Should You Get Your Own Eminent Domain Appraisal?

The government, by using the power of eminent domain, has the right to acquire your property if it deems it necessary for public use. The caveat to this is that the government is mandated by the law to pay you an amount that is deemed to be fair market value to acquire your property. 

In an eminent domain case, the chances are that, as the landowner, you’ll receive an offer right out of the gate when the government begins to pursue your property. The big question here is whether you should accept the government’s offer as it is or get your own appraisal. Continue reading to find out which of the two options you can accrue the most benefits from. 

What Is the Purpose of Appraisals?

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is mandated by law to compensate each landowner from whom they acquire property for public use. The compensation should reflect the extent of the loss accrued by the landowner and be representative of the fair market value of the property. 

Real estate appraisals are usually developed as per North Carolina State Law, NCDOT Real Estate Appraisal Standards and Legal Principles, and the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

Can Getting Your Own Appraisal Weaken Your Case?

Most people think that if they deem NCDOT’s offer as not being sufficient, the simple solution would be to hire their own appraiser to maximize their compensation. Typically, this is not the right move. Eminent domain valuations are usually extremely complex. Moreover, not all appraisals are created equally. 

To maximize compensation for your property, you’ll need the right appraiser and the right type of appraisal. Remember that negotiating with NCDOT is in no way similar to negotiating with a private property owner. As such, trying to get your own appraisal may do your case more harm than good. 

You need to hire an expert appraiser to stand a chance of coming out on top of your eminent domain case—the appraiser will research to determine whether it is advisable to accept the government offer or whether you should counter the offer to maximize your property’s value. 

Types of Independent Appraisals 

When NCDOT or any other governmental body wants to acquire your property through eminent domain, they’ll usually have a detailed and lengthy appraisal conducted to determine the value of the property in question. You should request a copy of the appraisal because they usually don’t give you one when they make their offer. Your attorney and appraiser will review the appraisal for the following reasons:

  • To understand the strengths and weaknesses of the valuation
  • To understand how NCDOT analyzed key issues
  • To evaluate different settlement alternatives and advise you on the best course of action
  • To put together deposition questions
  • To determine whether pretrial motions should be filed

In case you decide to counter NCDOT’s offer, you may need to get an independent appraisal. Here are the two types of independent appraisals that you can use: 

General Appraisal 

This is the appraisal that most property owners receive when they are looking to purchase a house. General appraisals are not usually detailed enough for eminent domain cases. These appraisals typically miss crucial factors such as zoning, traffic, environmental, and engineering issues that could show that you are owed more for your property.  

Independent Eminent Domain Appraisal 

This type of appraisal is more detailed than the former. First, the attorney ensures that the appraiser takes into consideration all the factors that can help maximize your offer and ignores those that may diminish it. Second, the appraiser conducts extensive research to understand your property, value it correctly and then compiles a report that can stand up under oath in court, if need be. 

Independent appraisal will also consider factors such as median and lost profits from your business that may be omitted by the court and the NCDOT. Among the factors covered by this type of appraisal include: 

  • Damages to the remainder: Eminent domain appraisal should determine the value of the property before and after the taking. The governmental body needs to not only pay you for what it takes but also for the damage it causes to the remaining property. 
  • Highest and best use: In an eminent domain case, you’re supposed to receive compensation for your property not only in its present state but also for its “highest and best use”. That’s to say that you’ll receive recompense for the most valuable way you would have developed your property had you retained its ownership. 

Factors to Consider When Hiring an Appraiser for Your Eminent Domain Case

In eminent domain cases, the offer placed on the table by the condemning authority may not always be fair. If you are presented with what you believe is a “lowball”, you have the right to another appraisal. That said, finding the right appraiser is easier said than done. Here are some factors that can help you get the right person for the job: 

  • They need to have vast experience with eminent domain cases: Among other things, the appraiser should be able to evaluate and determine severance damages to ensure that you are getting your full amount of just compensation. 
  • They should have a certain degree of latitude with regards to how they view different issues: Many areas in eminent domain cases are neither black nor white; it is not always this way or that way. As such, an appraiser should be able to take a strategic approach pertaining to various issues to strengthen your case. 
  • They should be resourceful: They should have access to experts like land planners, engineers, and environmentalists who can help shed light as to what damage NCDOT should pay for. 
  • They should be qualified to testify in court: If your case goes to trial, you want someone who can testify as an expert and explain the basis of their valuation to the jury. 
  • They should have experience with the property taken: The appraisers must have previously handled eminent domain cases similar to yours. 
  • They should be able to write a comprehensible appraisal report. 

You Need Eminent Domain Lawyers in Your Eminent Domain Case

Finally, you need the right partner to present your appraisal to NCDOT or any other condemning party, and ultimately to the court, if necessary. And like with eminent appraisers, you need to seek the services of an experienced North Carolina attorney who specializes in eminent domain cases to stand a chance of getting just compensation for your property. Green Mistretta Law is here and ready to help, with the experience to help in your eminent domain case. Call us today to schedule a consultation!