When property owners get a letter from the government stating that they plan to seize their home, business, or land under eminent domain for a new road or other project, they have a lot of questions. Eminent domain is complicated. And often that is why property owners come to us. There can be a lot of confusion and they want answers to their questions.
1. How do I know that what the government offers me is fair?
Kenneth: When the government wants your land, North Carolina law says they must pay what’s fair. But “fair” is relative. We represented a cattle farmer whose land the government took and built a major highway clean through his ancestral property, forcing him to quit the cattle business. (And to boot, he had to drive 2 miles down the new highway just to get to the other side of his land.) Was that fair?
Another client of ours, who had owned a seafood business in Durham for 37 years was forced into retirement when the government took his business and land. That wasn’t fair either.
But these things were perfectly legal.
We understand how the North Carolina government defines fair. Two of our lawyers previously represented the NCDOT in land takings. They left because they believed property owners weren’t always being compensated fairly. And they wanted to help try to level the playing field, so to speak.
2. Couldn’t I simply deal with the NCDOT myself?
Kenneth: When the government condemns your property or business for a new project, you have the right to negotiate the price they offer. And in many cases you should negotiate, but probably not on your own.
Based on our experience, going it alone could actually work against you. Negotiating without the help of an experienced eminent domain lawyer may result in critical issues left un-argued.
There can be multiple moving parts to determining property value, parts that aren’t always evident even to the property owner.
We strongly urge folks to get a second opinion from our experienced legal team. And if we think we can help you, it won’t cost you one dime in attorney’s fees unless we recover more money over the government’s original offer.
3. Can I get my own property appraisal to counter the state’s appraisal?
Stan: If the state of North Carolina low balls you for your land, your first thought might be to hire your own appraiser to show your property or business is worth more. We do not advise property owners to go out and try to get their own appraisals.
What many people don’t realize is not all appraisals are created equal and the wrong appraisal (or even the wrong appraiser) can damage your case.
We had a client* who (prior to contacting us) did his own research to try to prove his property was worth more than the NCDOT claimed. Unfortunately, the research wasn’t in-depth enough and concluded his property was worth less.
He contacted us after the fact. Fortunately we were able to increase the offer by 50%1, by capitalizing on, not only our knowledge of other property valuations on this project, but also our knowledge of the NCDOT appraiser’s reputation and showing why we believed he made some miscalculations.
4. I’ll wait to see what the government offers before I think about hiring an attorney.
Stan: We hear this line of thinking a lot. Hiring an eminent domain lawyer sooner rather than later may gain you more in the long run.
In the example above, the property owner, in his attempt to prove his land was worth more, presented new information to the NCDOT that showed his land was actually worth less. By the time he contacted us the damage had already been done. Although we were able to get him 50% more1, had that client hired us from the beginning, we had evidence we could have presented to the NCDOT that showed his property was possibly worth 3 times more than the NCDOT’s offer.
We do not advise waiting to hire an eminent domain attorney. Our contingency fee is the same whether we go to work for you on day 1 or day 100. Even better for the client, that fee comes out of the potential amount over and above the NCDOT’s initial offer. So no matter what, you still get to keep 100% of your initial offer.
Combined, our attorneys have over 30 years of experience. And since we’ve been in business we’ve increased the average offer for our clients by 208.1%.1 We know which experts to call on to try to show your property in its most favorable light.
5. Why should I hire your firm?
Jason: When you need legal representation for your eminent domain case, you have three options.
You can hire a general practice attorney who doesn’t focus on a specific field. Truth be known, general practice attorneys have sometimes referred their eminent domain cases to us. They know eminent domain is an extremely complex field – and they know of our extensive experience.
You can hire an eminent domain attorney that focuses on cases like yours. They spend a lot of their time thinking about strategies to help prove the increased value of someone’s land. Ideally, they’ve overseen hundreds of condemnation cases and have the knowledge you need to present your case in court convincingly.
Or, here is what we believe is a better option. You could hire an eminent domain attorneys with previous NCDOT experience. In North Carolina, these attorneys are few and far between. Just a handful in fact. Two of us work right here at the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm.
Stan: The NCDOT knows what kind of work we do, our abilities, our knowledge. And they know we know what they know. We think that is a huge advantage to our clients.
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We can try to help you prove why your property may be worth more than what the government claims.
*Client identity has been removed or changed to protect privacy.