Eminent domain, or condemnation, is one of the scariest things an American citizen can face. It involves the governments ability to take your property against your will. Although eminent domain is usually exercised for good reason (imagine what our roads, sewer and electrical lines, and rail lines would look like if the government didn't have the ability to acquire property for public purposes) it is still a very trying and difficult experience.
What can make the experience even more difficult is the government incorrectly determining the value of your property, not only taking away what most Americans hold most dear, but forcing you to fight tooth and nail for what is rightfully yours. And the government has several ways of messing up valuing your property: incorrectly determining the highest and best use; using improper comparable sales; or just not taking enough time to adequately evaluate your property are common examples. Another, discussed here, is simply not using all of the methods available to valuate your property, particularly when only a piece of your land is taken.
Before I get started, though, I want to point out that this article is not legal advice and should not be used as such. If your property is being taken by eminent domain, I would recommend, before getting an appraisal on your property (which can actually work against you without the right instruction), contacting an experience eminent domain attorney. They will be able to not only fairly analyze the government's offer of just compensation but help you get the most money for your property. Please contact a condemnation attorney today if your property is being taken by the government.
Let me start with an example. Let's say you've got some property in Washington state that sits on the corner of two roads, one a highway and one a side street. As part of a highway project, the Washington Department of Transportation wants to take 20 feet off the front of your entire property to make an extra lane for both roads. They appraise your property by determining what the entire value of your property is before, and what the entire value is after and submit you an offer of just compensation. You think it is very low, so you hire a Washington eminent domain lawyer who hires an appraiser and directs him to figure out what the strips would be worth if sold off separately, and figure out what the property left would be worth after (specifically if it would be worth less after the taking). He does so, and what do you know, he finds out that in fact the difference would be much greater.
It turns out that, as the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. What that means is, if the state's appraiser doesn't take into account all valuation methods of figuring out what your property is worth, they could be missing an important piece of information that might substantially affect the money you have coming to you for your property. That is why it is important to figure out all of the ways to evaluate your land and make sure each is utilized. It could mean the difference potentially of thousands and thousands of dollars (my example, for example, is based loosely on real life events in which the landowners ended up receiving over one million dollars more than the state's original appraisal!)
Having your property taken by the government is a scary thing. In the example discussed above, a competent Washington eminent domain lawyer was the difference in many thousands of dollars of just compensation. If your land is being taken by the government, get a good eminent domain attorney today.
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