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Classic Corvette Appraisal - C.Y.A. = Cover Your Assets

Finding The Real Value Of Your Customized Vette Means Consulting A Professional Appraiser

Rob Wallace III Jun 1, 2004
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It can be real tricky to put a real-world valuation on your prized Corvette. It's one thing to know how much you paid for it, or how much you've invested (whether in blood, sweat, and hours or through checks you've written) in building the car of your dreams. But how much is it really worth? Pricing can be very subjective. After all, in a free-market economy, the price of anything is whatever a potential buyer is willing to pay and a particular seller is willing to accept-especially in the world of modified cars where no two are exactly alike. It can be a very worthwhile investment to hire a professional auto appraiser to establish an objective value for you.

To help take the mystery out of the whole appraisal process, we called on an expert, Jeff Hyman of Classic Auto Appraiser in Orange County, California, who has been in the appraisal business for 15 years. "Early in my appraisal career," Jeff tells us, "I realized that one of the most popular types of vehicles that I was being asked to inspect was Corvettes. So, in order to learn more about the only true American sports car, I took a part-time job at Corvette Mike's." For over a year, Jeff spent every weekend and some occasional weekdays selling Corvettes both at their current Anaheim showroom and the previous one in Orange. "It was like a crash course in Corvette knowledge! It would have taken me 10 years to gain the experience that a year on the showroom floor taught me."

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Since Jeff appraised Jerry Bentley's highly custom '62 last, it has been a magazine cover car and has received many more modifications. Before proceeding, Jeff and Jerry compare the original appraisal from several years ago with what we see today.

We also talked Jerry Bentley into volunteering his highly modified '62 roadster to be appraised, so that we could watch Jeff in action. Jerry's '62 has graced the pages-and the cover-of VETTE before ("Radical Revisionist," Aug. '01), and was appraised by Jeff several years ago, but Jerry has done more modifications to his Vette since then. Thus it was time to update its established value.

When and why should you get your corvette appraised?
There are many reasons why someone may need to have their Vette professionally appraised. As Jeff explains, "By far, the most common reason that vehicles get appraised is for insurance purposes. However, there are also a multitude of financial and legal reasons, including bank loans, tax donations, divorce, diminished value, estate sales, or simply because an out-of-touch owner wants to know how much to sell his or her car for." An appraiser provides an independent, unemotional evaluation of your car's worth.

The owner of a restored, matching-numbers '67 big-block 427/435hp car has little need for a professional appraiser to tell them what that car is worth because there are numerous published price guides (including the one published annually in the May issue of VETTE) that, as long as the condition is established honestly, will give you an accurate actual cash value of that vehicle. Even a rookie adjuster can look up the value for a C5 coupe automatic, but it takes an expert in specialty cars to comprehend what the real worth of a modified mid-year with electronic fuel injection is.

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Even though Jeff is bonded and insured for up to $1 million, he lets the owner open and close the hood, doors, etc. because the owner often knows their car better than anyone.

If your Corvette looks anything like Jerry's radical '62, it's vital to get it professionally appraised. Should the unthinkable happen and your Vette is either wrecked or stolen, you need to have proof of what it was worth. "As an appraiser, I get a couple calls every week from owners whose custom automobiles were wrecked or stolen," Jeff tells us. "They are beside themselves because the insurance company wants to settle with them for a fraction of what they have invested in the car. Or worse still, after a small accident, the insurance company wants to total their pride and joy because the adjuster feels that the car is worthless. Owners often feel like they are being ripped off twice-once by the car thief and again by the insurance company!" It's best to have a professional appraisal done and present the report to your insurance company so your policy can be based on the agreed value.

If your Corvette has been modified or customized; is unique, very rare, or just plain special; and is now worth significantly more than a stock or restored version of the same car, you should really think about getting it professionally appraised. The same goes for a completely stock car with matching numbers, a rare factory-equipment package, one that's an unrestored virgin, or one that has some unique history behind it. Anything that might make a car be worth significantly more than an "ordinary" counterpart had better be confirmed by a professional appraisal-whether the Vette is a classic or a late-model.

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It's important to document the VIN number so there can be no disputes later. The appraiser should know just where to look for it, like on the steering column on a '62 Vette.

How To Find A "Qualified" Appraiser
It's important for you-the consumer-to do your homework when it comes to finding a qualified appraiser. It doesn't require any kind of a license to become an appraiser, and "certification" by most of the various appraisal associations only requires paying a membership fee. Thus, there are no guarantees that a "professional appraiser" has any more of a clue about evaluating your car than you do.

So what should you look for in an appraiser? First, don't bother flipping through the Yellow Pages to find someone. Instead, rely on the experiences of people you can trust to help link you up with a reliable professional. An established and experienced professional appraiser is well-versed and well-acquainted with many people in the automotive hobby/industry, and they should also be a known quantity as far as most insurance companies are concerned. It takes a long time for appraisers to establish themselves as reliable judges of value, and you'll get the best value by finding someone with plenty of experience.

One of the best methods for finding an expert appraiser is to ask around for a good referral. Call your local Corvette shop, talk to members of your local club, or ask a fellow owner. Someone you know can likely connect you with an appraiser you can trust.

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There's a lot going on under the hood, but Jeff can only add value for the parts he sees. He notes all of the custom parts and specifies their finish-right down to polished or chromed.

There are many questions that you should ask an appraiser before getting started. First and foremost, explain to the appraiser what the intended need is for the appraisal. If it is for insurance purposes, make sure that the appraiser is recognized and accepted by your insurance company, or else you'll be wasting your time and money. Also, ask how many copies of the report you will receive. You will need at least two copies-both with original prints of the photos (not color copies). One report should go in your records while the other one is for your insurance company.

You should expect an appraiser who's within a reasonable distance to come to you. Jeff says you shouldn't have to drive across the county to give the appraiser your business. "Your car may be a show car that is freshly finished or one that just isn't driven everywhere in all kinds of weather." Furthermore, any supporting documents that might be useful in the appraisal are more likely to be at hand where the car resides.

When the appraiser arrives, ask to see samples of other appraisals he or she has performed. "A good appraiser will always carry with them sample appraisals of many different types of vehicles-hopefully one that is similar to yours," says Jeff. It should be in booklet form and include many quality digital photos (perhaps 30-40) that illustrate ALL aspects of the car. A picture is truly worth a thousand words and likely thousands of dollars! The appraisal should also include a very thorough and detailed narrative explaining just what is special or unique about the car-noting all relevant serial numbers and detailing the work performed and the components used. "It should be descriptive enough that an adjuster hundreds of miles away who has never seen your car should be able to read and have a fairly good idea of what your Corvette looked like and consisted of."

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Jeff takes note of, and photographs, every custom detail-including Jerry's custom headliner crafted from German leather.

The appraiser should show up well-prepared, equipped with a good-quality digital cameral (insurance companies now accept only digital photography), and with tools such as a good flashlight, a telescopic mirror, and maybe a protective cloth to place on your car as he's crawling around it. "Over the past 15 years, I have developed what has become a nine-page comprehensive checklist that I use when evaluating any type of customized vehicle," explains Jeff, "so shy away from anyone who shows up with a simple one-page carbon-copy form. They are supposed to thoroughly inspect your Vette!"

The appraiser must be familiar with and knowledgeable about Corvettes, especially the breed you have. Someone who specializes in high-dollar classics like Deusenburgs and Bugattis is less likely to know his way around a big-block Shark. The right appraiser for you should know his way around a Corvette inside and out, know where to find numbers, and be able to name and identify most of the custom components on your ride. "If he has to ask you what things are, send him away. A good appraiser keeps up-to-date with the latest products by reading magazines and attending major trade shows like the annual SEMA event."

The appraiser should also be familiar with and known by most of the local contractors such as painters, upholsterers, fabrication shops, consignment shops, engine builders, etc. and be able to recognize their typical work.

Your appraiser must also respect you and your Corvette. There's no reason for him to lecture you on what you should or should not have done or low-ball your evaluation just because your car may not suit his tastes.

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Details like the polished lower control arms are touches that Jeff appreciates and makes note of.

What Determines Your Corvette's Appraised Value?
A multitude of factors are considered when estimating the ultimate value of a vehicle. Some factors include the type and exact model of the car (i.e. a '63 split-window will automatically be more valuable than a '77 coupe), whether or not it is modified, and the extent of those modifications. Is it a frame-off or a ground-up rebuild? A total custom fabrication or mildly personalized?

Other factors include the craftsmanship of the work performed, the dollars spent, the extent of modifications, the components used, the uniqueness and creativity of the Vette, its overall appearance, and who performed the work. Who does the work on a car can have a big influence on its final value. Because of name recognition and a reputation for quality, a Corvette built by a Boyd Coddington or Newman's Car Creations would be worth somewhat (maybe much) more than a home-built car, even if the actual workmanship is identical.

Many custom cars have a great deal of one-off fabrication, and that time must be taken into account-including the time involved in R&D. The value of aftermarket components; any polishing, plating, or special finishing; and the labor involved with adapting them to your application are all important factors. Even if the Vette was built in your own home shop, your time is worth something as well.

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You'll want your Vette to be inspected inside, outside, and underneath. It benefits everyone if you can get your car on a lift so the appraiser can easily document its underpinnings. But if a chassis lift isn't available, the appraiser must be willing to crawl around to see and photograph as much as possible anyway.

The more attention that is paid to details in a classy way, the more the value of your car will increase. Jeff points out that details such as welds that are ground smooth and the use of stainless steel button-head Allen bolts can add up when it comes to the end value. Inversely, shoddy workmanship and cut corners can likewise detract from the total value.

Receipts are good supporting material for an appraisal, but not every dollar that is spent will necessarily add to the end value. Most obviously, if you spend $10K at one shop that screws the job up and you end up spending $20K at another to get it fixed, an appraisal will only reflect the cost to replicate the job once the right way.

Jeff emphasizes the fact that an appraiser can only base the Vette's value on what is visible. There's no way an appraiser can verify that you've put thousands of dollars into internal engine work. He'll likely make a note of what the owner tells him, but an appraiser can only add value for what he can see.

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The whole underside of Jerry's '62 demonstrates excellent craftsmanship, and Jeff realizes the effort that went into the many details. He also points out the fact that having a Currie rearend adds more value than a standard rebuilt Ford 9-inch rear.

Also, a degree of notoriety and exposure can increase a car's value somewhat. Winning your class at a major show and/or being featured in a national magazine, like Jerry's car has, makes it more recognizable and can add to the conventional value.

What Will It Cost?
According to Jeff, it should cost you $200-300 for an appraiser to come to you, spend about an hour or so inspecting your Corvette, take all the appropriate notes and digital photos, and supply you with two appraisal booklets-as long as you are within an hour or so drive from their office. The finished appraisal should be hand-delivered or express-mailed to you within 2-3 days. "Believe me," says Jeff, "if you ever have to file a serious insurance claim on that Vette, it will be the best money you ever spent!"

Last Words
Should something happen to your special ride and it had not been appraised before hand, don't despair quite yet. It's often possible for a quality appraiser to put together an "after-the-fact" appraisal for your insurance company-based on clear and detailed photographs and as much detailed information as you can provide. Obviously it is far better to have the car evaluated ahead of time and base your insurance policy around the agreed value of your Corvette. But all is not lost as long as you have plenty of good photos so the appraiser can see just how nice the car was and how much work went into it. The same is possible for long-distance appraisals. It's possible for an appraiser to provide an appraisal for a car "sight unseen," but he is required to say so on the appraisal. That means that his valuation is based solely on whatever photos are provided and what the owner says was done to the car.


Classic Auto Appraiser
(800) 454-1313



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