Dad bored you with his stamp collection when you were a kid, so you might be tempted to just toss or donate those stamps when you’re cleaning out Dad’s house. But that could be an expensive mistake since stamps have actually skyrocketed in value over the past years. If you’re cleaning out an estate, there are a few types of appraisals you’ll want to get, and Dad’s stamp collection is definitely one.

The fact is that a family house full of collectibles may have a lot of hidden value, or you may just be fooling yourself. The only way to know for sure is to hire a professional appraiser when you are downsizing or cleaning out an estate. A pro can separate the emotional attachment from the true monetary value, and tell you what your antique furniture, your great-grandfather’s china set and the house itself are really worth.

Appraising the Stuff

Generally speaking, you will want an appraisal for any item in the estate that someone in the family believes is worth something. When it comes to collectibles, there are usually specific experts for each type of appraisal needed. We especially advise appraising the following items with potential high value:

  • jewelry (even costume)
  • baseball cards
  • coin collections
  • stamp collections
  • vintage toys (especially new in box)
  • comic books
  • furniture over 100 years old, or by name designer

Automobiles are one type of appraisal that can be handled by using a widely accepted used-car valuation guide, such as the Kelley Blue Book, meaning that hiring a professional isn’t always necessary.

Additionally, we always advise having any disputed item appraised. If family members disagree about an item’s value, it’s worth it to pay a third party to settle that debate so it doesn’t rankle for years.


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Property Appraisals

After Stacy’s mother died, she inherited the house her mother had bought decades ago for a few thousand dollars. She hired an appraiser to provide the probate court with an accurate estimate of the property’s current value—which was $100,000.

Property appraisals are a specific type of appraisal that can save the property owner a lot of money. Specifically, Stacy’s appraisal helped her qualify for a tax benefit called a “step up in basis.” This benefit keeps heirs from having to pay capital gains taxes on significant growth in inherited property value.

You may think that you can have a few local real estate agents walk through the property to give you estimates, but that’s not sufficient for probate purposes. You must have a particular type of appraisal known as a “certified date of death appraisal.” Any property that has a high value, and has appreciated significantly over the years, may qualify for the step-up in basis tax benefit. That qualification is set by the certified appraisal.

How to Find an Appraiser

Make sure to get an accredited professional who specializes in the type of appraisal you need. For example, if you want to appraise a house or other property, you might ask a trusted real estate agent or mortgage broker for a recommendation since they work with appraisers regularly.

Associations can also be a good place to start your search. The American Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association, for example, both have an online database where you can search for accredited appraisers with various specialties in your area. You can also find experts able to conduct various types of appraisals over the internet using photos and information you send them.

If you’re looking to appraise something that’s a collectible or somewhat rare—like Marlon Brando’s autograph—you should look for professionals who specialize in those types of appraisals. But if you think you may sell the item, don’t ever hire an appraiser who is also the best potential buyer (for example, the top antiques dealer in your town shouldn’t appraise your grandmother’s Stickley chairs). Any appraiser/buyer will have an inherent conflict of interest and may tend to appraise the item at a lower value.

When in doubt, call in an expert. Bear in mind that while you may think Mom’s antique root beer bottle collection is worthless, she may expect to sell it for a high price when she downsizes. If there is any debate over the value of an item or collection, it’s wise to get a certified appraisal to avoid a family dispute.

At Wayforth we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.