In eminent domain cases, the condemning authority must offer what they believe is a fair amount for your property, as determined by their appraiser. Be aware, however, that this value might not be accurate. The appraiser hired by the condemning authority will use methodology that benefits its client, which will likely result in an offer that is favorable to the condemning authority, not the property owner.
If you believe this has happened and you have received an offer that is too low, you are justified in pursuing a claim. When preparing your case, you need to select an appraiser and other experts to help determine a more favorable appraised value for your property. But first, you must do your homework.
Selecting the wrong appraiser can be detrimental – and even fatal – to your case
When you are selecting an appraiser, remember: not all appraisers are equal. Eminent domain is not a commonly practiced area of law, so many appraisers do not have experience in this field. If you select an appraiser without eminent domain law experience, they will not understand the full level of severance damages that should be included in your case to make sure you receive the full amount of just compensation.
You must also keep in mind that eminent domain law is full of gray areas. These areas of gray frequently arise when evaluating issues that determine just compensation. When confronted with these situations, an appraiser who primarily works with condemning authorities will likely, out of habit, default to methodology that favors the condemner and not you, the condemnee. This means that the appraiser will not evaluate your case to the full extent entitled to you under the rules of eminent domain law. Even if down the road you hire a new appraiser, the original appraisal is still discoverable and can be used against you if you pursue your case in court. This is why selecting the wrong appraiser at any point in the process can be detrimental and even fatal to the determination of just compensation in your case.
Add credibility to your case by enlisting additional experts
In addition to appraisers, it is often recommended that you enlist the help of an additional expert to assist in your case. The recommended expert will vary from case to case. Typically, in most eminent domain cases, there is a single issue that sticks out as the key factor for determining the level of just compensation damages. For example, what’s the degree of flood damage that occurred to your remaining parcel? Or, how is access going to reflect the main development of your parcel given the taking that’s occurred? Situations like these require the help of an additional expert such as a broker, engineer or planner.
In many of these situations that arise in eminent domain cases, the appraiser is qualified to make determinations on those issues, but it’s one of many areas of expertise he has to deal with in determining just compensation. So he’s ultimately a “jack of all trades and a master of none,” and in this case, you need a “master of a trade.” An additional expert focused on a specific vocation – not on valuation – can provide testimony about a very narrow topic that will serve as the basis for the appraiser’s final value conclusion. Then, if you go to trial, instead of having two appraisers engage in a battle of “he said, she said,” you have a supplemental expert on your side to make your point more solid and credible in the eyes of a jury or judge.