Published: December 24, 2018
As Dylan said, “the times they are a-changin,” and that time has arrived for the appraisal market. Once relegated to in-home visits, the appraisal business has expanded in the age of technology, reaching the digital service industry. ValueMyStuff.com, recently acquired by Barnebys, and Mearto.com are there to answer questions of value and worth, with thousands of inquiries pouring in to knowledgeable appraisers every month, many of whom count top auction houses among their work history. Of course, no art market service is complete without the added benefit of selling, and these two are no different. So Antiques and The Arts Weekly got in touch with Lindsay Simon, head of valuations at Barnebys/ValueMyStuff and Mads Hallas Bjerg, co-founder of Mearto.com, to learn about this new frontier in art and antiques.
A person finds you online and submits an appraisal request. Walk me through the process.
LS (ValueMyStuff): Once a user reaches the ValueMyStuff website, she/he can fill out our step-by-step valuation form, including description, measurements, provenance and space to upload images/documents relating to the piece. From there, click to pay and send your request, and you will receive a response within 24 or 48 hours.
MHB (Mearto): First, the person is guided through a form to provide the necessary information so our specialists can provide them with the best possible appraisal. We ask the customer to upload multiple high-quality images, provide a description, share provenance information and finally ask whether it is for sale or not. The customer can also choose between a public or private appraisal. After we have received relevant information, the relevant appraisers are notified and will answer the request within 24 or 48 hours. A unique part of our service is that you can ask questions and chat with the expert.
Is valuation a conduit to sales? After the appraisals, what options do you offer for people who want to sell?
MHB (Mearto): Yes, we want to help people sell and connect with the right auction house. A big part of our vision is around connecting our customers with the right auction house to sell their items. We ask all our customers if they want to sell or not, so we have decent data on this. More than 90 percent of the items we receive are for sale and our customers actively ask us for selling advice. If someone has indicated that they want to sell and the item is estimated to be worth more than $3,000, we would help people connect with the right auction house. Our consignment services can help a seller match his/her item with the auction house that will realize the fullest potential of the item when the hammer falls. We do all the legwork. We contact the auction houses, compare their terms and fees, analyze the best sale for your item to be in, and then provide you with our assessment. We are paid a small commission from the auction house once the item sells. It is in everyone’s best interest for us to find the best house for the item. If the item is not suitable for auction, we would refer them to eBay or another online marketplace and explain why this would be a better platform to sell.
LS (ValueMyStuff): This is one of the most exciting aspects of Barnebys’ recent acquisition of ValueMyStuff. Barnebys benefits from a large network of affiliates, representing the top auction houses and dealers worldwide, all of whom are eager to consign objects submitted through the valuation service. Every ValueMyStuff user has the option to mark their interest in selling an item after she/he has received the valuation. Once we know there is an interest in a sale, we send those objects out to our affiliate network to match each user to the right auction house or dealer. Some of our recent sales include the auction of a signed Beatles photograph, a woman’s Bulgari watch and a set of Russian silver at Christie’s – which fetched more than $50,000.
LS (ValueMyStuff): There are many valuation options available to our users. Our standard valuations are $20 with a 48-hour response time, and express valuations, with 24-hour response times, are $40. Many of our users, however, prefer to purchase valuation credits in bulk, which allows them to save money on each valuation, in addition to being able to easily submit multiple requests.
MHB (Mearto): We charge $15 to assign an appraiser to review an item online within 48 hours and $25 if it needs to be within 24 hours. There is an additional $2 if the customer wants it to be private.
What experience do you look for in appraisers? Are you looking for more of them?
MHB (Mearto): We are always looking for new additions to our team. We want appraisers with experience from the best auction houses, though we prefer experts that are looking for additional freelance work. At the moment, we are looking for specialists in the rugs and jewelry.
LS (ValueMyStuff): We are always open to adding new specialists to our network, and we encourage qualified candidates to reach out to us. All of our experts have significant auction house and art market experience, and are all current or former specialists for top auction houses, including Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips or Bonhams.
Is demand growing?
LS (ValueMyStuff): Everything starts with a valuation in our industry, whether you’re buying or selling, so the possibilities are endless. For many people it can be difficult to receive a valuation of this caliber from their local antique shop or dealer – especially in niche categories – and our experts are able to value more than 40 categories of fine and decorative art, antiques and collectibles with the click of a button.
MHB (Mearto): We feel a lot is happening in this industry and we enjoy our position in the market. I expect 2019 to be a year with an increased focus on online appraisals.
Any feel-good stories you can share?
MHB (Mearto): We have had so many interesting things through the appraisal system this year and many happy and surprised customers. One woman had a $1 thrift find valued at more than $4,000. We have helped appraise and consign items from major artists, including Francis Bacon, Jean Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, Roy Lichtenstein, Egill Jacobsen and Andy Warhol.
LS (ValueMyStuff): Too many to count! We recently had a submission from three brothers who inherited a painting from their father. It was a piece they had grown up with, and one that was much beloved by their parents, but they knew little about it or its origin. After submitting the piece for valuation through ValueMyStuff, they learned that the painting was an original work by Scottish landscape painter Robert Gemmell Hutchison, and worth more than $10,000.
What kind of appraisals do you offer? What is your benchmark value that you appraise against?
LS (ValueMyStuff): All ValueMyStuff valuations include an attribution, detailed description of the object, auction value and insurance value. There are many factors that are taken into account when valuing any item, including comparable auction records, condition of the piece, provenance, as well as literature and exhibition history.
MHB (Mearto): All estimates are fair market value or auction estimates. If retail or insurance estimates are necessary or requested by the client, we include it in the comment section.
Can your appraisals be used for estate planning, insurance or tax purposes?
MHB (Mearto): In these cases, we generally refer people to find a local appraiser. We have a simple directory to do exactly that – it is free for appraisers to be listed in and for our clients to use: https://mearto.com/appraisers.
LS (ValueMyStuff): Our valuation certificates are accepted by most major insurance providers, and every ValueMyStuff valuation includes an insurance value for this reason. Additionally, many of our users are attorneys looking to value pieces for their clients’ estates and asset management.
Being online means you have requests from people all over the world, which is significantly different than how the regional appraisal business has functioned in the past. What challenges does this present that we might not know about?
LS (ValueMyStuff): One of the highlights of our service is our global reach, and I know that our experts are always thrilled to see pieces from so many countries and continents being submitted. As a tech company, we are not limited to a particular area – we have experts operating in many countries – and luckily, the markets for art and antiques are significantly less fractured than in years past. This is a reason why the merging of ValueMyStuff into the Barnebys group was such a natural progression. Barnebys affiliates and users truly span the globe, and ValueMyStuff is dedicated to delivering the best valuations regardless of where our users are located.
MHB (Mearto): I see a huge opportunity for our company because we are global. Accurate estimates need to have a local as well as a global view! For example, a sofa we looked into consigning was valued at $10,000 in Europe and $25,000 in the United States.
Are there any antiques or art that you won’t attempt to value?
MHB (Mearto): There are items where we sometimes need a significant proof of authenticity, and if that it is not there, we would say, “Presumably not genuine.”
LS (ValueMyStuff): We are able to value just about anything, but that does not mean that we will. Naturally, if an object is clearly a forgery, of questionable provenance or legality, we will decline the valuation request and offer a refund. Maintaining an ethical business practice is paramount to our users’ interest as well as our own. Additionally, there are pieces that can only be authenticated and/or valued by an artist’s foundation, so in those cases we offer a preliminary value and suggest the user contact the relevant foundation for more information.
Sell me on how this is better than an in-person appraisal.
LS (ValueMyStuff): I think many of the benefits speak for themselves. Professional valuations from specialists with decades of auction house and art market experience with the click of a button – check; Quick turnaround time – check; Access to a network of more than 1,500 affiliate auction houses and dealers – check. The benefits seem pretty clear to us.
MHB (Mearto): You save time. A lot of time. If you compare it to driving down to the local auction house, transporting the item and arranging a physical meeting, you will save time and money – even though you paid us $15. Also, we would guarantee a thorough independent answer plus selling advice. In many cases, auction houses do not give estimates if they are not interested in selling. More importantly, if you have something valuable, why not get a second opinion and ask more than one auction house? We can help you with that.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm