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The Importance of Getting Your Home Belongings Appraised: An Interview with Martin Willis of Seaboard Appraisal Service

Tell us a little about your company and the services you offer.

Seaboard Appraisal Service is a second-generation company that covers the entire New England region, although we conduct a majority of our business in the greater Boston area. We offer a full spectrum of appraisal and related services. Appraisal types are: insurance, estate, and fair market evaluations. Insurance appraisals document an item's replacement cost; estate appraisals, which are oftentimes are conducted for probate court, conservatively take into consideration an entire or a portion of a household and its contents; while a fair market appraisal is the value for items that an unpressured buyer would probably pay to a knowledgeable, willing, and unpressured seller in the market.

Seaboard Appraisal Service also helps clients place their items at auction, and advises on downsizing issues. We can advise clients on what to take to a new, smaller home; what to pass on to heirs; what to sell; and what to donate.

What are the most common residential items that people are having appraised?

That depends on the type of appraisal. For example, when it comes to insurance appraisals, jewelry, fine art, and antiques clearly top the list. For estate and fair market appraisals, it is a lot more general? really anything that you find in a typical residence such as furniture, decorative items, and other collectibles. In most situations, people are not interested in having items worth under $100 separately appraised.

Why is it important to have these items appraised and how is the appraisal info typically used?

There are as many answers to this question as there are many items to appraise! But here are the top three. First, appraisals protect collectors and homeowners in the unfortunate cases of loss or theft of important, high value personal property. Without an insurance appraisal, it may be very difficult or even impossible to prove values and in turn, fully recoup losses. Second, appraisals are an objective tool for dividing property among heirs. For example, I know a woman who was dividing up an estate with her brother and did not get an appraisal. The contents of the home were split, and she bought out her brother to keep the home. The brother later sold a painting from the home for over $2 million; the home was worth about $350,000, she lost out. And thirdly, people often want to know what their items are worth, so they can decide whether they want to hang onto them or sell them. The information provided by an appraiser usually helps guide this decision based on facts and real numbers, not an emotional commitment.

What qualifications should a reliable appraiser have?

Unlike professionals in the real estate appraisal industry, there are no licenses or regulations required for someone to hang up a shingle and call themselves an appraiser. When choosing and appraiser, it is up to you to do your homework. In general, the most reliable appraisers should have knowledge of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice or "USPAP," and many year's experience in the trade. USPAP practices are taught by several national organizations, including the American Society of Appraisers.

However, regardless of classroom or formal training, there is no substitute for experience. I have seen appraisers who are certified by one of the associations and seem to be able to write up a descent appraisal. However, they have very little experience in handling pieces and do not always know what to inspect on any given piece or category of item. So, it is more likely that they are incorrect, and may appraise a piece as an original when in fact it is a reproduction, or vice versa. It takes experience to know what you are looking at? this comes from a combination of years of hands on work, learning from others, study, and research.

What happens if an antique, work of art or another item is appraised at a different value than the owner thinks it's worth?

This happens more often than not in both value directions! For better or worse, most items are probably valued less than the owner may expect. There is a lot of "magical thinking" when it comes to antiques, art and finds, and much of this is fueled by television programs that suggest valuable items are really everywhere, which is simply not true. We also often hear, "My Grandmother told me this was valuable," or "This is very old and therefore valuable," both which usually turn out not being true upon inspection. Just because something is old, does not mean it is valuable. Roman coins over 2000 years old can be worth $30. On the other side of the coin (no pun intended), it is very exciting when we truly do discover a treasure. My favorite, of course, is when someone has no idea that their piece has great value. Once, at an appraisal clinic, a woman nearly passed out when I told her what her work of art was worth!

Do you have any advice for people who have valuable belongings in their home that have not been appraised?

It's a good idea for many reasons to know the value of the items in your home. I would highly recommend contacting an appraiser, and have a brief phone conversation with them about your expensive belongings. As part of this call, they should be able to tell you if they feel your items meet a threshold for appraisal, and then discuss setting up a visit. Most appraisers are able to screen things quickly, even over the phone. And, sending pictures via email is always a good place to start.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

We would welcome the opportunity to speak with folks who are looking for appraisal services. Please give us a call at 978-228-9415 or drop an email to You can learn more about our company at or

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