`Do I hear $200? Sold!' - but appraise your valuables first

TAXPAYERS and the Internal Revenue Service hardly need another reason to mistrust each other. But the issue of appraisals raises this feeling to new heights. There are many other reasons to hire an appraiser, but taxes tend to be central. ``A lot of people find an appraiser after they've been rummaging through their attic and come across something that's old,'' says Victor Weiner of the New York-based Appraisers Association of America.

``They bring in things which they think are priceless. Mostly, the object has more sentimental than cash value, but it's always funny to see how sentimentality goes right out the window when someone finds out that something is really valuable.''

At some point, most people will need to obtain an appraisal. These valuations are necessary for the estates of those who have died. Inheritance taxes (ranging between 18 and 50 percent) are based on these estimates.

Appraisals are also necessary for objects donated to nonprofit institutions, because you may deduct a portion of this amount from your taxes.

The government and taxpayers are frequently at odds on valuations, and appraisers may find themselves in the middle. The tax reform acts of 1981, 1982, and 1984 increased fines on both individuals and appraisers.

Taxpayers will be assessed 30 percent of the tax underpayment if the appraised value of the object is found by the IRS to be off by 150 percent or more. This is in addition to the payment of the additional tax and interest on that amount. For that reason, it is extremely important to find a reputable appraiser.

Among the most difficult kinds of objects to appraise are collectibles - art, antiques, coins, decorative objects, jewelry, and clothing - because their value is based on a variety of factors, including the quality of the piece, its condition, and whether the market is interested in buying it.

Many appraisers are listed in the Yellow Pages, though most hold other jobs and pursue appraising as a moonlighting activity. Specialized dealers or museum curators may know the best people to call, or they may take the job themselves. There are no licenses or registration for appraisers. Anyone can claim to be one.

There are a number of associations:

American Association of Appraisers, 60 East 42nd St., New York, NY 10017; (212) 867-9775.

Appraisers Society of America, Dulles International Airport, PO Box 17265, Washington, DC 20041; (703) 478-2228.

International Society of Appraisers, PO Box 726, Hoffman Estates, IL 60195; (312) 882-0706.

Art Dealers Association, 575 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022; (212) 940-8590. This organization wears both hats in terms of many of its members' both dealing and submitting appraisals.

Antique Appraisers Association of America, 11361 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, CA 92643; (714) 530-7090.

American Art Pottery Association, 825 Upton Circle, Bloomington, MN 55420; (612) 884-2604.

Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020; (212) 757-9395.

American Numismatic Society, Broadway at 155 St., New York, NY 10032; (212) 234-3130.

American Philatelic Society, Box 800, 100 Oakwood Ave., State College, PA 16803; (814) 237-3803.

Glass Art Society, 20300 N. Greenway, Southfield, MI 48076; (313) 357-0783.

Most appraisers work on an hourly basis, charging between $40 and $125. They may require at least two hours' work, so an object should be worth several hundred dollars to justify the expense of hiring one.

Most appraisers are generalists, known as estate appraisers, who will give ballpark estimates on everything in your home. Those who specialize in a particular area, such as antiques or coins - or who are experts in a more narrowly defined field, such as Japanese prints - charge a lot more.

Auction houses will provide free appraisals (though not for tax purposes) of objects sold on their premises. There is a charge for the appraisal, however, if the pieces are not sold through them.

One way to get a free appraisal is to ask one or more dealers to put a bid on an object. That bid cannot be used for tax purposes, and it may also be on the low side if the dealer sniffs the potential for a bargain.

Many museums hold ``appraisal days,'' in which appraisers or curators are on hand to provide free, unofficial estimates of objects for the public.

These institutions have found that appraisal days are a good way to get people to the museums who don't ordinarily come, as well as to find out what objects of possible future interest exist in their communities.

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