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eBay sees worth in appraisal service

Although its last online appraisal partner shut down, the big auction site signs a new deal--even though demand for the services in general has been limited.

    Online appraisals are coming back to eBay, the online auction giant is expected to announce Thursday.

    eBay is teaming with to offer appraisals for eBay members. CollectingChannel is offering its "Ask the Appraiser" service, which will be available through eBay starting Thursday, for $19.95 per item.

    "This is an important step for us," said Greg Rotman, chief executive of Sales Online Direct, which owns

    eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

    eBay teamed with last year to offer a similar service. But eBay has not had an appraisal partner since Eppraisals closed shop last June.

    eBay users interested in appraisals will be able to link to CollectingChannel from eBay's site. eBay will also promote the service through banner advertisements, CollectingChannel spokeswoman Julie Shepherd said.

    Buyers or sellers who want to have something evaluated will submit up to five pictures of the item and fill out a questionnaire concerning the item's age, size and condition. CollectingChannel says it will return an appraisal via e-mail within three business days. CollectingChannel will also place the appraisal on a Web page that eBay sellers can link to in their auctions.

    CollectingChannel's appraisal services are primarily confined to fine art, antiques and collectibles. The company works with a network of 60 professional appraisers and dealers.

    CollectingChannel's appraisers will not actually physically handle any goods, so they won't be authenticating them. On the appraisal Web pages, the company will disclose all of the information that a person submitted about the item, including the pictures and the questionnaire.

    eBay's deal with CollectingChannel has no expiration date, Rotman said. The two companies will share revenue generated by the service on eBay, he said, but declined to give more specific details on the companies' financial arrangement.

    Online appraisals have been a tough business to succeed in. Instead of the $75 per hour to $250 per hour charged by traditional appraisers, online appraisers have typically charged a flat fee of $20 or less. Even with that, the demand for the services has been somewhat limited.

    A lack of demand contributed to Eppraisals' demise, company executives have said., which launched its own online appraisal service in 1999 and even hired several appraisers away from eBay's Butterfields auction house, shuttered the service in December 2000 to focus on its auction management services.