I just recently read an article by Dr. Lori (no first name given) about being careful about using the internet to find what your antique is worth. She states, “If I had a dime for every time I advised people not to use eBay or any online auction site as a method for finding out the value of a work of art or antique, I’d be able to help out with the debt crisis.”
I would say that if you need to know the value for the purpose of insurance, the above statement is good advice. But if you are just curious about how much the beautiful antique vase that your grandmother left you is worth, you might not want to pay a professional appraiser to give you a formal valuation on your piece. If I see something at an auction that I am considering buying, I definitely go online to do my research.
Dr. Lori went on to say, “I have told folks time and time again that you can’t use an eBay listing or posted online sales results to put a value on an object. Online fraud is widespread and that’s why you can’t rely solely on an online auction website’s sales records to provide you with an accurate appraisal. Only an honest appraiser who can analyze the market data can provide you with that critical information.” Again to take nothing away from professional appraisers, they do a great job for formal appraisals, but I think she is over stating the amount of online fraud. Having worked with professional appraisers many times in the past, one of the things they do when appraising something is to try to find comparable items, much the same way an insurance agent will find comparable sales of other similar homes in an area. The more unusual an item, the more difficult it is to find comparable items. So sometimes, the internet is the only place to find comparable items.
Dr. Lori used this example, “Recently, an online seller using the auction website eBay was prosecuted in the United Kingdom. He admitted that he used two separate eBay accounts to bid against himself on items that he had posted for sale. He bid on his own items to increase the price. This made the bidding soar and potential buyers think there was great interest in the object for sale.”
“Onlookers mistakenly believed that his type of item was worth more than it actually was worth. Also, he admitted that he posted positive feedback relating to his own accounts to positively impact his online reputation and satisfy future buyers that he was a good seller with whom to deal.” It is unfair to eBay or any other auction site to use one, or even several examples of fraud, when there are literally millions of items sold on eBay. Of course you should not use the result of one auction to base the value of an item. And you should be aware that fraud takes place online as well as offline. I would say, try to find the “sold” price of an item, and not the listing price. The same for finding the item in an antique store. In a large antique mall, many times you can find the identical item with different prices. Just because a dealer places a price on an item doesn’t mean it is worth that much. The saying in the antiques business is, “Something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it.” I recently was at an antique auction where a musical pocket watch sold for $1050. Someone in the audience later informed the auctioneer that an identical watch sold on eBay the day before for $2805, and I checked it out and found it to be true. So what is the true value of the watch, if you wanted to purchase one. I would look for more sales figures if possible. Another factor to consider, did a dealer purchase the item to resell, or did an individual buy it for themselves. If you watch the popular “Pawn Stars” you often hear Rick say he is buying the item to resell it and has to make a profit. So he can’t pay what a retail person is paying for something. At some antique auctions, up to 70%-80% of the items are bought by dealers who are buying to resell. But the average person would not know the dealers from the retail buyers. This is even more true on the internet, unless you get to know the bidder’s user name in your area of collecting.
She continues, “This type of fraud is not only reserved to online auction sites, but is has become very commonplace in the overall online sales arena. Experts maintain that shill bidding is a major problem for users of online auctions and some other antiquing and collecting websites.”
“If a person pretends that his/her products are worth more than they are really worth, that is not on the up and up in the world of commerce, particularly in the world of e-commerce. Also, misrepresenting the demand for an item by creating false bidders for an item is also beyond the boundaries of acting in good faith.”
“Shill is an early 20th Century word which relates to the underhanded process of presenting a decoy or informed accomplice who poses as an enthusiastic potential buyer in an effort to attract other buyers. This is only one type of trick that people use when buying and selling art, antiques and collectibles in the online environment.”
“Remember, you can’t use online auction sites as a source for evaluating your art, antiques, or collectibles.”
A professional appraiser, when giving a written appraisal, have to be able to back their appraisals up, even in a court of law. This could be to settle an estate, or an insurance claim for fire or theft. So I understand Dr. Lori has to be careful. But I think she should point out the differences between formal written appraisals, and people just wanting to know what something is worth.
I do agree with Dr. Lori in her final paragraph where she states, “And remember, an honest appraiser tells you what something is worth based on what other people have paid for similar items and a dishonest one tells you what he/she is willing to pay you for your object — that’s what the item is worth to them if they want to buy it (a.k.a., a purchase offer). An appraisal is NOT a purchase offer. Don’t be fooled. The next time you decide to shop, bid, or research antiques online, remember to click with care.”
You can read Dr. Lori’s entire article here on this site, http://uppermoreland.patch.com/articles/beware-of-price-fixing-onine-with-your-arts-and-antiques/.