How to invest in: Art

Art auctionArt lovers who have put their faith in paintings and sculptures rather than stocks and shares have been rewarded with impressive returns.

While the Standard & Poor's (S&P) index of companies in the US fell by about 1.3% in 2011, sales of contemporary art at the main 2011 auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's International jumped 35% year on year, according to figures from Bloomberg.

What drives art prices?
Interest from new buyers from emerging markets such as Russia and Asia has helped to push prices up, particularly for works by famous artists such as Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol.

Since 2002, Hirst's prices have increased almost threefold, though they had risen fivefold through 2007 and have since fallen, according to figures from market analyst Artnet.

Warhol pieces, meanwhile, have performed even better, with prices gaining fourfold and almost returning to peak 2007 levels this year.

Artnet chief executive Hans Neuendorf said: "Art has been a good investment over the past 10 years, but there are big differences in performance among artists. It's more interesting to look at individual artists, in the same way that you look at stock-market segments, or individual companies."

You will, of course, need very deep pockets to buy a painting or sculpture by either artist.

However, if you have a good eye, the graduation shows at the major art schools are a great place to try your luck at snapping up cheap pieces by future big names.

How can I improve my chances of making a profit?
There are number of ways that you can improve your chances of picking an art world winner, rather than a dud.

Top tips include seeking potential investments from both auction houses and reputable private dealers and checking the provenance before purchase rather than relying on information from an auction house or dealer.

It is also worth asking questions about the vendor as well as the painting itself and checking stolen art databases, such as the Art Loss Register to ensure potential purchases have not been stolen.

As with any major purchase, you should also verify the value of the painting through an independent expert.

But whatever you buy, it is a good idea to go for a piece that you personally find appealing. After all, not everyone wants a petrified shark in their living room, no matter how much it might be worth.

Is there anything else I should know?
Once you have a piece of fine art in your possession, it is vital to store and maintain it properly to prevent it losing value and to ensure that you have adequate insurance in place - just in case.

You must also ensure that you are up to speed with the tax treatment of your purchase.

Generally speaking, you do not have to report a fine art purchase to the Inland Revenue unless you are VAT registered, in which case you must decide whether you are going to treat the asset as a business or private asset.

You may, however, have to pay capital gains tax when you come to sell it on.
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