Want a killer art collection? Expert art adviser Lesley Lowe of NYC art advisory firm Karen Present Associates, Inc., shares her tips.

Buying art can be intimidating. What's the first step?
Start out at art fairs, where lots of galleries show off a selection of their artists. A fair allows you to get an idea of which artists and galleries you like.

Once you've scoped out some galleries, revisit them. It can be useful to enlist an art adviser -- we'll get an idea of your tastes and lifestyle, and then help you hone your vision. Typically art advisers are paid through the discount that galleries extend to them, so it doesn't necessarily cost you anything.

How can you tell if you'll want to hold onto a piece for the long haul?
Spend time looking before your first purchase so you can develop your eye. Your taste can change quickly, and two months down the road, you may say, "I'm so glad I didn't buy that!"But if you buy a quality piece and later change your mind, you should be able to resell it.

How do you know if you're getting a good price on the art you're buying?
Do your homework and find out what the artist's work typically sells for and whether it has been going up in value. You can check auction records on auction house websites such as Christie's or Sotheby's. Keep in mind that some sites that list auction prices require prospective buyers to have memberships. In addition, the prices of gallery sales are not available to the public.

What's the difference between gallery and auction buying?
There are many advantages to buying from a gallery. They may let you take out work on limited consignment, so you can see how it works in your home. Plus, they'll stand behind their artists, so they often assist buyers in reselling art.

Auctions are better for finding pieces that aren't available currently in galleries, and, if you do your research, you may be able to get deals. But the risk is that you'll get caught up in the action. Plus, you generally pay a 10 to 20 percent "buyer's premium"at auction houses and that has to be figured into the overall price of the piece.

Is it worthwhile to meet the artist?
Yes; it can be very rewarding and offers a new perspective. You can often meet artists at their gallery openings. Art advisers and galleries can sometimes arrange a private studio visit as well.

What's a mistake that buyers make?
Many people buy a work with many editions by a big name artist and think it's worth more than it is. Even if an artist is famous and he/she produces a large edition of a certain work, it may not appreciate as much as a smaller edition will.

What does "limited edition"mean?
It means there were a limited number of prints made from an original work. An edition can be limited to any amount. At the bottom or the back of the work, you'll see numbers that tell you where that particular print fell in the printing sequence and how many prints were made. So "25/50" means there were a total of 50 prints made and that yours was number 25.

But it's important to realize that number 5 and number 50 are equally valuable. Additionally, the artist usually keeps a few extra, which are called artist's proofs, also known as APs.

How can you tell if a piece of art will be a good investment?
See sales records for the artist you're interested in. If an artist's price continues to go up, then it's a good indication that his/her work will at least hold its value. Or ask the gallery if you can take a look at the artist's résumé. Has he/she been featured in any museums, collections, shows, or articles?

Is there a certain type of art that's a good deal to buy now?
Building a collection of contemporary photography is a great place for beginners to start. Photography is widely available and fits a variety of tastes and price ranges. Often the photos are printed in small editions, and they tend to be less expensive than oil paintings, which are single, unique pieces of artwork.

Photo: Jayne Wexler