Professional Presentations


by Elin Lake Ewald, Ph.D., ASA

Your Invitation

For the first time in your professionacareeyou have been asked to respond to a proposal solicitation for an appraisal from a national corporation (or a private family group or a regional cultural institution). You have a solid but modest appraisal practicehave worked primarily with individuals, local banks and businesses, and you don't know how to begin trespond to what at firsappears to be an overwhelming challenge.

You have no idea how many others also received this solicitationthe exact purpose of the appraisal and therefore the typof value, or what material the assignment is to cover. The letter simplstates"The Blank and Blank (hereafter B&B) Corporation is soliciting pricing information for col­lections management services of the company's holdings of art and antiquesYour organization has beeselected to re­ceive a formal Request for Proposal (RFP). A contract will be awarded to provide collections management expertise. B&B's main office is in New York, with subsidiary offices in Chicago, ILPark CityUTRizzoli, MIand Compo, TX.(Don'look for these last two on a mapthey don't exist.)

Information on the historof your firm, similar jobs completedand the education and experience of your firm'members irequested. "The deadline for the solicitation is ten days from receipof this RFP. The due date fothe ap­praisal will be six weeks after the contract has been signedAll correspondence should be addressed to: Gladys MartinFa­cilities Manager, GM@BBCorp.Com."

Shock and Awe

After fifteen years of extremely hard work building an appraisal business, dealing with often cranky and more often demanding private clients, you see the light at the end of the tunnel – an opportunitto expand and step up to the next level in the field, a corporate notch on your professional belt. After a few minutes of seeing yourself covered in corporate pin­stripesmarching through the halls of B&B, dispensing advice on Chippendale chest iauthoritative tones, reality strikes.

How will you get from youoffice in StLouito Rizzoli, MIwherever that is, to Compo Somewhere and then? Youhead is spinning and you wonder whether it even makesense to consider responding to the offering. After downing two extra strong cafe lattes you pull yourself together to fig­ure out your strategy.

1)     Networking. You can contact fellow ASA mem­bers in the cities and towns mentioned in the RFP, with the idea of working together on the project, or

2)     You can find out how many items are in each office and, if there aronly a few, besides New York, you could suggest appraising bphotograph. Would flying or driving to each location make economic sense – to the corporation and to you?

3)     You can sit down and write a letter to MsMartin with the questions that must be answered before you can even begin to respond to the RFP.

You opt for #3

"Dear Ms. Martin:

It was with great pleasure (and a lot of confusion) that my firm (already I'm becoming an appraisagiantreceived your RFP (I'm a fast read on corporate jargon) and we shall be happy to respond once certain questions have been answered by your departmen(hope Facilities knows appraisal jargon).

1.      Would you please indicate whether B&B Corpora­tion desires the appraisato be done for purposes of faimarket value (secondaryresale or auction), or for replacement value (gallery, shop, store at retail)?

2.      In order to plan location visitswoulyou list the number and type othe art and antiques at each site? Foinstancefourteen paintingstwo antique furnishings, etc.

3.      What is the total number of items in the overall collection?

4.      Is the appraiser expected to generate his/her own computer program? What information does B&B wish to be included in the appraisal or should the appraiser make that recommendation based on prior experience in similar appraisals?

5.      Photography is not mentioned in the proposalDoes B&B anticipate that the appraiser will pro­duce digital photographs, slides, or still photos of all, any or selected items in the collection? Do these photographs already exist?

6.      If there are only a few items in some of the satellite offices, would it be acceptable to B&B if the ap­praiser used photographs (taken by B&B in the in­dividual offices) on which to base his/her appraisal just for those offices?

7.      Will special arrangements have to be made to obtain access to the offices of B&B?

8.      Is there a preference for formatting? Database chart form or formal format?

9.      Are the works of art and the antiques easily accessi­ble? Are there off-site locations in which some items are held, such as storage spaces or warehouses?

10.   Is the appraiser expected to unwrap or rewrap items in storage units? If so, will B&B offices provide re­quired materials?

11.   Will B&B provide an art handler to remove wall-­hung paintings or to move furniture, if necessary?

12.   Will you require condition information together with the other data in the appraisal?

13.   Is it possible to extend the six-week completion deadline to three months?

14.   Would it be possible to inform us as to approxi­mately the number of RFPs that have been sent to appraisers?

That last question is a sleeper. If you are fortunate, Ms. Martin, after responding to all other questions, takes pity and tells you that fifty requests have been sent to one appraiser in each state, you will have to consider the oddsShould you spend the better part of a week putting together your re­sponse? You're a one-person business with a part-time secre­tary/bookkeeper. Even if you got the job, could you possibly complete the work in six weeks?

MsMartin's answer is that the six-week deadline is ab­soluteUnfortunatelyMs. Martin does not know exactlhow many items there are in the collection, but states that they are "in excess of 1,000." She says that approximately three-fourths of the collection is in New Yorkwith the re­mainder scattered. Photographs would be acceptable for any office with less than 10 items, but if there are morethey must be personally inspected. You live in St. LouisWhew!

What To Do?

Even with the help of a dozen fellow appraisers in the area of the satellite offices, and even teamed with another sen­ior appraiser to undertake the main office appraisal, the re­quest from B&B can only be considered unrealisticThere is no way an appraiser can seriously consider adhering to the proposal as set forth and still accomplish a credible valuationyet there are organizations who still send out RFPs not un­like the hypothetical one we have given.

Professional appraisers, in my opinion, should band to­gether in some way to get across to the managers in these or­ganizations that providing legitimate appraisals requires as much time as would be allowed other service providers that the company uses – such as attorneys, accountantseven public relations campaigners. In other words, if we hold our­selves out to be professionals, we should expect clients to treat us as professionalsnot as pizza deliverymen. But responding in some form and in a thoughtful manner might just possi­bly have an impact on those who read your response.

In my opinion, a single practitioner, or for that matter a multi-person firm, would be ill-advised to rush into an­swering this request as it stands, but it might be worthwhile to answer it in another way – leaving the door open for a pos­sible re-think on the part of the corporation.

What Makes You Special?

In your response you might consider mentioning some of the more interesting assignments you have had. Explain the unusual problem that had to be solved and how you went about solving it. Mention how many items and the types of art or furnishings were involved. If you can't brag about the big jobs you've done for other corporationsyou can explain how tricky and difficult certain particular jobs were that you successfully completed.

Discuss your formal education and your continuing ed­ucation courses, the seminars you have attended and other relevant education you have received that add to your cre­dentialsOrganizations also like to know your technical ex­pertise: What kind of office equipment do you have? Computers? Printers? DSL line? Internet access? etc. De­scribe your libraryWhat auction catalogs or art/antiques magazines do you subscribe to? What professional organiza­tions do you belong to? And don't forget to provide a list of satisfied clients.

In youstatement you might want to explain what goes into a replacement value appraisal and homuch time it takesthe gallerieor stores that must be contacted to ob­tain insurance valuesand the necessity to sometimes repeat requests for information half a dozen times before receiving that informationYou could explain what you have to do when an artist lackrepresentation or auction records, and homuch time imight take to track down thvalue of an artwork that may turn out to be under $1,000.

If you are not going to make a formal proposal but wish to remain on file with thcorporation for possible fu­ture assignments, make this clear in your letter. You want to leave the reader with the impression thatalthough you dnot believe you can give them what they want in the amount of time thewant ityou are certainly capable of providinthem with excellent appraisals within reasonable time con­straints and would look forward to working with their (whatever corporate services named) at a future date.

Having been the recipient of dozens of corporate RFPover the yearsI constantly wonder about who writes these bid packagesOn at least twoccasions elaborateldetailed corporate bids were responded to at length bat leasdozen appraisers called in for the bidThis was followed by a half-day walk-through and then by complete silenceA year later I bumped into peoplmaking the request and watolthat the company had decided not to proceed with the appraisal.Another time the corporate contact failed to return numeroutelephone calls and letters asking for decision. AgainI bumped into the corporatcounsel unexpectedly at a meeting two years later onltfind out that the appraisal had been shelved indefinitely. Yet no one who had participated had been notified.

Another proposal sent around to a number of apprais­ers wawritten like an actuarial tablewith expectations that as more work was done, the costo do it would decrease proportionately(And then, I figuredwhen the job was com­pleted, the appraisewould pay the corporation for having allowed him tdo the work.)

Sometimes more is lessI hate to see gobs of written de­trituspilling over pages when halthat amount would have ex­plained twice as muchHowever, I have learned that in the world of appraisingit matters how you present your credentials.

In court, for exampleit's important to clearlarticulate youprofessional experience and mention specific importancases in whicyou have been thlead appraiserIn presenting yourself to a corporate entity it iequally crucial to let them know more about yourself and your work than your natural dif­fidence might incline you. You know who you are and what you have donebut the other fellow doesn't necessarily. Sometimes that othefellohappens to ban international conglomerate.

One final notePerhaps it should bmentioned that it is important to ask about lobidWhen a corporation leaves the decision-making to a relatively lolevel employee ­othethan the art curatorfor instance – the matter of low bid may determine whgets the job, despite excellent cre­dentials and a persuasive proposal from the appraiserIf pos­sible, try and find out from the person sending out the bids if lobid is something at the top of his or her list. With fed­eral requests,low bids are versignificant. It variewith cor­porations.

If the person or persons are not familiar with the dif­ference between the presentation oone appraiser and an­other, lobid will probably take the day. With someone more knowledgeable and discerning, it will not be of sucsignificance – unless your bid is so vastly out of line with that of the others. It's always helpfulwhen possible, to have a walk-through on the company's premises in order to get an idea of homuch time will probablbe spent bthe ap­praiser(s) on siteThen figure out how much research and re­port compilation time will be needed. When you comto finafigure you might want to add ten percent contin­gencfee. There will always – and can guarantee that woralways – be a reason why you'll need thaten percent before you finish the jobBest of luckfellow appraisers!

Wish list: it's growing, and now see the need for a pamphlet that provides corporations nationwide with information that gives definitions of the different valueswhat is needed in the appraisal of the art/antiquecollection of a major (or minor)corporation, and what a corporation, wanting to undertake an inventory/appraisalshould be looking for in a professional appraiser or professionaappraisafirm.  This should ban outreach project that also serves as a public relations tool for ASA(DI hear a second?)



Elin Lake Ewald, ASA, ipresident of O'Toole-­Ewald Art Associates, Incof New York City. Es­tablished in 1932O'Toole-Ewald is one of the oldest and most respected personal property appraisal firmin the countrywitwide varietoservices and distinguished list oclients.