Choosing the Right Appraiser

For the majority of us, our collector car will be the second most valuable asset we own right behind our home. For many others their collector car will be the most valuable asset they possess. Finding someone who can accurately calculate and document a value for that collector vehicle is absolutely vital in order to properly protect that asset.

Remember, when you have your vehicle professionally appraised for whatever reason, you are buying more than just the pages in that appraisal document. You are also buying a legal document! As such, the reputation, credibility and most important of all the experience of the appraiser you have retained are the prime factors of an outstanding and reliable appraisal.

Remember, the appraiser’s responsibility does not end when he or she hands you the appraisal document on the contrary, they also have the responsibility to stand behind that appraisal document perhaps years down the road when the value of that vehicle comes into question after an insurance claim, dispute or one of the many legal situations that might question exactly how that value was obtained.

Here is the NUMBER ONE question to ask the appraisal company BEFORE you even consider hiring them……….”Will the inspector who comes out to look at the vehicle(s) actually be the person who establishes the value”? If the answer is NO, hang up immediately!

Let me explain why. Currently there seems to be an abundance of some “appraisal groups” and “networks” that, after four or five days of training send ‘agents’ or ‘members’ out to photograph and gather information on the vehicles in question.

The information and digital photographs are then emailed to a main office, often 2,000-3,000 miles away, for an office person to put the information gathered into a report form along with a value! It doesn’t take a genius to see all kinds of legal and other non-professional flaws in that process, does it?

Obviously, anyone who chooses to have a vehicle appraised does it for a reason whether it be for insurance, finance, legal, tax purposes or whatever. That appraisal report then constitutes a legal document. Now just imagine as it often does, the value of the vehicle in that appraisal report being disputed in an arbitration or court room.

Any half-way savvy lawyer will ask the appraiser on the witness stand this simple question “How did you come up with the value stated in your report?” If the appraisers answer is “Well, I wasn’t the one who came up with the appraised value”. “I just looked at the vehicle and passed the information to someone in our head office on the other side of the country” At that point, you just lost the case for your client!

So, now that you know the danger of using one of those ‘groups” or “networks” what should you look for?

The first thing to look for when choosing an appraiser is that an individual has been in business for at least 10 years. The car appraisal business is one of those businesses in which a lot of people enter into it thinking it is an easy way to supplement their income or write off their car hobby, but soon realize it is not that easy and quietly quit, leaving you with an expensive, but worthless document. You need someone with a track record, someone who will more than likely still be in business a few years from now in order to back up his or her documentation when and if you need it.

Before hiring anyone to appraise your collector car, unless you have used them before or already know of that person, always, always ask the actual person who is coming out to inspect your collector car to email you their own personal resume if it is not posted online. If you’re not completely blown away with that resume or if it shows less than ten years of experience in the field, keep looking!

If the appraiser claims to be a ‘certified appraiser’, ALWAYS ask how long ago they were certified and who certified them. Ask for the resume of the appraiser who signed the certificate. Remember, a certificate signed only a year ago by someone with little or no credibility is just a worthless piece of paper. Appraisal associations are for-profit organizations that survive on annual dues and certification fees and, as such, must be looked at carefully.

Although only a handful of “Master Appraisers” exist in the country, apparently with two or three days training and $500.00, you can now become one! So again, read the resume carefully.

Before I started appraising cars about 25 years ago, I realized the only way to properly learn the business, was to perform a one year long apprenticeship with what was then one of the largest appraisal companies in California. I was formally trained to appraise every type of automobile possible, as well as to attend several binding arbitrations and court hearings before I called myself an appraiser.

Just think about this; your $100,000.00 ’40 Ford Coupe Street Rod is wrecked or stolen a few months after it was appraised. The insurance company, as they obviously will do now takes a really close look at the appraisal document you previously forwarded to them before writing you out that big check. They will hire their own expert to look over your appraisal report or, if this imaginary ’40 Ford Coupe was wrecked and still available for inspection, they will travel to it and take a close professional look at whatever remains of your Street Rod.

If the expert hired by the insurance company comes up with a lesser value for that wrecked or stolen ’40 Ford Coupe, you have a serious problem. Your appraiser will be asked to participate in either a legally binding arbitration, or perhaps in a proper court hearing as an expert witness.

I think you can see where this is going. If your partially time or part trained appraiser has only limited experience, how will his or her report compare to a professional appraisal document compiled by a true expert who has appraised 10-20 vehicles per week as a full time job for the past 10, 20 or 30 years? Obviously, a judge or jury will be very skeptical of the validity of your much less credible appraisal report and you will likey lose the case!

Let’s imagine that the appraised value of this hypothetical stolen or damaged ’40 Ford Coupe Street Rod or one off Ferrari race car or 1969 Camaro Retro Rod is disputed by the insurance company. The adjuster will no doubt ask your appraiser “What qualifies you to be able to put an accurate value on this automobile?” I’m sure that you don’t want an appraisal report produced by an individual who can only answer “just a few days of formal training on a handful of vehicles” or, worse still, “I didn’t establish the value, I just looked at it and took a few photos.

The end result will be that you just lost your case, your car and your money! On the other hand, if your award winning classic or customized car had been inspected by Classic Auto Appraiser, we could have dazzled the opposing council with an absolutely unparalleled resume.

If you’re looking for someone to accurately inspect and appraise your prized automotive investment, make sure you find someone experienced and qualified, obtain their resume and don’t just believe what they have written on it. Ask for referrals, make phone calls and check them out thoroughly. Remember your car may depend on it!

Important Questions To Ask:

  1. How long ago were you formally trained to appraise collector vehicles?
  2. How long was the training process?
  3. Who trained you?
  4. What experience did your trainer have?
  5. How long have you been appraising collector cars?
  6. Is appraising collector vehicles your full time job?
  7. Will you be the actual person compiling the appraisal report, or will you be forwarding the information and photos on to someone else?
  8. Will the appraiser who inspects my vehicle be the same person that researches and completes my appraisal report(s)?
  9. How many insurance arbitrations have you participated in?
  10. How many times have you been cross-examined on the witness stand when giving expert testimony concerning appraisals of collector vehicles?
  11. Can you give me the names and contact information for some of the lawyers you have been retained by?
  12. Have any articles been published about you and your appraisal services in any national automotive magazines?
  13. Can you give me the contact information for five or six recognized restoration shops or custom car builders in your area that I can contact for a referral?
  14. Can you please email me the resume of the person that will be inspecting my collector cars?

Remember, your collector car is one of your most valuable assets. You obviously wouldn’t hire a lawyer, an accountant, a doctor or any other professional person with minimal training and limited experience for an important task. Don’t hire a part time appraiser or information gatherer to evaluate your collector car!