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A Guide to Online Appraisals (cont.)

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An online appraisal also won’t hold up in court, which typically requires that the condition, ownership and value of an item is assessed and appraised in person by a USPAP-compliant appraiser, says Ronald D. Spencer, who is an art-law expert. That’s because lawyers typically will look for any way that they can to question an appraisal. If the appraisal wasn’t done in person, then it isn’t considered to be thorough enough to stand up to scrutiny in court, he says.

Most insurance companies require appraisals only for items that are worth more than $5,000, but typically the insurers require that the work be done by an in-person appraiser who is USPAP-compliant, Maloney says. Johnston and Megan Mulrooney of ValueMyStuff.com tell us that major insurance companies in the United States increasingly accept online appraisals, but they couldn’t direct us to any insurance company that has a policy of always accepting online appraisals. (Johnston’s website, ValueThisNow.com, charges a higher fee to appraise an item for insurance: $45 instead of its standard rate of $20.)

Jeanne Salvatore of Insurance Information Institute, which is an industry group, tells us that she hasn’t heard of insurance companies accepting online appraisals. However, she says the insurance adjusters’ requirements vary by company and state. Dennis Jay of Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, tells us that adjusters typically will demand a bill of sale (in addition to any photograph) to serve as proof of ownership. Unfortunately, online appraisers don’t make this clear.

“We don’t want to speak on behalf of every insurance company, but the message that we are delivering to consumers is that items appraised on our site or appraised by electronic means might be acceptable,” Johnston said.

In other words, if you have to appraise an item for insurance, you first should ask your insurance agent what type of appraisal that the insurer accepts. An online appraisal might not be worth the bother.

Dianna Dilworth is a freelance journalist who covers technology and the Internet.

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