AAG agents are tested on their knowledge and skill during
certification classes held at the LeMay collection in
Washington. The next class there will be held in March 2009.
If you spend much time in the home office of the Auto Appraisal Group, you will probably hear its founder and president, Larry Batton, tell one of its clients, “Appraising is an art, not a science. There is no formula to determine the exact value of every car. The actual selling price will depend on the motivation of the buyer and the seller. A price guide is just that, a guide. It is an average of values, not the value of a specific car.”
That’s why an independent, certified appraisal can be an invaluable document. In its research, AAG uses comparable values from every available resource. Comparables could be similar cars that AAG has appraised in the past, cars that have sold and cars that are currently for sale. AAG also calls upon the expertise of specialists in the industry. With agent offices located across the country, AAG daily completes a large number of appraisals on a variety of collectible automobiles. This volume of business compels AAG to stay on top of the ever-changing resale market.
Not just one man’s opinion
AAG is unique in several ways, and it is those unique qualities that have helped it to become one of the most respected appraisal companies for classic car owners.
One is that AAG does not buy or sell cars. “Because we don’t participate in the resale market, we don’t stand to gain or lose by the value we put on each vehicle,” Batton said. “We decided early in the business that we wanted to set high ethical standards and that we would focus on serving appraisal clients.” This means not only the daily routine of researching and completing appraisals, but also extensive data management to assist in the research.
“A large part of our business is proofing, organizing and archiving values from all types of resources. It’s not enough to just store the information. We need to be able to retrieve it in an efficient and effective manner.”
AAG also has a unique structure of checks and balances. It has independent agents who partner with the home office on every appraisal and prepurchase inspection completed. They have established a system of gathering information about vehicles that has proven worthy of the finest automobiles, as well as the largest private collection of automobiles in the world.
The Harold LeMay collection remains an amazing gathering of American steel.
“While it was hard work documenting over 2,800 vehicles, it was like a treasure hunt for the agents. We couldn’t wait to see what was waiting behind each door. The management of a project of that magnitude would easily overwhelm the faint of heart, but we are used to completing big projects.”
Not only has AAG been appraising classic automobiles for over 20 years, but some of its independent agents have been working with AAG for 12 to 15 of those years, and “we can say that we have found some of the best,” said Batton. “We’ve found that the best way to keep relationships strong with our agents and our clients is to just tell the truth. We call them like we see them, the good, the bad and the ugly. Clients appreciate honesty, and call us back, because they know we’ll give it to them straight. It might not always be what they want to hear, but it could be what they need to hear to keep from taking an adverse risk,” says Batton.
Quality equals value
When determining the final value placed on a vehicle, a master appraiser must review the amassed research material gathered for that specific car. Batton believes that a car’s condition is the most important factor in determining its value. For example: Which is more valuable a Ferrari or an MG? Depends on whether the Ferrari has been wrapped around a tree doesn’t it? In real estate, a key factor is location but with cars, it is condition.
Is it worth the risk?
Appraisals help all parties clearly understand the risks. When a collector car is appraised to determine its value for insurance purposes, it communicates to the insurance company the amount of risk they are insuring. An appraisal for a lender communicates the amount of risk they are taking when loaning funds against a classic car. One of the reasons for the financial crises among corporations and individuals is that they took unwise risks without any independent assessment or oversight. “It’s like the fox guarding the hen house,” said Batton. A truly independent appraisal helps protect all parties. AAG also offers appraisals for vehicles involved in total-loss claims. It’s better to have a collector car appraised when it’s in good condition, but AAG can help after an accident, as well.
AAG’s largest volume of repeat business comes through their prepurchase inspection service. “No one else in the country offers collectors the dependability and professionalism that you’ll find at our 800 number,” said Batton. AAG’s prepurchase inspection service is easily recognizable by their clients as being the most comprehensive and reliable inspection service available. A number of these clients are from other countries and trust AAG’s inspection service.
The consistency of the information-gathering process allows clients to make an educated decision before finalizing their negotiations. Often, clients are looking for numbers-matching verification, so AAG will take the time to locate and research the numbers on a vehicle. When clients are looking for an original, unrestored automobile, AAG looks for evidence of repairs and uses a paint gauge to determine if the vehicle has been repainted.
Batton is quick to add that many clients shop around, looking for the lowest price. “We believe you get what you pay for. We don’t make empty promises, and we deliver what we say we’re going to do,” Batton said. “Our agents have all been tested and certified before they ever do their first inspection with AAG. We spend four days with each new agent. It is important to get to know who they are and for new agents to understand our expectations of customer service. Additionally, we want to be sure each agent has the expertise to be a part of our group. We are very selective. We are only as good as the people we work with. We could have a larger network of agents than we do, but not everyone who applies qualifies to be an agent with our group.”
AAG will have agents on-site at all of this January’s collector car auctions in Scottsdale. Hobbyists interested in utilizing their inspection and appraisal services, or in applying to become an agent with AAG, can go to autoappraisal.com or call 800-848-AUTO.