We speak with a lot of property owners who are losing their land to different government agencies. They own different types of property and are in various stages in the condemnation process, but we almost always get the same question:
Should I wait for the government to make me an offer before hiring an attorney?
The answer is an almost always no! You should contact an attorney as soon as possible! Here are seven reasons you may need an attorney now and why waiting for the government to make the first move is likely against your best interest.
#1: We don’t get paid unless we get the government to increase its offer
We believe in dealing with everyone fairly and honestly, and part of that philosophy includes not taking money we didn’t earn. That is why our fee is based on any increase we are able to get you over and above that initial offer. We can often help you increase that offer to advise you early in the process of what to say and, more importantly, what not to say when the government shows up at your door.
Whether the NCDOT, your city, or an energy company is taking your property, they are required to make you an offer. Sometimes that offer is a fair amount, but too often, it is not fair at all. It’s vitally important that you understand that it is an offer, and you are not required to accept it!
Sometimes, a fairer offer can result from saying the right thing at the right time. For example, if you don’t tell them, the government may not know that you have put a new septic tank on your property or remodeled your kitchen (yes, that can make a difference!) or that your business recently repaved its parking lot. These things affect the property’s fair market value, and things you can use to negotiate.
Likewise, there are some things you should not say. The government may try to use your own words against you. For example, you may not think much of telling the DOT that your septic system is 20 years old, but did you know many appraisers will make huge deductions to the value of an older system? Even if you have taken great care of it and it lasts another 30 years, they may value it at $3,000 instead of $15,000. We can work to try to ensure that doesn’t happen.
In these ways, hiring an attorney early on can be doubly advantageous for the property owner.
#2: There is zero risk to you when hiring us
We sometimes encounter property owners who believe that the government will get mad and retaliate against them by reducing the offer if they hire an attorney. That simply does not happen – it’s both illegal and unethical. The government has rules for how it develops its offer; it will hire an appraiser to inspect the land and give an opinion on the impact on the value of the property, or they may estimate the value based on property values in the area. This is the basis for their offer – whether or not you hire an attorney.
Another risk that concerns some people is that they don’t want to hire an attorney early on and be “stuck” with them. While we will do everything we can to fight for you and provide you with the highest standard of representation, we want you to be comfortable and satisfied with whoever you choose as your attorney.
If you hired us for a project that wasn’t starting for another six months, and a month after hiring us you didn’t feel great about the decision, we could part ways so you can find the right fit for you – and you wouldn’t owe us anything for our time. Our goal is 100% satisfied clients, and we work hard to achieve that.
#3: We take the stress off of you, right now
Property owners subject to the eminent domain process may find it overwhelming to go through alone. When will the project begin? Who do I contact? Will they contact me? What documents should I have ready? Am I getting the correct value for my property? What if they file a condemnation lawsuit against me?
There are many moving pieces in this area of the law, and much of it doesn’t make common sense. Let us use our experience and systems to help you now instead of later! This is what we do day in and day out. Once you hire us, we can reach out to the Right of Way agent and keep you informed of what is happening with the project and your property in a timely manner. We know the critical documents to collect and when in the process of getting them to help strengthen your arguments for maximum compensation. Let us help carry the burden for you.
#4: We may be able to get the plans changed if we’re hired early enough
Almost every property owner we talk to does not want the government to take their land. The government doesn’t have to change plans, but the closer you get to the project, the chances of a change in the plans on your terms drop even further. The engineers usually release the plans in stages, from 15% to 90% completion, and in most cases, the government will do what their engineers tell them to do.
If you retain us early in the process, we may be able to show the government that their plans should be changed to save them money. The further along the project gets, the more set in stone the plans are likely to become. So do not hesitate to call us!
#5: We get paid based on how well – not how long – we work for you
When you talk to other law firms, they may tell you to wait until you receive your offer before contacting them. We disagree with that approach because it puts more work on you. At the North Carolina Eminent Domain Law Firm, we put our clients’ needs first. Our fee is based on how well we perform for you.
If you hire us a year before the government makes you an offer, our fee is the same as if you hired us a month after the government makes you an offer. The only difference is when we can start doing work for you. Acquiring the relevant documents to evaluate the impact on your property ahead of the offer helps reduce the time it takes to begin negotiations. If you wait on the offer and run into delays gathering the necessary documents and information, your time to seek fair compensation could run out.
#6: There is no benefit to waiting for the offer to hire an attorney
In our experience, waiting can only hurt you. Occasionally, property owners will tell us, “Well I guess I will wait until I receive an offer and then call you back.” But what benefit does that bring to you? None.
Worst case scenario when you hire an attorney in the beginning is that the attorney gathers all the documents for you, reviews the deeds and agreements, and helps make sure you are treated fairly. If the first offer the government gives you is fair, we will tell you that, and you will owe us nothing. That’s right: If we cannot help you, even if we represent you for months, you will not owe us a penny.
#7: We may be able to save you money
The truth of the matter is that the cards are stacked against property owners. The government has a sovereign right to take property from private property owners. In America and North Carolina, we have protections granted by the U.S. and N.C. Constitutions that require fair compensation for what the government takes. What is fair compensation? Well, that’s the gray area.
We often see the government come in and offer an amount based on a formal appraisal. The trouble is, they may not provide the appraiser enough guidance to ensure that the appraisal truly captures what you should be paid. As anyone in real estate can tell you, there isn’t an exact science for how much your unique property is worth. The government’s offer is exactly that – an offer – but not necessarily the fair market value.
The earlier you hire an attorney, the more time we have to develop arguments and negotiate before a lawsuit is filed. While we do have clients who hire us once litigation has been filed, the clock has already started for many of the legal requirements in their cases. That means we have to begin preparing for litigation immediately, which can cause unnecessary expenses that could have been avoided earlier on.
Contact the N.C. Eminent Domain Law Firm as soon as possible
That’s seven reasons you should hire an attorney now instead of later if you face an eminent domain action against your property. There truly is no downside to hiring an attorney now instead of later. You potentially could get more for your property, and it can save you money throughout the process. Having your property taken from you by the government is stressful, frustrating, and complicated. You do not need to deal with it on your own.
The government has attorneys working on their side already. Shouldn’t you? Call us now at 1-877-393-4990. We can help take away some of that stress and start working to put you in a better position to fight back against the government.