Should I be doing anything before my property is condemned?

Once the taking actually occurs and papers are filed, it may be too late to make critical decisions that could have an impact on your ultimate compensation. Documents establishing the legal status of ownership and any leasehold interests, for example, should be reviewed and sometimes modified up front. Under your attorney’s guidance, input from an appraiser or other consultants can often be obtained quite inexpensively. Your response even to preliminary overtures to utility company representatives can affect the final outcome in a case.

The impact of a utility easement often involves more than what initially meets the eye. Beyond the value of the square footage taken, often overlooked are such things as environmental problems, loss of access, and other serious implications that result in the loss of value of the remaining property. As a general rule of thumb, a property owner should seek the advice of an eminent domain attorney when considering pre-condemnation actions, since decisions concerning the property prior to condemnation may have a significant impact on the value a property owner may ultimately receive.

Further, a property owner should avoid taking positions, especially written positions, which may be used against him or her in the condemnation proceeding. If the property owner contests the tax assessment, for example, stating that the property is worth less than the county’s or city’s estimate, that appeal might be used against the property owner if, in the condemnation case, the property owner asserts a higher value.  Furthermore, careful consideration should be taken before entering into contracts of sale that may impact property value in a condemnation proceeding.

If a property owner decides to obtain an appraisal of his or her property that is the subject of a taking by eminent domain, it is important to hire a qualified real estate appraiser who knows how to appraise property in a condemnation proceeding. Leases and other agreements signed by the property owner prior to condemnation may reduce the portion of the final award to which the property owner will be ultimately entitled. The property owner’s attorney should be consulted on condemnation clauses contained within these documents.

The property owner should maintain the appearance and condition of the property. Visual impressions, even to sophisticated professionals, are important, and the condemning authority’s appraisers will be inspecting the property long before it is condemned. Favorable land use permits often enhance the value of the property. Where it is practical and prudent, the securing of a rezoning, plat approval, or building permit may result in a higher valuation of the property. The property owner should not interrupt development plans solely because of a pending condemnation. The decision of whether to apply for land use permits must always be weighed against the effect that a potential denial will have on the case. It is thus wise to seek the advice of an emient domain attorney before proceeding with a land use application.


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