The Importance of Appraisers in a Condemnation Case

by: Michael Realbuto
6 Jul 2023

As we discussed in our “10 Questions to Ask an Eminent Domain Attorney” post, it is critical to ask your counsel about their relationship with prospective experts such as appraisers, engineers, and planners. After all, expert witnesses play a huge role in determining the successes and credibility of your case. In this blog we are going to focus on the importance of appraisal witnesses in a condemnation case.

The government is constitutionally required to pay “just compensation” to a property owner when taking property using the power of eminent domain. Just compensation is determined by the property’s market value at the time of the taking, that is, “the price a willing buyer would have paid a willing seller for the property.” The property must be valued based on its highest and best use on the effective date of the taking, irrespective of whether it is currently being put to that specific use. The potential uses that a court may consider in determining value are limited to those uses permitted by the applicable zoning regulations at the time of taking unless the property owner can demonstrate that there is “a reasonable probability of rezoning.”

Determining just compensation in a condemnation case hinges on the judge or jury’s assessment of appraisal testimony. After being retained, and prior to appearing in court, appraisers must prepare a litigation appraisal report that opines to the fair market value of the property interest(s) being taken by the government. Counsel works closely with the appraiser to ensure that all applicable deadlines are met during the pendency of the matter. “Winning” the case often depends on the appraiser’s ability to support and explain his or her conclusion in an educated and convincing manner. Appraisers are frequently members of one or more professional organizations (The Appraisal Institute, National Association of Realtors, The Counselors of Real Estate, etc.) and the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) are the generally recognized ethical and performance standards for the appraisal profession in the United States. Appraisers who participate in these organizations and follow these standards are often the most authoritative witnesses in the eyes of the jury.

While appraisers play a key element in proving value in a condemnation case, there are additional experts who can testify more authoritatively regarding other aspects of the valuation dilemma. Some examples include real estate brokers, planners, engineers, and wetland experts. None of these professionals should be overlooked when guiding a client who is confronted by a government taking. For over 55 years, McKirdy, Riskin, Olson & DellaPelle, P.C. has concentrated its practice in this special area of the law and has earned a reputation for persistently defending its clients’ property rights. Our firm has successfully handled a broad range of eminent domain cases involving almost every type of property, including commercial buildings, industrial properties, development land, single and multi-family residential properties, hotels/casinos, oil/ gas pipelines, water rights and beachfront property, airports, farmland, and many more. We also represent property owners throughout New Jersey and have a strong network of experts who can assist us in these matters.  If you are confronted with the threat of eminent domain, please feel free to contact us for a free consultation. During the initial consultation, we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.