to spend a couple of days with plenty of great restaurants, shopping, and entertainment all within close walking distance. The on-site class is limited to 30 participants, so sign up quickly as the seminar is filling up fast!

Can't make the trip to Plano, Texas? You'll still be able to participate in our seminar! Register for the live stream and join us for the course as it happens from the comfort of your home or office.

Christine Guernsey, ISA CAPP, is recent past president of ISA and currently serving on the ISA Board of Directors. She appraises all areas of American paintings, works on paper, sculpture, and outdoor sculpture, specializing in 19th and 20th centuries.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Ask an Instructor: Using Comparables

ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to ISA's instructors. One of ISA's instructors will share answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to

Question: If I have more than one item in my appraisal that are similar in nature, can I use the same comparables for each of the items?

Answer: The answer is yes, if the comparables are indeed applicable to both items. For example, I have a client who likes to purchase two prints from the same edition for his collection. As such, when I'm appraising the works for fair market value, I include the same comparables for each print when the two are in the same condition. If the prints were not in the same condition, then I would not necessarily use the same comparables for each of the prints. If one had a condition issue, then I would first look for a comparable with a similar condition issue as the best direct comparable. If comparables of damaged prints were unavailable, then I would use the same comparable of one in good condition and then explain my reasoning of why I'm discounting the value of the damaged print.
- Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP
Director of Education

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Appraiser, the Umpire, and USPAP

Cathy Peters, ISA CAPP
If you appraise personal property long enough, you will come across an assignment for a damage claim that will require you to choose a mediator, also known as an umpire. It took me 17 years of appraising to come across this situation. When it did develop in my own appraisal practice, it seemed contrary to the conduct requirements in the Ethics Rule of USPAP. I would like to pass on a few thoughts to consider in navigating unfamiliar waters of these type of insurance claim settlements.

Some homeowner's insurance policies contain a clause that requires an umpire be employed when a homeowner and insurance provider disagree on the settlement for a damage claim. The umpire decides value loss and offers it to the homeowner as an alternative and prior to an owner filing a lawsuit against the insurance company. Before this step, however, an appraisal report from two appraisers is required: one from an appraiser the insurance company hired and the second from an appraiser hired by the property owner. If the two reports are not in agreement, the hired appraisers must meet to negotiate a mutually agreed upon sum. If an agreement cannot be reached, the appraisers have to agree to bring in a third appraiser to act as umpire. The umpire will look at both appraisal reports, talk to each appraiser as they feel necessary, and choose one of the value conclusions as the definitive value or, alternatively, develop their own value conclusion.

In my situation, the appraiser for the insurance company (I'll call him Joe) was not a USPAP compliant appraiser. In fact, he was not an appraiser at all, although at one time Joe had some appraisal training. His company primarily worked for insurance companies in exhibition transportation and adjusting, but Joe had the power to negotiate on his client's behalf. I, on the other hand, did not feel I could responsibly negotiate for my client. I felt it would require bias on my part and be contrary to USPAP. The conduct clause of the Ethics Rule specifically states that an appraiser must "not advocate the cause or interest of any party or issue." I did believe, however, that I could defend and stand by the value conclusions that I reached through research and due diligence. We met, the opposing appraiser felt my conclusions were too high (his were based on auction results), and we left in disagreement. Per the insurance clause, the next step was to bring in an umpire.

I provided Joe with three names of appraisers. Joe was to pick one or offer another candidate as an alternative. It was important to me that the people I submitted be experienced with the type of art that was the subject of contention, that they were appraisers who were known experts in appraisal methodology, and they wrote USPAP compliant reports. I sent Joe the résumés of the three I chose, and he agreed with one of them.

During the course of the next three months, I spoke to the umpire several times, submitted additional sales support of comparable property that had appeared since submitting my initial report, and repeatedly talked to dealers to answer questions that the umpire posed and had not been previously answered. I never spoke to Joe again. Although asked many times to take off my "appraiser hat" and put on my "negotiator" hat, I did not feel I could do so. First, my client was extremely knowledgeable about this particular genre of art and would not give me the power to act on his behalf. But more importantly, I felt that I could not keep my objectivity as an appraiser if I were to advocate for my client, even after I submitted my report. In the end, I stood on my value conclusions, the umpire reached their own conclusions that were slightly less than my estimated replacement costs but much higher than Joe's initial stated values. My client was satisfied and that was the end.

To this day, however, the clause bothers me. The situation is contrary to what I teach in USPAP. How can I negotiate a settlement with another appraiser and still remain unbiased, objective, and impartial? Being an umpire is not an issue. The job would be very similar to conducting an appraisal review, with perhaps conducting an independent appraisal assignment for value conclusions as well.

What about applying the Jurisdictional Exception Rule to act as an advocate for the client? That will not work because using an umpire is a policy choice of the company. It has nothing to do with laws or regulations that contradict sections of USPAP to which the Jurisdictional Exception Rule applies.

This year I came across a small footnote while teaching the 7 Hour 2018-2019 edition of USPAP. For those of you who have the student manual, it is on page 45. Under "Advocacy" in the chart entitled "Yes, I Can Accept That Assignment..." USPAP says that an appraiser can be an advocate and gives an example of representing one party in a court proceeding. However, there is a footnote. The footnote reads, "An individual may provide services as an advocate, or as an appraiser (one who expected to perform in a manner that is independent, impartial, and objective); however, one cannot act in both roles in the same assignment. When acting as an advocate, the individual must not misrepresent his or her role." (Conduct section of USPAP Ethics Rule and Advisory Opinion 21.)

In conclusion, remember that your role as an appraiser is to provide an unbiased opinion of value that is supported by facts. As an appraiser, you could be hired as an advocate, but USPAP states that you may not act as both an appraiser and an advocate in the same assignment.

Cathy Peters, ISA CAPP, has been a member of ISA since 1999. She specializes in appraisals of fine art and is based in Naperville, Illinois.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Looking at Buddha

Daphne Lange Rosenzweig,

Buddha = an awakened one (one who has achieved enlightenment)

Appraisers frequently encounter Buddhist art works in every form, from goldfish tank ornaments and modern cast concrete potbellied garden statues, to museum-quality textiles, paintings, and sculptures. The current Buddhist art market is very active, rising rapidly for extraordinary works, and with a constant presence for lesser works on eBay. Identifying when a work is Buddhist, judging its quality, and assigning a value estimate can be difficult. This brief article is designed to help appraisers understand these challenges.

Describing a Buddha

Buddhism is an extremely complex religion, born over 2,500 years ago in what is now southern Nepal, nourished in north India, then split into various schools and developing into today's active international Buddhist community.

Just as in the early centuries of Christian art, initially, the Historical Buddha (Sakyamuni, born as Prince Siddhartha) was not depicted figurally, but rather with scenes or attributes associated with the primary image ("aniconic" art). As centuries following the venerated figure's lifetime and people's spiritual and philosophic needs from religious art altered, the Buddha himself began to be portrayed ("iconic art"). The anonymous sculptors and painters needed to somehow indicate that this was not an ordinary person being represented but a figure of spiritually elevated status, a holy image.

For this reason, 32 major and 80 minor signs of a Buddha ("lakshanas") are assigned to this image, none of which would be possessed by a normal human being. For presentation purposes, the list is usually winnowed down to a few which are instantly recognizable as signs indicating that this image represents a Buddha.

A Tibetan Carved Blackstone Stele of
Shakyamuni Buddha, 10th century. Source

Generic indications of the Buddha body include:
  • Gold body
  • Elongated ear lobes (from his former life as a prince, bedecked with heavy earrings, not a lakshana, but a universal attribute)
  • A compound body with elephant trunk style arms, antelope-shaped thighs, lion chest, and elongated fingers
  • 3 circles in the neck (3 stages of enlightenment)
  • A protuberance on the skull ("ushnisha") indicating advanced spiritual knowledge
  • A tuft of hair or raised circle on the forehead ("urna")
In addition to these common features, there may be other visual signs associated with a Buddha:
  • Meaningful hand gestures ("mudras")
  • Meaningful leg positions ("asanas")
  • Attributes (hand-held objects or other objects accompanying specific figures)
  • Accompanying personnel (including high-ranking Buddhist figures, guardians, monks, animals, donors, etc.)
  • Mini-narrative scenes from the life or previous lives ("jatakas") of the Buddha
  • Body ambiance:(throne or snake ["naga"] seat; lotus base; halos encircling the head; and mandorla encircling the whole body
  • Frontal position (in a group composition, the Buddha usually faces forward with half-closed eyes, is dressed differently, and is larger and placed higher than other figures than who turn towards him)
All these indicators can aid the appraiser/viewer in identifying an image as a Buddha – though to compound the problem, there are many different Buddhas represented in Buddhist art, with their own particular attributes (the Buddha of Medicine with a medicine bowl, for example). In Mahayana School Buddhism (dominant in northern and east Asian School, but also present in some southeast Asian countries), there is a being called a Bodhisattva, one who is entitled to become a Buddha but remains behind on the journey to help others. Bodhisattvas can assume many of the lakshanas mentioned above, but also wear the heavy jewelry of a prince.

When in doubt, an appraiser might wish to just assign the title "Buddhist image," which is true, if far from informative! This method is particularly advisable in the arena of Himalayan art, with its multiplicity of male and female deities, including several important Hindu gods brought into Buddhist art. Given the current soaring market for Buddhist art generally, caution and consultation are advised.

Note that it is usually stylistically possible to distinguish a genuine Tibetan from a Thai from a Cambodian or Japanese or contemporary Western Buddha image, even when they are all portraying the same spiritual figure. There are regional preferences for a certain appearance, as well as chronological alterations in appearances even within one region.

Value Estimate Considerations

Because of the current art market popularity of Buddhist art with collectors from Hong Kong to New York to London, there have been many major auctions devoted to this subject. Some of the values achieved are stunning and unexpected, way beyond what an appraiser, having conducted a professional appraisal with well-chosen comparables, might assign as a value estimate. Listed in no particular order, here are some value estimate considerations for Buddhist art following the initial description:
  1. Authenticity. Reproductions are rampant, in theory because of respect for renowned older models, or, buyer's preference for a traditional style without any concern for age, or in an attempt to deceive (think "Remington bronzes"). Choice artist signatures, temple seals, Chinese reign names or workshop logos may be added onto a painting, sculpture or textile reproduction. Accompanying boxes may not reflect the original date of the work of art, etc. Really, live in doubt and hope for the best, and research and consult where necessary.
  2. Rarity. Subject, period, technique, inscription, etc. Here, expert advice might be needed. Note that artist names are very unusual on earlier work, but workshop names may be documented or ascribed on the reverse of some works. Some Zen paintings from the 14th century on do bear signatures, although authenticity is an issue. Many modern Tibetan thangka paintings may bear an artist's name (contra to tradition because that places ego over egolessness, the ideal) due to some current Western collectors' demand to know an artist name, and certain of these artists have considerable value.
  3. Materials. Precious, common, legal; unobtainable today; bronze or brass; silk or wool; all from original period, or later additions; permanent or built in obsolescence; etc.
  4. Dimensions. With many museums today, in accepting a work of art as a non-cash charitable contribution, the curators and boards want ready-to-go "display-quality" art, not too small to make an immediate impact. This often means that a larger work might be more desirable than it might be otherwise, except of course if a smaller work is truly "choice"; and see 5.
  5. Condition. Loss of wood or metals; corrosion, or permanent fading; torn textiles; water or fire, insect (active or dead) or incense damage; loss of original mounting, base, setting; need for conservation, cost of repair, and possibility of repair, etc. - the usual value deterrents. Museums may be reluctant to accept even important works if they are in poor and beyond repair condition and in need of conservation in order to be displayed; there may be no funding or expertise available to perform this task.
  6. Provenance. The more respected the former owner/dealer/auction, the more confident an appraiser might feel; that may be an error, however. Modern scholarship may have changed interpretations from previous ones, and today's opinions about a work may not reflect the opinions or taste of a previous era (not to mention, opinions of the current owner!). Any "outside" (not self-published) publication or museum exhibition of the work, with documentation certainly has to be taken into account. There may be legal ramifications to this aspect of provenance. It also is desirable to learn the date of entry into the US or Canada.
  7. Date. This can be tricky, because prime earlier examples are relentlessly copied as reproductions (as in 1.), but also because workshops traditionally used illustrated wood block print depicting the correct way to depict Buddhist figures, in order to create a specific, identifiable image.
  8. Country of origin. Obviously having an accurate geographic identification is important, which brings up an important matter, the work's having a clear provenance (6.) and not subject to an MOU, or Memorandum of Understanding (which can involve repatriation), between country of origin and current country location. Some countries forbid the export of Buddhist figures – or may want them back when they have come west and become public knowledge.
  9. Subject desirability. This includes clarity of design, appealing coloration, interesting or appalling elements, richness of the iconography. Apart from the generalist Buddha collector, there is an active sub-group of collectors who specialize in works with erotic imagery though nudity per se is seldom portrayed outside of the greater India area.
  10. Association with a revered figure or temple. The handprint of a famous teacher or abbot on the reverse of a thangka, for example: Reliable provenance and expert advice may be needed. This can be a major value consideration. If you cannot remove a painting from its current setting, to review the reverse or view the base of a sculpture, this should be stated as a limiting condition.
  11. Quality overall. Museum quality, decorative, other descriptors, with reasoning. These are subjective descriptors, and recommended to be used carefully and only under a specific request for such analysis by client: Well or poorly cast; heavy brass misidentified previously as bronze; inferior, damaged, and faded painting; wood sculptures and textiles in ruinous condition; reproductions of famous works; marks that are just not correct, and why, these are objective descriptors and are rightfully noted.
Of course, so many of these considerations which can affect the value of a Buddhist work of art are familiar ones from other art traditions, but a few are specific to Buddhist art.


Appraising Buddhist art can be difficult. Buddhism alone, with its ancient history, philosophic and religious foundations, and regional and chronological variations, is such a complex subject, with a huge bibliography, some truly awful movies and certainly numerous "Hum"-along lengthy DVD performances. For the use of appraisers of Buddhist art, I have added a few recommended references to Buddhist visual arts and marketplace sites below. There are many more sites, both scholarly and commercial.

Helpful references

  • Tibet House US - Associated with the Dalai Lama; many exhibitions of modern Tibetan and Mongolian art
  • Onmark Productions - Go to the side-bar on Buddhist art. So much information! Japanese-oriented but useful overall
  • Asian Art Museum of San Francisco - Essays and videos; excellent resource, much developed in connection with Khan Academy
  • Asia Society Museum, New York - Top quality examples by region
  • Buddha Museum - Sale source with values
  • BuddhaNet - Very useful for iconography, history, philosophy, etc.
  • Leidy, Denise, The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its History and Meaning (Shambala 2008, paperback) - General introduction by region and period
  • Rubin Museum of Art - Himalayan art; excellent exhibition materials, site can be difficult to navigate
  • The Four Noble Truths: A Study Guide - Guide to major concepts, etc
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History - Many thematic essays on Buddhist art by countries, periods, general discussion
  • The Buddha Gallery - Commercial site
  • Baronet 4 Tibet - Commercial gallery by devotees to and purveyors of Tibetan art, primarily thangka
  • Thangka Paintings
- Daphne Lange Rosenzweig, PhD, ISA CAPP 

Don't miss ISA's upcoming webinar, "Goddess of Mercy: Buddhism and its Symbolism in Asian Art" on April 24.