The Role of an Appraiser in Your Eminent Domain Case
When it comes to a majority of eminent domain cases, the reality is that it’s nearly impossible to stop the condemnation of your property. Eminent domain laws exist so that a qualifying company or the government can acquire your property for their own needs (a “public project”), even if you don’t consent to it. If this happens to you, not only is it important to hire an eminent domain attorney to help you with the process, but hiring an appropriate appraiser is also critical in most cases for making sure you receive the compensation you deserve.
Because it’s so rare to stop condemnation once the government or corporation has set their mind to it and followed the required legal steps, you need to focus on getting the maximum value for your property right from the beginning. You will likely have only one shot at it. The entire process, although it can sometimes be lengthy, is a one-time deal, so protecting your own interests is key. An appraiser can help you do that.
First and foremost, it’s extremely important to hire an appraiser who specifically has experience with eminent domain. You should ensure their experience comes with a record of testifying in eminent domain cases, because an experienced appraiser will know what your property is worth and advise you on whether or not the offers you receive are worth considering.
During the initial negotiation phase, an appraiser will do a thorough review of your property and tell you what they think is the value of the part taken and any damages to the remaining property.
At some point in the case, your attorney may also advise bringing in a specialist depending on the planned use for your land — e.g. whether it’s a utility line, pipeline, road, building, or something else. Depending on the circumstances, your lawyer may recommend getting the additional advice of a land planning expert or an engineer.
If your case is not settled in the initial negotiation phase, the second phase starts when the condemning authority files a condemnation petition with the court. Once it’s filed, the case proceeds to a Special Commissioners’ hearing. The commissioners will hear evidence from both sides and then come up with a compensation number. During this phase, it’s extremely important to have your own formal appraisal, which your attorney, with the help of your appraiser, will use to ask for full and fair compensation for your land.
If either party objects to the value set by the Commissioners’ Court, that hearing is voided and you proceed to regular court like any other civil lawsuit. Both at the Commissioners’ Court and at any subsequent “normal” court proceeding, having your own expert appraisal is essential to getting full value for your property.
To hire an effective appraiser, you should ask five important questions:
Do they have eminent domain experience?
Do they understand the market for your property?
Do they understand how to determine the value of damages to any remaining property?
Have they testified in court before?
Will they listen to your concerns?
If the appraiser you’re considering can answer these questions satisfactorily, then they are likely worth the additional fees to acquire them. Think of hiring an appraiser as an investment. The more money you put into a great appraiser, the more money they’re going to help you receive. In general, the larger your property, or the more value it has (by virtue of location or being zoned as commercial, for example), the more important it is to hire a good eminent domain appraiser early in the process.
Learn how to protect your rights when the government or a corporation wants to take your land:
Texas Eminent Domain Condemnation Guide