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Many people don't know the monetary worth of items in their homes. This can include home furnishings recently inherited or things purchased a number of years ago, including collections such as stamps or coins, art, silver, jewelry, and furniture. If a value is sought just for curiosity, major bookstores and libraries have price guides on hundreds of subjects. But if values are needed for estate planning or distribution, or insurance purposes, the services of a professional are required. Choosing an appraiser is a serious financial decision equal to selecting a financial planner, accountant, or broker.

Don't hesitate to interview several potential appraisers. When you do an interview, beware of a person who claims to be able to appraise anything. In today's specialized market it's highly unlikely that the same person can accurately appraise grandfather's coin collection, grandmother's dishes, dad's gun collection, and mom's Barbie dolls.

Ask if he or she is a member of any professional appraisal society or association. Two nationally respected organizations for appraisers are the American Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America. And don't stop there. Get the exact name of the group and its address or website. Contact the headquarters and ask if the person you're considering is a member in good standing.

Check the organization's requirements. Find out if the organization requires a certain number of courses for full membership and make sure the person you're considering has passed such courses successfully. Beware if the organization requires only membership dues and requires no formal training or recommendations from other members.

Never hire an appraiser for a fee based on the value of your property. This is obviously a conflict of interest, as higher values mean higher fees for the appraiser.

Ask specifically what the written report will contain. Important decisions such as insurance, sales of items, and estate planning will be made based on this report. It should contain complete and accurate descriptions of every item, clear explanations of what methods the person used to arrive at the values, and a statement indicating that the appraiser has no financial interest in the property.

Ask if the person will be willing to defend the appraisal in a court of law. It is not likely that this would ever happen, but in our litigious society it does happen. Insurance companies and heirs do have disputes settled in court. If you suspect a lawsuit may be in your future, check with the professional societies mentioned earlier for a list of appraisers specially trained in expert witness testimony. Be sure to include in the written report whether the appraiser will or will not go to court if necessary, and the charges for that service.

Get your agreement in writing before you show the person any items or pay any money. In addition to the fee you must pay, be sure the agreement spells out what will be in the written agreement, and the length of time the person has to complete the appraisal.