What type of appraisal do you need?
Let's start with the most important question regarding your appraisal: why do you need one? This will determine what will need to be done to ensure that the appraisal report you receive will satisfy whomever needs to use it.
The most important consideration is that you are working with someone who is "qualified" to submit the appraisal, especially if it will be reviewed by the IRS (for an estate/divorce settlement, charitable donation, or possibly an insurance settlement). Appraisers who have received their training through the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) and who comply with the most current Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) are able to submit the "Qualified Appraisals" that the IRS requires.
As an Accredited Member of the ISA, I've got you covered there!
Our initial conversation will revolve around what you need appraised, and why you need it. That will determine the depth to which the Appraisal Report will need to go, but the quality of item assessment, valuation research, and record keeping will be the same in all circumstances. The variables that determine the fee for your report will be the number of items to be appraised, the amount of research needed to reach a correct valuation, and the depth of the report required to satisfy the end user(s).
Keep in mind that the purpose of an appraisal is NOT to just put a price on something -- the purpose is also to obtain a written report that includes a description of each item, an assessment of any conditions or circumstances that will be factored into their value (either pro or con), measurements, photographs, and the comparables that lead to each item's valuation conclusion.
Almost always, you will need to have a written appraisal for it to be any use to you, and in cases of estate or divorce settlements, equitable distributions, charitable donations, and insurance claims, you will always need to have one.
Even an appraisal for your own personal peace of mind, or to keep in your "back pocket" on items you're just thinking about selling, still will need to be in writing, and the research will be the same. In this case, the finished report, however, might be much simpler.
Circumstances When Professional Appraisal Services are Needed
Estate Settlement: in which the items in the estate are inventoried, photographed (either individually, in groups, or by room depending on the requirements), followed by a written report establishing fair market value for the items
Divorce Settlement: generally the same process as an estate settlement
Equitable Distribution: in which items to be distributed are inventoried, photographed (usually individually or in groups), followed by a written report establishing fair market value for the items
Insurance Appraisal: in which specific items are inventoried and photographed, followed by a written report establishing replacement value for the items
Insurance Claims: a written report in which replacement value is determined for an item or items that have been lost or damaged
Charitable Donation: a written report establishing the fair market valule for item(s) being donated; the IRS has very specific requirements for the level of detail needed in an appraisal report when writing off charitable donations of personal property
Personal Peace of Mind: to determine if a purchase or sale you're about to make is a wise one, or a purchase or sale you just made was a wise one; usually a briefer summary report is sufficient in this situation