Housework: Making Onsite Inspections Easier

Housework: Making Onsite Inspections Easier

Monday, June 26, 2023 in Business Tips

Though some of our members have a very narrow specialty most of us are called to catalog an estate at some point. A common question many new appraisers have is how to handle an inventory that is inclusive of all the property in a home. If you haven’t taken the AF+DA course I highly recommend it before you go onsite for an estate or other job where a complete inventory is needed. This survey course will touch on many types of personal property and the things you need to note during the inspection.

When you have an entire household to inventory, a plan is imperative. Making the plan begins with the initial conversation you have with your client. Understanding the scope of the job is key. Often the person hiring you, in this instance, has limited knowledge of the contents but I do always ask if the deceased has any significant items or collections to their knowledge. My goal in this conversation is to get an idea of the time I will need to be onsite; do I need help, what special tools may I need, will this job take multiple days? Don’t hesitate to use a trained helper onsite. The cost of the extra hands will save you and the client time and money.

Once I arrive at the location I take a quick tour of the home and any outbuildings included so I can determine how best to manage my time and energy. If someone familiar with the home is present I ask again if they are aware of anything of significant value in the collection.

We begin the process of an appraisal for a taxable estate with two rules established by the purpose. One is that the report must be organized by room and the other is that we are allowed to group like items of individual value of $100 or less within each room. To begin cataloging the property I choose a starting point, usually the front door, and move around each room in a clockwise pattern, going from top to bottom, to make sure I don’t miss anything. Being systematic as you go through drawers, cabinets and closets makes the job go faster. Don’t forget attics, basements, garages and sheds. Be aware that many people hide valuables so make sure your inspection is thorough enough to find items such as silver wrapped in linens, cash hidden in books or left in pockets and jewelry or handguns under clothing in drawers for example.

Always take general shots of each room so you can refer back to them for memory triggers. The larger the estate the more important this step is. As I do this, I notice the most valuable items in the room and mentally begin sorting the items to be grouped. As you catalog items with individual value over $100 use your judgment on the details you need in the description and photographs. If you feel you may eventually seek the help of a specialist with an item, make notes of any characteristics they may ask for such as a VIN number and mileage on a car. Note anything that can affect which comparables you choose  of the maker, condition, material, etcetera. Remember the goal of our inventory is to allow a reader to identify the items based on the information supplied in the report. Digital photography allows me to take more photos than I need but I find I’d rather delete unneeded ones than miss something helpful.

When grouping I make sure my description and photos have enough information represented to not only help the reader locate items but demonstrate the value makes grouping possible. The photos you take may be representative of the group but don’t have to contain all the items. Sometimes the use of sampling is appropriate but make sure photos and condition statements are representative of the whole.

Plan to take short breaks when you are tackling a large job. I may do a few of the densest rooms then go out to my car for 10 minutes to review photos and notes and drink some water. The break will help you start the next section with more enthusiasm. If you find missing information or photos during your review you can start by going back for them. Don’t allow the client to rush you in the inventory process. You may have only one opportunity to complete your inspection.

Do use your judgment as you look at a lifelong collection of items in a home. Be guided by your knowledge of the owner. Was the person an art collector, did they love jewelry, are there valuable firearms in the house? A yes answer to questions like this make you more careful in your inventory. Be cautious about making judgements based on something like the owner’s address or occupation as people can frequently surprise us. Don’t forget the stories we hear of school janitors who stashed amazing amounts of cash or maids who’ve been given valuable gifts by wealthy employers.

I invite appraisers of all specialties to join us in July as we lead the live online AF+DA course.* You can purchase the manual in printed form or as a downloadable .pdf to use as a reference or refresher. 

*If you’re reading this after July 2023, you can take the AF+DA course on-demand at any time.

Libby Holloway, ISA CAPP


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