Eminent Domain

What happens if I don't agree with the fair market value determined by the appraiser for eminent domain purposes?

By Brian Farkas, Attorney
Facing a loss of your property through eminent domain? While the government must pay you “just compensation,” determining that amount is an inexact science.

If you are facing a loss of your property through eminent domain, you are likely concerned about the amount of money you will receive. While the Constitution provides that the government must pay you “just compensation” for any private property it takes, the document does not specify exactly how the amount of compensation is determined.

After the government sends you notice of its intent to take your property through eminent domain, it will likely schedule an appraiser to evaluate your property’s value. The appraiser should consider its value based upon various standard factors, for example, its physical condition, its location, the presence of nearby natural resources, the presence of valuable amenities, and the value of similar recently sold properties around the same geographial area.

Technically, this appraiser is neutral and is charged with determining the “fair market value” of your property. Nevertheless, this person is paid by the government and has an interest in not coming in with too-high figures.

What if the government’s appraiser comes up with a number that you feel is entirely too low? While you are unlikely to be able to prevent the government from taking your land, you can challenge the government’s calculation. Some states have local boards or commissioners who hear such challenges. The decisions of these sorts of agencies can typically be appealed to courts, which can accept or reject their determinations.

Practically speaking, this means you will likely need to hire your own appraiser to write a report and determine the property's value. Even though your appraiser would consider the same basic information as the government’s, he or she might emphasize different factors, or do more detailed market research, to come to a different valuation.

You (or your lawyer) could use your appraiser’s report to either attempt to work out a settlement with the government (i.e., a number somewhere between their appraiser’s valuation and yours), or to sue the government. The judge or jury would hear the expert testimony from both sides, and ultimately make a determination.

Go to the main eminent domain FAQ page.

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