Expert Witness Appraisals

Novotny is frequently retained to provide litigation support valuation services when objects are not available for inspection. Most cases involved the total loss or damage of personal property or antiques in California. His first trial was in 1996. For more information visit the Expert Witness section of this website. In some of these appraisal assignments there were multiple plaintiffs, with each suffering a complete loss of their antiques, personal property and residential contents.

Extent of Description Needed for an Appraisal without an Inspection

The appraiser seeks to identify the property name (what it is typically called by informed market participants) or the generic property type, quantity, age, marks, makers, artist/author etc., condition, quality and significant property attributes such as color, size, material etc.. This is not always possible since such characteristics may be unknown by the owner and the property cannot be inspected.  A simple written description (what another person has called it) is sometimes the only basis for a property identification. The appraiser must, however, be able to sufficiently identify the object (its common name(s)), it's quantity and some indication of it's quality (perhaps it's cost new).The appraiser may need to employ assumptions that are consistent with the information that is provided. If no special characteristics are claimed, the appraiser may assume that the property is of a common type that is typically found in the marketplace. For instance:

"A collection of 38 Barbie dolls purchased  between 1988 and 1994 stored in their unopened boxes and including four Bob Mackies MIB." 

The Bob Mackies were not named but a value range or central measure of fair market value can still be developed. For instance using the search term "Bob Mackies MIB" over time we find that in:

  • 7/23/18 there were 58  search results:  highest sale was $170 (lowest $5) with a mode range in$30 to $70 range
  • 8/29/14 there were 109 search results: highest sale was $201 (lowest $10) with a strong mode indicated in $20-$60 range
  • 5/27/14 there were 283 search results: highest sale was $180 with a strong mode indicated in $25-$50 range
  • 11/9/13 there were 285 search results; range $261-$13 with a strong mode in the $30-$60 range
  • 5/11/13 there were 232 search results; highest sale was $265 and a very strong mode existed from $20-$60.00 
  • 12/8/12 there were 518 results, range $295-$20 on the first 9 pages 
  • 7/18/12 there were 122 search results, range $225-$25

This type of analyses produces fairly consistent results suggesting some basis for estimating fair market value with a reasonable degree of validity and reliability when auction is the appropriate market to investigate. The highest sale over the course of the seven searches ranged from $170-$295 when eBay is investigated. A review of eBay sales on from July 2012 to July 2018 showed an average of $80 with 680 sales with 14 of the sales over $295, the four highest were $800, $620, $450 and $400.


  • On eBay determine a relevant and appropriate search term then 
  • go to the left side under "show only"  and mark the box for "completed listings" or "sold", then 
  • on the upper right the upper right of the page go to the drop down list under "Sort" and choose "Price: highest first" or "Sold". 

The search results will then be ordered by the most desirable (rarest?) to the least (most common?) for all actual sales. I normally analyze only completed sales with multiple bids. The ratio of completed sales in the search results (amounts reported in green) to objects that failed to sell or received no bids (reported in red), informs us of the strength of demand, but only when you select "completed sales" under "show only" on the left side. 
See Equivalent Samples, Novotny's 2008 published journal article, to explore other methodologies, assignment conditions and applicable standards relevant to valuing properties that cannot be inspected.

Important General Property Descriptive Information in General​

Clients are generally advised, to the best of their knowledge, to identify the term that will best identify what the property is typically called (e.g. the term most commonly used by market participants when buying and selling comparable properties). 

State the maker; estimate of the quantity and the material from which it was created. Describe important quality characteristics and condition. Provide your opinion of the date or period in which the object was created, state the date and cost of acquisition, the country or culture of origin, any special decorative or quality features, design characteristics and unusual materials  and techniques of construction.

The description should include the size (weight if relevant) and any marks such as the manufacturer, maker, author, notations, signatures, inscriptions and model/serial numbers, labels, brand names, logos,  pattern names, title, or edition size and dates.

A good object description should also provide an opinion of when the object was created: 18th century, early 19th century, circa 1920, mid 20th century, late 20th century, nearly new, contemporary, etc., but only if it is true or there is a reasonable basis for an assumption of age. 

Gather and provide copies of purchase receipts, canceled checks, prior appraisal reports, inventories or family photographs that show all or part of lost objects.

Provenance, celebrity ownership, signatures, labels, citations in related literature and history of exhibition should be noted. 

 Condition factors are very important. Describe any restorations, alterations, additions, part replacements, missing parts or damage(breaks, fading, surface losses, cracks, chips, dents, rubbings, scratches, abrasions or discoloration. Note factors such as obsolescence, mileage or hours of use. 

Some properties have standard rating scales that profoundly impacts value. For instance:

​​Online Distant Appraisals Without Inspection

in Los Angeles or Nationwide 

Call Novotny now: (626) 292-2224

(sorry, but no free appraisals)

Geographic competency: Novotny is very experienced with the Southern California competing market levels. He also regularly reviews the completed sales of major regional auctions that publish completed sale results for most collectible and vintage object types. His general object and alternative market knowledge and experience goes back 38 years. He generally knows when a regional or national market may have regional market factors. Appraisers have an obligation to be competent regarding geographic location differences that could effect value, and to disclose such issues if it could preclude the appraiser from completing the report credibly.  

If you seek an on-site inspection as part of your appraisal needs, please visit the home page for general information regarding the types of appraisal assignments and service area of Novotny, and to find out about the many types of property that he has valued. 

Visit the New Novotny Website

To find out more about the types of antiques and personal property appraised visit PROPERTY TYPES 
To find out more about Novotny's Appraisal Services visit his HOME PAGE now.
To find you how Novotny acquired 30+ years of appraisal experience see ABOUT US
If you need a generalist antiques and personal property appraiser CONTACT NOVOTNY
If it is not required, and you do not need a formally written report  find out about an ORAL REPORT.Visit the new Novotny website:

Copyright 2009-2018 - all rights reserved - William M. Novotny 

 Call Novotny in Los Angeles area:  626-292-2224

Mechanical Iron Banks

Expert Personal Property Online Distant Appraisals in Los Angeles or Nationwide

 personal property appraiser

Los Angeles Personal Property Appraiser

Online Appraisals

In some appraisal assignments an inspection is possible, but not necessary. Online distant appraisals without inspection in Los Angeles or nationwide are possible when needed and appropriate. Such assignments can be done using either an oral appraisal report for a typed formal appraisal report. Some appraisal assignments can be conducted using digital photographs and careful communication between the appraiser and the client. Some types of personal property and antiques are appropriate for distance appraisals in this manner. However, only some appraisal problems or intended uses are appropriate for distant appraisal.

"Value in Doubt? Find Out!"

In some appraisal assignments personal property cannot be inspected. Novotny specializes in online distant appraisal without inspection in Los Angeles or Nationwide. In 2008 he published an article in the Journal of Advanced Appraisal Studies entitled "Equivalent Samples" which explores the significant issues regarding appraisals without an inspection. He explores the relevant theory, methods, assignment conditions and the USPAP requirements that apply when property is destroyed, stolen, lost or converted and cannot be inspected. 

When appropriate he will embrace a Los Angeles or So. Cal. appraisal when property can be inspected, but inspection is not required because the property can be sufficiently identified and understood in communication with the client and with photos. When an inspection is necessary Novotny will not accept a distant or online appraisal assignment. It depends on intended use and the needs of intended users and the relevant characteristics of the objects. The two vintage toy cars shown to the right may be doable if the client is sufficiently informed to determine if the paint and iron or steel body is original and to detect replacement parts and condition problems. The Icart print just below to the right should be inspected to determine if it is authentic or a reproduction unless the client is sufficiently knowledgeable to determine. He offers oral or formally written reports when agreeing to do online distant appraisal without inspection in Los Angeles or nationwide.

Distant appraisals, based only on photographs, require a minimum retainer in advance and payment in full prior providing a final report. Following the necessary opinion development Novotny will provide either a formal report, if appropriate and necessary, or an oral report (which provides a significant cost savings)!

Novotny's most cost effective option is a 20 minute oral appraisal at his home office or conducted with a telephone conference with the client and intended users. Such online distant appraisal require payment in advance.

Books: State title, author, publisher, publication date and location, illustrator, editor, bindings, hard or soft bound, cloth or leather? What color? Dust jacket? Condition? Anything written? Any notations? When/where purchased, What date? Cost? Which edition and printing? 

Stamps: Novotny will not appraise stamps. If stamps are in an assignment with other objects, and the objects cannot be inspected, Novotny can probably value the stamps with the assistance of a stamp expert if the following information is provided. What are the Scott Catalog numbers? Mint stamp or mint sheet? What is quantity of each? Identify any rare or important examples.

Demand Credibility and avoid appraiser incompetency.

Read an article published by Novotny that discusses in depth the USPAP competency and scope of work requirements that apply to general personal property appraisers who value many different types of antiques  and fine and decorative art and collectible objects as well as ordinary household goods. Competency and scope of work considerations particularly apply when the subject property cannot be inspected.

Novotny will decline assignments that are inappropriate for distant or online appraisals. Novotny will also decline any assignment, and to appraise any property type, for which he lacks the necessary knowledge and experience.

  • Some high value antiques, fine or decorative art objects are not appropriate for appraisal without an on-site inspection such as objects
  • with quality characteristics that do not reveal well in a photograph, and 
  • that require the touch, feel and personal examination of appraisers 
  • that may require specialized tools or technical analysis

  • Some appraisal assignment types are not appropriate for distant or online appraisals such as
  • IRS tax appraisals (thought the IRS routinely uses photographs for valuation review)
  • litigation support appraisal assignments when the property is available for inspection
  • most insurance assignments to obtain coverage 
  • when the subject property has geographical competency requirements, or
  • when there are local jurisdictional laws or regulations that apply to the assignment.

A brief, no cost, email or telephone consultation with Novotny can determine whether or not a distant appraisal would be appropriate or to arrange for an onsite appraisal. During such a consult the costs and procedures can be discussed. Contact Novotny now by Email 

Specific Property Types Each Have Important Specific Characteristics

Collectibles: There are many types of collector categories such as dolls, military, music, sporting, ephemera, textiles, etc., and within each category are different objects: Barbie dolls, bisque dolls, firearms, swords, knives, rare records, music boxes, sports cards, comic books, autographs, posters, samplers, quilts and lace etc. 

Each collectible object type has unique condition, quality and value characteristics that informed buyers seek.  Knowledgeable sellers consider and evaluate these same characteristics during negotiations with potential buyers. These characteristics are important to identify. When describing a property: 

identify the name of the property type, quantity, condition, age, cost and important characteristics 

Furniture: What is the typical name or the form it is called (type: e.g. table, chest, wing-back chair, tall case clock, etc)?  Is there a style that describes it, What is the age, What wood or material used? What finish or surface? In what country and what date was it created? Are there maker or manufacturer marks? What style? What special features (inlay, carvings, paint etc.). Describe the parts, the condition and dimensions. Need Help? Manufactured furniture after the mid 19th century are frequently doable with inspection with sufficient information.

Fine art: Describe medium (e.g. oil on canvas or type of print on paper), subject, artist, title, note exact signature, date, inscriptions, image size, labels or marks on the back of the work. Prints: type of print and edition size. Describe frames and overall size. Bronzes: height, artist, editions size, foundry marks, subject. (Many or most works of art are not appropriate for distant appraisal without inspection)

Clocks: type (mantle, wall, tall case, carriage, bracket, skeleton, etc.), maker, materials used, date created,  [figural clock, banjo clocks, iron clock,] dimensions, condition,  special characteristics (ormolu, movement, escapement type, dial features, winding holes, chimes, actions, apertures, decorations).

Silver: Type: (e.g. flatware service, tea and coffee service), object name, marks (e.g. hallmarks, sterling, .925, .800, electroplate), decoration (e.g. monogram, repousse, chased, hammered), date, maker, country of origin, Troy oz. weight, condition.