Personal Property Journal - Volume 3 (2) - Viewpoint - Appraising as a Profession


Well past Mach 1 is the speed at which the appraisal industry is zooming into the truly professional stratosphere.  At present there is no generally accepted definition of the term profession, but there are certain features that identify an occupation as a profession and define the category.

There are at least three requisite features constituting a profession according to almost all authors who have written on the subject:

1.      Extensive training is required to practice a profession.  Lawyers attend three years of post-graduate school and physicians a four-year medical school.  It is plausible to require fine art appraisers to hold as a minimum requirement a college baccalaureate degree.

2.      Training of a professional involves a significant intellectual component.  While the training of hairdressers, electricians and cabinet makers necessitates learning physical skills, accountants, architects, engineers, lawyers, physicians and appraisers are trained in intellectual tasks and skills.  Professionals advise others about matters the average person does not understand or know about and, therefore, an intellectual component is characteristic of a professional.  Professionals provide advice and service rather than things.

3.      Professionals provide an important service in society.  This service is crucial to the organized functioning of society.  For instance, appraisers provide services that require intellectual training and they assist in the operation of financial markets that relate to insurance, law, property purchase and dispersal of goods.  Appraisers, as well as accountants, testify to the financial integrity of institutions and individuals.

These three elements define the major elements of professionalism, as cited by Michael D. Bayles in Professional Ethics (Wadsworth Publishing Co., Belmont, CA., 1981, pp. 7-11).  But there are, in addition, several other ingredients that may be said to go into the professional mix, that Bayles and others touch upon:

4.      There is usually a process of certification or licensing for a professional, although in itself licensing does not turn an occupation into a profession.  Barbers are licensed while college professors are not, for instance.

5.      All major professions have organizations of members that work to advance the goals of the members, but which are not always open to all members of a profession.

6.      Autonomy is another characteristic of a professional.  Autonomy is the ability to be responsible for our actions.  The question as to how far that autonomy extends is a relative matter since many appraisers work for large organizations, but even in these cases they must exercise their own judgment concerning specifics of their work.  Many appraisers are single practitioners and the sole judge of their product.

7.      Professions are either consulting or scholarly, the latter category including, for instance, college teachers or scientific researchers.  Architects, dentists, psychiatrists, consulting engineers, accountants and appraisers are found in the category of consultants.

8.      The professions have a monopoly over the provisions of services.  In many professions, it is necessary to have a license to provide services; professions often set up procedures that exclude those lacking educational credentials and licenses or certification from the legitimate practice of the profession. Specified conditions must be met for professional status and these conditions are usually in the hands of the established professionals.  Professionals have long been granted a large degree of self-regulation, claiming that because of the training and judgment required in their profession, that non-professionals are unable to properly evaluate their conduct.

A profession delivers services to individuals, organizations or government, to whole classes or groups of people or to the public at large. “It professes to know better than others the nature of certain matters, and to know better than their clients what ails them or their affairs.  The professionals claim the exclusive right to practice, as a vocation, the arts which they profess to know, and to give the kind of advice derived from their special lines of knowledge.  This is the basis of the license, both in the narrow sense of legal permission and in the broader sense that the public allows those in a profession a certain leeway in their practice…” (Hughes, Everett C., Daedalus 92, Fall 1963, pp. 655-68).

As Hughes points out, there are markets where the motto is “Buyer Beware.”  Conversely, the professional asks that his Buyer/Client have faith in his advice and trust him since the client is not a true judge of the value of the services he receives.  The client must trust in and believe the professional he retains since he will reveal to him all the details and information that bear upon the matter at hand.  On the other hand, the professional makes it very difficult for anyone on the outside to pass judgment on the consequences of his professional actions.  It is accepted that, in most instances that only fellow professionals can determine if a colleague made a mistake. “(The) collective claims of a profession are dependent upon a close solidarity, upon its members constituting in some measure a group apart with an ethos of its own.” (Ibid)

A view that is allied with that of Bayles and Hughes can also see professionalism from a slightly different angle.  This four-fold description of professional behavior includes: “A high degree of generalized and systematic knowledge; primary orientation to the community interest rather than individual self-interest; a high degree of self-control of behavior through codes of ethics internalized in the process of work socialization and through voluntary associations organized and operated by the work specialists themselves; and a system of rewards (monetary and honorary) that is primarily a set of symbols of work achievement and thus ends in themselves, not means to some end of individual self-interest.” (Barber, Bernard, “Some Problems in the Sociology of the Professions”, Daedulus 92, Fall 1963; pp. 669-88)

Honorary awards have always held a more important status in the professional career than in that of the non-professional, the reward system for the professional being a combination of prestige, titles, medals, prizes and offices in professional societies.  Although not always the case, the monetary income should be commensurate with the recognition given to the professional.  In other words, the life style of the honoree should have some relationship to the weight of the medals bestowed.  After all, it’s tough on your teeth to nibble on bronze plaques.

To some degree nearly all the well established professions are located in or related to universities – the more professional ones having the most number of connected schools.  The merging professions, “when they are trying to raise standards for themselves, seek to locate themselves in universities.  If they already have a marginal connection there, they seek to improve their position in the university…The university professional school has, as one of its basic functions, the transmission to its student of the generalized and systematic knowledge itself, but knowledge of how to keep up with continuing advances in professional knowledge is what the university school seeks to give its student…Equally important is the university professional school’s responsibility for the creation of new and better knowledge on which professional practice is based.” (Ibid)

The lofty flight towards professionalism has its problems as pointed out by Barber: “(The) leaders of an emerging profession will have to engage in some conflict with elements both inside and outside their occupational group …they may meet with some opposition from the less professional members within the group…in such social situations competition and conflict often have a positive as well as negative function.”

Changes in the status of the appraiser have been almost palpable in the last few years.  For this, much gratitude is owed to the leaders of ASA and The Appraisal Foundation.  Not too long ago being an appraiser held little cachet in the eyes of the community.  An appraiser was the “guy who put a price on things.”  Because of the efforts determination and courage of a handful of dedicated men and women the “guy” became a gentleman and a scholar whose opinion is respected by fellow professionals aware of the density of knowledge, the careful research and the ethical performance required of an appraiser.  Little by little, the public is becoming aware.  The course has been set and we are all moving in a direction that will bring to appraisers the recognition accorded to other acknowledged professionals.



Ethical Issues in Professional Life, Edited by Joan C. Callahan, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York 1988.

Lecture Series, Ethics and the Professions, Jay Cantor, Department of Philosophy, New York University, 1990.

Elin Lake Ewald, ASA, serves as a Member of the Board of Directors and Editor of the Newsletter of the New York Chapter of ASA.  She is a member, Panel of Arbitrators, American Arbitration Association, and is listed in WHO’S WHO IN AMERICAN ART.  Ms. Ewald, President of O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc., specializes in damage/loss/fraud cases involving fine and decorative art.  For several years she has written a monthly newsletter on the art market