How to inventory and assign value to real estate personal property

There is an old saying that goes: what is the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Personal property is the elephant of an estate. It’s the responsibility that can take up most of your time, and it’ll make the estate the least money for the effort it takes. But dealing with the personal property cannot be avoided. The property must be inventoried, valued, divided or sold. Let’s start our analysis by looking at what properties we have (inventory); then we determine what it is worth (appraisal). In a future post we will determine what to do with it (distribution/sale).

When you go to the courthouse, the clerk will give you the form to fill out for the inventory. The form asks you to provide general categories and a value for each category you listed. For example, you would list: furniture, $1500; office equipment, $300, etc. You don’t need to list the items separately, such as a sofa, $100; chair, $5; typewriter, $25. However, I suggest you keep a list of the individual items. While you don’t need to go into much detail in court, you’ll probably want a more detailed inventory yourself. You want this for two reasons: to track property sales and to protect yourself against claims from heirs and/or creditors.

You don’t have to get really fancy with the inventory; pencil and paper will do. If you’re so inclined, housekeeping books are available at office supply stores, or you can purchase software online. There are also companies that specialize in bringing supplies to your home.

You need a helper. One sorts and counts while the other writes. Start inside the house and work your way from the top of the house to the bottom. Go room by room with a consistent pattern so you don’t miss anything: always clockwise or counterclockwise around the room. Also write down what’s on the walls, not just what’s on the floor. For small goods, write down identifiable groups of items, such as 200 hardbacks, 100 paperbacks, 42 trinkets, etc. On your list, put a star next to each item you think might be valuable. If the trinkets are china and the books are first editions, they are valuable items. When you’re done, follow the same procedure for the outbuildings: the garage, shed, workshop, or whatever. If there is a rented self-storage, recreational home, recreational vehicle or boat, these must also be inventoried.

If you declare the inventory to the court, you must state a value for the personal effects. For everyday household items, the software program is a good resource for determining the value It is deductible that is bundled with the income tax program Turbotax. It is deductible can also be purchased separately. The software lists thrift store values ​​for most household items and is easy to use.

For the items you have determined to be valuable, It is deductible will not work. There are several ways to determine the value of individual items or collections. A good place to start is eBay ( To use eBay to help you determine your values, you must be a registered user. Registering for eBay is free; just follow the instructions when you get to the website. Once registered, type in the item you are researching and eBay will search for the item. When the search results appear, scroll down and look at the search options on the left side of the page, click on completed listings, scroll further down and click Show items. The search results displayed are for completed auctions, not ongoing auctions. The prices in green are items that have actually been sold; the prices in red are for items that have not sold. If you find your item in the list and the price is green, you have a good value. Compare the details of the item you found on eBay with the details of the item you have. Use the closest match as your value.

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If you can’t find your item on eBay, it’s time to hit the library or bookstore. There you will find an assortment of price guides for every type of antique or collectible. You will also find blue books for cars and equipment.

If you have a lot of stuff and no time to research, then it’s time to call in an expert. Your local phone book lists jewelers, antique dealers, auctioneers, appraisers, and other professionals who can tell you what the property is worth. What they will offer you is an opinion of value, not a rating. A valuation is based on actual sales data, not an opinion. I’ll cover appraisals below; for now, keep in mind that there is a difference. For probate valuation purposes, the placed value must be the fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death. This is the value you should ask your expert.

In my home state of Virginia, individual items or collections worth more than $500 must be appraised. Real estate appraisers are not licensed like real estate appraisers, but the content of their reports is regulated. For a personal property appraisal to be valid and acceptable for tax purposes, it must be performed by a qualified assessor and follow the federal guidelines of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Most real estate appraisers do not value personal property. You can find a personal property appraiser online by checking the websites of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, the National Association of Auctioneers, or the American Society of Appraisers.

Estate Executors will find that inventorying and valuing personal property is their most time-consuming task, but resources are available to help.