When real estate is taken for public purposes under eminent domain, valuation of the real estate can be the main issue. There is a now wide variety of information related to real estate litigation and valuation on the web. Of course, the information may not always be correct, and the parties may dispute it. But a first pass through the basic public databases can get the parties to a starting point and can help the parties focus on the true issues in dispute.
Below are links to several sites with public information that I have found helpful in my eminent domain/land condemnation and real estate litigation practice areas.
One of the fastest ways to see where the property is located with respect to other properties is now Google Maps. Just put in the street address and the ZIP code, and most properties come right up. Then, you can choose between a plain map, a satellite image, or a hybrid map and satellite image. Even better, on most urban streets, you can click Street View, and it will show you what it is like to drive by the property. As an example, here is the Wake County Courthouse from Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh:
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Trying to print the photo? Pressing Google’s print button will not work. I have found, however, that if you select File | Print from the browser’s main menu, and then print to PDF, you can capture the actual photo.
In North Carolina, the local county tax card can provide a huge amount of information. For Wake County properties, you can start a search by owner name, property location, real estate identification number (“REID”), or tax map number (PIN number) here. The tax card will contain ownership, acreage, and current deed book and page numbers. None of this information from the Revenue Department is definitive — you will have to pull the deed from the Register of Deeds and check the chain of title — but it is certainly a helpful place to start. Other available information includes the tax valuation (recently re-valued in Wake County), Revenue Department notes about the property (such as contests over re-valuation), and occasionally photos, as well as the tax bills themselves. Also, I think this is the easiest place to find property by doing a name search.
Wake County’s GIS system can show you individual parcels with aerial photographs and other overlays, like topography lines and blue streams. You can search by owner, address, PIN, or REID. (I think REID is the easiest because it is a short number that you can copy and paste from the Wake County Revenue Department – Real Estate Data, in which it is easier to do a name search than in the Wake GIS.
Laura Riddick is the Wake County Register of Deeds. She has gotten Wake County’s records on line back to 1900. To search those records, click here, and select one of the Registrar’s two servers. A couple of tips on searching the Wake County Registry: (1) if you search by a grantor or grantee name, the last name and first name need to be separated by a space, not a comma; (2) with a name search, you must select the type as individual, firm, or both; and (3) if you are searching for a book of maps document, you must enter “BM” before the year of the book of maps, e.g. in the book field, enter BM1936, not simply 1936.
Elaine Marshall is the North Carolina Secretary of State. That Department’s main website is here. Using the website of the Department’s Corporations Division, one can search for a business entity by name here. If the real estate is held by a business entity, a corporate name search can tell you whether that entity exists, if it has merged or been renamed, if it is still active, and who the registered agent is, so that you can affect proper service of process.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation has an enormous website at www.ncdot.org. One locating tool that is very helpful is the Secondary Road (“SR”) look up located here. With it you can search by name or SR number. NCDOT recently updated its website, including the SR lookup page. New features of the SR lookup page including being able to pull up the whole list of all Secondary Roads in a given county and being able to download that list as an Excel spreadsheet.
In North Carolina Appraisers are governed by the North Carolina Appraisers Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. 93E-1-1, et seq. This Act sets out who needs to be licensed, registered, or certified – and who does not. It also establishes the North Carolina Appraisal Board. The Board’s website lets you Search for an Appraiser, so that you can see whether the person is actually licensed in North Carolina — which can be an issue in border counties. The Board also has a summary of disciplinary actions taken, and their site has a list of their own helpful links. Finally, if you have questions, you can always call or email the Board. Their contact information is here.
The Appraisal Foundation and USPAP:
The Appraisal Foundation is a “not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of professional valuation….” The Appraisal Foundation publishes the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, or USPAP. The 2008-2009 USPAP is available online on the foundation’s website, www.appraisalfoundation.org, but the foundation has only made it available through Internet Explorer.