Why Shouldn’t I Get My Own Eminent Domain Appraisal?
I'm coming clean.
I can't stand caviar.
First (only) time I tried it I felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Big when he's at the buffet table, tries a spoonful, and couldn't spit it out fast enough.
And I'll never understand why people pay tens of thousands of dollars for the stuff. Yet some of my friends and colleagues love these putrid little pearls. And they keep insisting that the more I "understand" its "complexity" the better it will taste.
I'll take their word for it.
I don't need to understand my food. And I don't need it to be complex. I just want to enjoy it - and not have to pay a semester's college tuition for it.
So what does my confession have to do with eminent domain?
My distaste for caviar and the fact that I wouldn't pay a dime for the stinky stuff came to mind when I was trying to explain to a client why we felt it would be imprudent for her to get her own appraisal after the NCDOT came to her with a low ball offer.
How Getting Your Own Appraisal Can Hurt Your Case
Many people think that if they disagree with the NCDOT's offer, a simple solution would be to hire their own appraiser to counter the offer. Typically, NOT a good idea.
Eminent domain valuation is an extremely complex matter. And not all appraisals are created equal.
Since we've been in business, we've increased the average offer for our clients by 181%2.
If you want to try to maximize your land's value, you need the right appraiser (more on that in a minute) and the right type of appraisal. (And often, the right experience to present the appraisal to the NCDOT.)
We had a client1 who, not realizing that negotiating with the NCDOT is not at all like negotiating with a private property owner, went forward with his own research to try to prove his property was worth more than the NCDOT claimed. Unfortunately, that research showed his land was worth less!
He contacted us after the damage had been done.
We've been around the block a few times (and two of us have worked on behalf of the NCDOT), so we capitalized on our firsthand knowledge of the reputation of that NCDOT appraiser to show why we believed he made some miscalculations. We also used our knowledge of valuations of other properties on the same project. Thankfully, we were able to increase the offer on this client's property by 50% 3.
That's the good news.
The bad news is our client could have possibly walked away with more than double the DOT's offer, had he not gone off on his own! We had evidence and appraisers who we think would have easily supported that fact.
As you can see, it can be important to have someone on your side who can see the potential of your property from an eminent domain perspective.
If you don't know its true potential, you won't know whether you are getting a fair offer or not.
2 Types of Independent Appraisals - General and Eminent Domain
When the NCDOT or another condemning authority wants to condemn your property, they'll usually have very lengthy and detailed appraisal done to determine what is owed for what they are taking. You should request a copy of it because they typically don't give you one when they make you an offer. If you want to counter the offer, you may need to get an independent appraisal.
You have two options.
This is the general appraisal most property and home owners receive when they are looking to buy a house. Unfortunately it is typically not nearly detailed enough for eminent domain purposes. Based on our experience, we have seen these types of appraisals miss key factors that could show you may be owed more for your property. Some of the factors we've seen missed are zoning, environmental, traffic, and engineering issues for starters. If you purchase this kind of appraisal, you may be wasting your money and eventually damaging your case.
An Independent Eminent Domain Appraisal (What We Do)
An eminent domain appraisal is much more detailed. First, a lawyer makes sure the appraiser considers the things you can get paid for and ignores the things you can't get paid for. Second, you need an appraiser who is experienced in these types of appraisals and who is willing to do the work necessary to understand your property, value it correctly, and create a report that can stand up under oath in court, if necessary.
It will also consider the things the court and the NCDOT won't and don't have to, like medians and possibly lost profits from your business.
The appraisal is sometimes performed by a whole team of experts and it is similar to the NCDOT's in length (sometimes even longer). These types of appraisals cover many different factors, but here are two of the most important.
Highest and Best Use
In eminent domain situations, you're supposed to be paid not only for your land in its present state (what most standard appraisals measure), but for your property's "highest and best use" (in other words, the most valuable way you could have developed your property had you been able to keep it).
Damages to the Remainder
An eminent domain appraisal should determine the property value before and immediately after the taking. The NCDOT not only has to pay you for what it takes, but also compensate you fairly for damages it causes to your remaining property.
This is a very important point.
Let's say you own a piece of land large enough to build a restaurant on. The NCDOT wants a large part of your property to build a new bypass. Once they've taken your property, the remainder isn't large enough to develop. Eminent domain appraisals should take into account what the NCDOT takes and whether that taking made your remaining land less valuable or worthless. Valuing property this way involves a lot of hypotheticals and even expert opinions can vary greatly. Since these appraisals are so in-depth, you don't want to have to do more than one, so it's very important to make sure you have the right team putting it together.
GUARANTEE: At our firm, if we determine it's in your best interest to have your property appraised, we actually front the cost of the appraisal and whatever other costs are necessary to try to prove your property's highest and best use. You only pay us back if and when we're able to get more than the government initially offered you.
Since we've been in business, we've increased the average offer for our clients by 181%2.
The Appraiser - A Key Expert
When you (or your attorney) hire an appraiser there are a number of factors to consider. Important factors.
Here's something to keep in mind: Most appraisers don't appraise for eminent domain. Of those who do, many work for the NCDOT or other condemning authorities. I can't count how many times an appraiser who only dabbles in eminent domain told me, incorrectly, what the law was and what factors are compensable based on his reading of the NCDOT appraisal manual.
There are very few appraisers who work exclusively for property owners.
We've worked with appraisers enough to know that the majority of them try to maintain impartiality. But since appraising is largely a matter of opinion, you want to make sure their appraisal is as fair and impartial as possible.
We work with appraisers who have access to experts like engineers, land planners, and environmentalists who can help try to get the right legal opinion as to what damages the NCDOT must pay for. We also work alongside the appraisers we hire to try to make sure they are aware of a property's characteristics that might impact its value.
If you don't settle the case and you go to trial, you want to be sure the appraiser you hired is qualified to testify as an expert and explain the basis of their valuation to a jury. You also want to make sure that the appraiser is someone a jury is likely to find credible. It may not matter if your appraisal is twice what the government offered. If the jury doesn't believe your appraiser, that valuation is likely a moot point.
Eminent Domain Lawyers - Another Key Factor in Your Eminent Domain Case
And finally, you need the right person to present your new appraisal to the NCDOT or another condemning authority and ultimately the court, if need be. And like appraisers, eminent domain attorneys have varying degrees of experience.
You could hire a general practice attorney. But arguably, it's a bad idea to hire a divorce attorney to handle your complex eminent domain case. (I have seen it happen.) There are attorneys who work exclusively in eminent domain, and there are eminent domain attorneys who previously worked on behalf of the NCDOT. In North Carolina, the latter are few and far between. Just a handful, actually. Yet two of us are right here at the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm.
Jason Campbell and I know land condemnation proceedings from inside the NCDOT and from the property owner's perspective. (Attorney Campbell was even the primary attorney on the largest case the NCDOT had ever faced at one time.)
We've reviewed countless appraisals, and might know, not only what types of errors an appraisal may potentially have, but we may know who the appraisers are and what their level of experience may be.
25 Years of Combined Experience, Many Kinds of Cases
Combined, our eminent domain attorneys have more than 25 years of experience, and have tried many kinds of cases all throughout the state.
From complex multi-million dollar highways to minor sidewalk easements, each project and each area of the state comes with its own unique set of circumstances - and potential problems. We've built relationships with appraisers and other eminent domain experts throughout the state, from nearly every type of related field.
We left the NCDOT because we care about people like you. We saw too many property owners leaving good money on the table when trying to go at it alone by hiring their own appraisers, or because they didn't hire an experienced eminent domain attorney.
Get a FREE Case Evaluation From a Former NCDOT Attorney
If you are thinking of getting your own eminent domain appraisal, contact us first or call 1-877-393-4990. We can try to help you prove why your property may be worth more than what the NCDOT's appraisal claims.
1 Client identity has been removed or changed to protect privacy.
2 Each case is different and must be evaluated separately. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Average based on each case's increase as of 6/30/16.
3 Cases or matters referenced do not represent the law firm's entire record. Each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. The outcome of a particular case cannot be predicated upon a lawyer's or a law firm's past results.