Becoming an Art Appraiser: Job Description & Career Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career an art appraiser? Get a real job description and information about career prospects to see if becoming an art appraiser is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Art Appraiser

Art appraisers determine the fair market value of paintings, sculptures, textiles and other related items. If you like the idea of becoming an 'art detective' and have been wondering what you might do with a degree in fine arts or art history, take a look at some of the following pros and cons to see if a career as an art appraiser might be right for you.

Pros of Becoming an Art Appraiser
Non-routine profession*
Good fit for grads with an art history degree*
High public contact position*
Opportunity to provide a public service and keep art transactions honest**

Cons of Becoming an Art Appraiser
Evening and weekend work might be required***
College degree and certificate in appraisal studies is generally necessary****
Criteria for membership in IRS-approved appraisal organizations can be costly and time consuming**
Appraisals can have serious tax consequences for owners and buyers*

Sources: *University of Notre Dame (Alternatives for Art Historians), **Appraisers Association of America, ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ****Internal Revenue Service.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Art appraisers conduct and write formal evaluations that document the authenticity and fair market value of fine or decorative objects. Fair market value is the price that would most likely be agreed upon by a buyer and seller or what an item would probably sell for at an auction house. To determine a price, appraisers use price checking - the process by which items are compared to the recent purchase price of comparable objects. An art appraiser may also take into consideration the replacement value of an object or what it would cost to replace it with one that is similar in appearance, age, condition and quality. Some art appraisers choose to specialize in particular types of art and sculpture, rendering their opinions of the legitimacy and marketability of an object significantly more valuable than those of general appraisers, according to the IRS.

Art appraisers must have a strong sense of personal integrity and high ethical standards, especially since appraisals are classified as legal documents and fall under the scrutiny of the IRS. They must also have excellent interpersonal skills and be diplomatic and sensitive when dealing with antique dealers, trust officers and families coping with death and divorce. Art appraisers can conduct assessments for a variety of different purposes, including charitable contributions, damage claims, estate taxes, insurance coverage, liquidations and sales.

Career Info

Art appraisers can be self-employed or work on staff for appraisal companies and auction houses. Furthermore, you might find work with estate liquidators, museums and art dealers. While not all professionals may be fortunate enough to appear on Antiques Roadshow, some offer their expertise to 'what it's worth' events and speak at public gatherings. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific job growth data for art appraisers, they do expect employment of claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners and investigators to increase by three percent from 2012 to 2022, which is slower than the average for all other occupations.

Education and Training Requirements

Unlike the business of real estate where an appraiser's qualifications can be confirmed by a government-issued license, the art appraisal industry is self-regulating. The IRS denotes a qualified appraiser to be someone who has completed college or professional-level coursework and acquired experience relevant to the type and price range of an item being sold or who has met the credentialing requirements of a recognized appraisal organization in the field.

In the U.S., the IRS has approved the following three associations: the International Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers Association of America and the American Society of Appraisers. To join, art appraisers must meet an association's requirements for formal study and professional experience and submit a designated number of appraisal reports.

Some colleges and universities offer appraisal studies certificate programs in conjunction with one of the three IRS-approved organizations. For example, newcomers with less than five years of experience may find an appraisal studies program that allows them to join the Appraisers Association of America as an associate upon program completion. A similar arrangement also exists between the American Society of Appraisers and some appraisal studies programs. Some of the topics covered by association and school-based programs include personal property valuation, fine arts appraisal and Uniform Standards of Professional Practice (USAP). A membership in any one of these three organizations is the equivalent of a professional license.

Job Skills

Additionally, potential clients and employers will expect you to have:

  • Good research and writing skills, including the ability to use online reference tools
  • A familiarity with reference materials related to drawings, prints, design and technology history, imprints and makers marks
  • Attention to detail
  • Knowledge of IRS appraisal standards
  • Good interpersonal skills

Aside from the referral services offered by professional associations, you may be able to find appraisal-related opportunities through museums, auction houses and reputable job boards.

How to Stand Out in the Field

A membership in one of the three major appraisal organizations can help you develop your skills, build relationships with more senior appraisers and gain public recognition. Appraisals are a critical part of the accreditation process, and as a candidate for membership, you must be able to demonstrate your ability to complete complex reports. An appraisal report is like a resume, and the IRS looks to these documents for evidence of an art appraiser's education and experience.

In addition to learning how to properly prepare an appraisal, you might want to consider a position at an auction house. In a profile for Smithsonian Magazine, art appraiser Nan Chisholm compares working at an auction house to getting a degree. According to Chisholm, cataloging at an auction house will give you an opportunity to work with high-volume inventories and get first-hand (rather than slide) views of catalog items. And while the art inventory at an auction house will be much different from what you might find in a museum, it'll give you the chance to meet new artists and understand what drives the market.

Other Careers to Consider

Curator

A curator's work is similar to that of an art appraiser. Job duties include authenticating, appraising and classifying items in a museum or other institution as well as negotiating and authorizing the purchase, sale, exchange or loan of collections. Although a small museum may hire a candidate with a bachelor's degree in art, history or a related major, most require applicants to have a master's or even a doctoral degree. The BLS projected a faster-than-average growth in employment of 25% for curators from 2010 to 2020. As of May 2011, the median annual salary for a curator was $49,000.

Real Estate Appraiser or Assessor

Real estate appraisers and assessors estimate the value of buildings and property before they are developed, sold, mortgaged or insured. An associate's degree is the minimum requirement necessary for working as an appraiser of residential property, and commercial real estate appraisers might be required to have a bachelor's degree. According to the BLS, in May 2011, appraisers and assessors of real estate earned a median annual salary of $49,000.

Auto Damage Insurance Appraiser

If you find automobiles more interesting than art, you might want to consider a career as an appraiser for an insurance or independent adjusting firm. A high school diploma is the minimum requirement for obtaining a position, although auto damage appraisers usually have a 2-year degree or relevant work experience in an auto repair shop. As of May 2011, auto damage insurance appraisers earned a median annual salary of $57,000, as reported by the BLS.

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