Interview with Gail Brett Levine, Executive Director of NAJA
As a jewelry professional, you may be familiar with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice or USPAP, which establishes the standards and best professional practices for appraisal professionals in the United States.
Adopted by Congress in 1989 and updated every two years, the USPAP includes standards for all types of appraisal services. In the jewelry industry, USPAP compliance is not federally mandated, but it does help elevate the profession and build trust between appraisers and consumers.
We had the chance to speak to Gail Brett Levine, the current executive director of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA), which recognizes the services of highly-qualified professional gem and jewelry appraisers. The organization also offers ongoing education and support for its members, so they can adhere to USPAP standards. Their goal is to ensure that NAJA members are the best informed in the jewelry appraisal industry.
Continue reading to discover what Gail had to say about NAJA, USPAP, and Instappraise as an effective and USPAP-compliant appraisal creation and management solution.
Gail Brett Levine, GIA GG, SM (NAJA)
Executive Director, NAJA
GIA Graduate Gemologist
Senior Member, NAJA
Creator, Auction Market Resource
Please tell us a little bit more about your role at NAJA. What first brought you to the appraisal profession?
One of my first jobs after I got my Graduate Gemologist degree from the GIA was as the North American appraiser for H. Stern Jewellers. When customers came from other countries to an H. Stern store in the U.S., they would submit their appraisal, and I would convert it into dollars. I stayed there for about three years, and then I opened up my own appraisal business.
As a young woman in a male-dominated field, I had to do some outside-the-box thinking. I went to monthly meetings for the Queens County Bar Association in New York City. They would say, "You're not a lawyer, are you?" I would answer, "No, I'm an appraiser. You need me." I also wrote articles for the New York Law Journal. This was back in the mid-to-late eighties.
Then some appraisal organizations started developing protocols. I had joined the International Society of Appraisers, and to me it was eye opening. In 2004, Jim Jolliff - the former executive director of the NAJA - was retiring, and he chose me to be the next executive director. I'm loving this job.
Why did the NAJA adopt the USPAP standards for jewelry appraisals? Weren't the standards originally created for real estate appraisals?
The Appraisal Foundation put together 10 standards, and two of them are for personal property. The standards were developed primarily for real estate, and then the personal property people stepped in and said, "No, wait a second. We could use protocols and standards ourselves."
The real estate people are licensed; personal property people are not, so we needed a code of ethics and standards. We need to know how to keep ourselves safe and how to keep the appraisal report germane for the client, so that it answers their questions.
2020-2021 USPAP Standards
Credit: The Appraisal Foundation
When did that happen? Was it shortly after the standards were originally developed?
I believe it took almost three to five years before The Appraisal Foundation included personal property. Real estate was going through some very dark times. There was a lot of collusion with banks and loan companies, and it was an ugly situation. The Appraisal Foundation was created to deal with that problem. Once they came up with these standards, the personal property people wanted to be involved too.
Which aspects of the USPAP do you think are most important for the jewelry industry?
For jewelry, two aspects are important. First, the identification of the items is essential. For a diamond, you must note the clarity, cut, and the plot of the diamond, for example. The second important aspect is the scope of work, which answers important questions. What are you doing for the client? What is their request, and how are you answering that request? What is needed in the appraisal?
It used to be standard to have a one-page appraisal, and now the appraisals are a minimum of seven pages. The standards have been expanded throughout the years. One of the things we do for our members is keep them current because every two years The Appraisal Foundation comes out with new guidelines. We inform members of the changes, so their appraisals are compliant to USPAP. We do require all of our members to be USPAP compliant.
Why should jewelry professionals adhere to the USPAP standards? What are the benefits?
The reason why The Appraisal Foundation put together USPAP was for the public trust. Since personal property appraisers are not licensed, consumers, bankers, lawyers, and loan companies that use appraisal services will know that we're adhering to a higher standard voluntarily.
What role does NAJA play in supporting jewelry appraisers who strive to maintain these standards? How do you enable and help them to do that?
I don't think consumers really care all that much about the compliance part. All they want is an appraisal report for insurance. But the whole idea is to keep jewelry appraisers safe from possible misuse. Someone cannot take a USPAP-compliant appraisal apart and manipulate it. We put up as many road barriers as possible.
What are some key differences between an appraisal that follows USPAP standards and one that does not?
An appraisal that follows the standards includes all 10 statements of a certification of appraisal practice. You tell the client or end-user that you've made a physical examination of the property.
Also your compensation is not based on the findings. The certification of appraisal practice prevents you from giving a higher appraisal value than is merited, so it assures the end consumer that everyone's being honest. The appraisal compensation is based on an hourly rate or a per-piece rate. It's not dependent on the value determined.
In the early years, in the late eighties and early nineties, appraisal fees were based on a percentage of the valuation found. That's a huge conflict of interest. It gives confidence to the end consumer that you have standards and are adhering to them.
Can appraisers use a platform like Instappraise to help them create NAJA and/or USPAP-compliant appraisal reports?
Yes, absolutely. Instappraise's software is carefully configured to include all the elements possible, so you don't forget details when describing the item(s). You won't have to ask, "What was the karat gold on that? What color was it?". The platform itself ensures that all the elements of the item description are in there to conform to your appraisal organization's requirements and The Appraisal Foundation's USPAP.
In addition to very thorough item descriptions, the platform also provides a flexible “page manager” to customize each report with their respective disclaimers and custom content (Limiting Conditions, Certifications, Scope of Work, Qualifications, etc…).
As soon as there is a change in NAJA and/or USPAP protocols or procedures, Instappraise does their best to incorporate new tools into its software so the appraisers/users have the ability to adjust. The newest Instappraise software addition of plotting is a critical component for a professional appraisal report.
How can a new appraiser go about educating themselves, maybe getting on track to be USPAP compliant? What first steps would they need to take?
When people contact us, they've already explored the other appraisal organizations, and they're looking to find a home. One of the things that makes NAJA a wonderful target for jewelry is that we don't do couches and cars and artwork. We only do the bling. All our education is in terms of jewelry, while the other organizations are multi-discipline.
Our education platform website is NAJA-ASC.com, which has everything they could possibly want to know about becoming a jewelry appraiser. One of the first things I ask a prospective member is, "Are you a Graduate Gemologist?". Being an appraiser and being GG is synergistic; you can't do one without the other.
The NAJA website, the NAJA education website, and of course The Appraisal Foundation website will tell you about appraising.
Can you share more about the NAJA's online education platform? What are the courses like?
The course is 18 lessons long and takes 18 months to complete. That's our time limit. When we had the hard copy course, we didn't have time limits, and it didn't work out so well. People would take years to finish if they finished at all. We also figured that there are 18 lessons in 18 months. If you can't carve out a Sunday afternoon, once a month for a lesson, then you're too busy.
The first five lessons cover appraisal theory and methodology, and there's a quiz at the end of each lesson that you have to pass. If you don't pass, you have to study the chapter again and retake the quiz.
At the end of five lessons, there's an exam, and you need to pass that by 80%. In addition, you have to submit an appraisal. When you pass the test and the review of your appraisal report, then you become a certified member. Most of the NAJA people really only want to go that far. They want to get certified to stand out from the crowd of their geographic area and the competitors. Of course, it looks good for a jewelry firm to say, "We have a certified appraiser on staff."
For those who wish to go even further, lessons 6 through 18 includes the "how to's": how to appraise antique jewelry, how to appraise rings, how to start an appraisal business as well as extensive information on jewelry history and how to identify and date period and antique jewelry. There are quizzes at the end of each chapter, and you have to pass those. There's an exam on all 18 chapters. You pass that and submit an appraisal report successfully. When you do that, you become a Certified Master Appraiser (CMA).
This year has been beneficial. One of the few bright spots we can talk about in 2020 is that people are home. So we've had a bonanza of new certified members.
What role can a jewelry appraiser play in educating consumers about USPAP?
A consumer would use NAJA appraisals mainly for insuring their jewelry. I really don't think the consumer would care that much. However, as I said before, we always emphasize that we don't have national licensing. At a minimum, the public should be sure that the appraiser is a member of a recognized and respected organization, such as NAJA, and that they're USPAP compliant.
We've just now released our fourth booklet, outlining NAJA's Report Writing Standards© , and both new and returning members will be receiving it. It has been completely revised and updated to reflect the USPAP standards that are in effect right now. A lot of sections have also been expanded.
With Instappraise's complete jewelry appraisal solution, you can create a USPAP-compliant appraisal report in minutes. Our flexible, powerful, and precise productivity tool will save you time and increase your productivity. As a service provider that's focused on quality and user experience, Instappraise is committed to encouraging and helping the industry adopt higher appraisal standards. This benefits the customers and uplifts the appraisal industry.
Would you like to try creating a USPAP-compliant appraisal for yourself? Sign up for a trial account and take advantage of all the flexibility that Instappraise has to offer. We'd love to support you in your efforts at maintaining professional standards in the appraisal industry.