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A YEAR ago the very idea of routinely valuing items unseen over the Internet aroused a horrified response but a rather different message emerged from this year’s Appraisers Association of America national conference, which took place in New York from November 10-12.

Around 200 professional valuers heard evidence that online services were meeting the needs of people who simply want to know “What is it and how much is it worth?”

To enable members to adapt to changing expectations, the AAA board of directors put forward a proposal to allow members to give Personal Opinions of Value (POVs) which do not meet the standards set for full formal appraisals. However several speakers and audience members cautioned against the adoption of anything which would not stand up to the scrutiny of a full appraisal.

In 1999 the concept of evaluating art and objects via the internet received an almost universally hostile reception from AAA members, but the title of the 2000 event, Appraising in the 21st Century: Shifting Perceptions and Changing Realities , signalled a new attitude.

“Last year everyone was nasty to me, this year everyone’s being so nice,” commented Leslie Hindman, former Chicago auctioneer and now CEO of one of the major new online appraisal companies, eppraissals.com.

Despite being given a rough ride last year, she had returned to take part in a panel discussion. She explained that her company could now call on 750 experts in all categories from mainstream antiques to specialised collectables.

“We have even signed up the head of the Air Sickness Bag Collectors’ Club,” she said, but admitted that they had no enquiries in that area yet.

Sitting on a panel to consider the impact of online appraisals, she explained that her company charged a standard $20 for a personal opinion of value from the appropriate expert who receives half of that fee for each appraisal.

David J. Maloney, author of Maloney’s guide and chief appraisal officer of CollectingChannel.com, also felt that new services were meeting a demand stimulated by the Roadshow and other programmes.

He pointed out that the increasing numbers of experts engaged in valuation on-line was reflected in the newly formed Association of Online Appraisers. He has developed a flow chart (available at http://www.AOAonline.org/flowchart.htm) to help appraisers meet the required standards while limiting their liability in online valuations.

In proposing POVs, the AAA also set clear conditions and attempted to limit the use of the valuations and limit the liability of the appraiser.

From another panel discussion assessing the impact of on-line sales on the auction market, it was clear that Internet sales had not only taken a part of the traditional auction market but had also created new markets, particularly for low value collectables.

However a constant flow of questions from the floor established that the price data currently available from auction Websites was not adequate for appraisers to keep up with changing price levels in this developing market.