Before the estate sale, you will need to find a good personal-property appraiser — a process that can be daunting. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

Your childhood baseball card collection gathering dust in the basement of your parents’ home, which you must clean out for an estate sale, or the pottery you brought back 30 years ago after serving overseas may help fund that Florida retirement condo or your child’s college education. You will never know without first consulting the right professional.

There may come a time when you are faced either with settling an estate, selling an item or collection, donating your favorite piece of art or simply updating your insurance policy.

If so, you may have to find an appraiser. But how do you find a good one?

The process of selecting the right appraiser is not easy, and all experts are not created equal.

You cannot go to a single governing body or licensing authority for help. There are none overseeing this field, leaving the burden of due diligence on the consumer to review the appraisers’ qualifications, training and areas of expertise.

In 1989, the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) was adopted by the Appraisal Standards Board of the Appraisal Foundation and accepted by Congress. The Uniform Standards are recognized throughout the United States as the generally accepted standards by appraisal professionals.

The foundation’s mission is ensuring public trust through standards, appraiser qualifications, and guidance regarding valuation methods and techniques and report writing. But the standards are not mandatory — each appraiser can decide whether they will be trained in USPAP and follow its guidelines. It is up to the appraiser and consumer whether the appraiser’s report would need to comply with USPAP.

Given the lack of mandatory oversight, here is what you should review before hiring an appraiser:

  • Ask for their résumé and review their formal training in appraisal methodology.
  • Does the appraiser follow USPAP, and did they update their training within the last five years?
  • What experience does the appraiser hold in appraising your specific type of item? Remember, no appraiser can be an expert in every category.
  • Does the appraiser hold designations and membership to professional organizations that offer ongoing continuing education?
  • How do they charge? Do they charge per hour or per piece? They should never charge a percentage fee based on the valuation.

Typically, the first question an appraiser will ask is: What is the purpose of your appraisal? This is to determine the type of value definition to use to research and prepare a written opinion of value for each item.

For the most part, an appraisal will fall into one of the following six D categories: death, debt, damage, divorce, donation, downsizing.

It is important for consumers to take into consideration that appraisers are not authenticators. Appraisers are trained to conduct proper research to determine an unbiased and thoughtful justified opinion on value. They may work with an authenticator if required or needed.

It is important to understand that the person at the local antique mall may offer to provide an appraisal report. However, they may not be qualified and trained to conduct the proper research and to then prepare a thorough USPAP-compliant appraisal report.

Appraisers, depending on the geographic area, typically charge anywhere from $125 to $400 per hour, depending on the level of expertise. Some may have additional fees for a site visit. You should avoid an appraiser who will charge a fee based on a percentage of the item’s value, as this goes against USPAP’s ethical requirement.

You can find an appraiser by consulting the following groups:

In the end, the burden of engaging the right appraiser for your type of item is up to you. Remember to hire a properly trained, USPAP-compliant appraiser who will invest the time to conduct the proper research and documentation to prepare a well-written and comprehensive report that will satisfy the IRS, your attorney or the courts.

Anne Nouri is a Realtor, auctioneer and appraiser with Sorelle Realty at Keller Williams McLean and Prime Auction Solutions.