Eminent Domain: The Appraisal Process
One of the most important steps in the eminent domain process is having your own appraiser determine the value of your land. However, it is not as simple as typing "appraiser" into Google or looking in the yellow pages. It is extremely important to choose an experienced eminent domain appraiser who will accurately determine the fair market value of your land.
1. Why do I need to have my own appraisal done?
When the acquiring authority makes an offer for your land in an eminent domain proceeding, the offer is based on the acquiring authority's appraisal. However, these appraisals are not always accurate or, at the very least, weighed in the government's favor. This in turn results in the government offering you much less than the fair market value for your property.
First, the government's appraiser could have missed access issues or severance damages in a partial takings case. In addition, the appraiser could have misjudged the property's highest and best use. Each of these issues are extremely important parts of the eminent domain appraisal. If the government's appraiser incorporates these damages incorrectly, or not at all, the amount of compensation offered by the acquiring authority may be far less that you are entitled to.
2. How do I select an appraiser?
When you decide to hire an appraiser, it is important to select the correct appraiser. Your original appraisal may be part of discovery and could in turn be used against you at trial. Therefore, choosing the wrong appraiser can greatly hinder your chances of receiving just compensation.
Eminent domain appraisals are not very common and some appraisers lack the necessary expertise to perform such appraisals. Therefore, you want to ensure that your appraiser is well versed in eminent domain appraisals. Specifically, the appraiser must be experienced in valuating damages caused to the land from the taking. These include severance and access point damages. In addition, the appraiser must be knowledgeable about highest and best use determinations.
In addition, you want to avoid using appraisers who predominantly do appraisals for the government or other acquiring authorities. Appraisers are allowed a fair amount of flexibility when making land value determinations. Appraisers who do a large amount of work for the government are accustomed to using this flexibility in the government's favor which in turn may influence their landowner appraisals. If there are two acceptable methods, you want your appraiser to apply the one that is in your best interest. In addition, the possibility exists that appraisers who primarily do work for acquiring authorities will not want to 'upset' their primary source of business.
In conclusion, do not simply accept the acquiring authority's offer before you have the chance to have your own experienced appraiser determine the value of your land. The government will frequently try to offer you much less than your land is worth based on a suspect appraisal. Having your own qualified appraiser determine the value of your land can help ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive just compensation.