Property appraisers and their role as real estate experts in Florida divorce litigation
One of the most consequential parts of divorce is the division of real property, meaning land and buildings, between the spouses. Sometimes a couple can negotiate how they will divide their real estate, but if not, the judge in the divorce proceeding will do so – and it may be contentious.
But neither scenario can be fair if the current values of all real estate at issue are not professionally determined. An appraiser is an expert who determines the fair market value (FMV) of residential, commercial and other kinds of real estate as well as land.
Depending on the type of property, a spouse needs to retain the correctly licensed appraiser. An attorney often has information about and relationships with local appraisers. The appraiser should have the certification, education and experience required for the marital property at issue.
Florida has three levels of appraisers:
- Registered trainee appraiser who may appraise only under direct supervision of a certified appraiser
- Certified residential appraiser is state licensed and may appraise residential real estate with one through four living units
- Certified general appraiser is state certified to appraise any real estate, including residential, commercial or industrial
Why is accurate real estate appraising important?
Property division in Florida divorce must be equitable – based on principles of fairness. While that may be a 50-50 division, sometimes it works better not to sell every piece of real estate (as well as personal property) and split the proceeds.
One spouse may want to stay in the marital residence with the children, for example, so instead of selling and splitting the profit, that spouse may be awarded the family home while the other spouse receives property equivalent in value like other real estate, business interests, money, investments or perhaps alimony from the spouse who gets the house.
But to determine what is fair, an accurate appraisal of fair market value of the home (and other real property, as well as proper valuation of personal property) is required. This figure is important at the negotiation stage as well as if the court decides the property division issues.
Complex issues may arise in the appraisal and valuation process. For example:
- Will the property classification change after divorce (e.g., residential to rental)?
- Do the parties want to partition (split) a parcel of land?
- Is there marital property in another state or country?
- Has one spouse fraudulently hidden, sold or transferred real property and the value must be considered to determine fair division of the marital estate?
- Is the property unique such as a family business in an obscure industry?
- And others
Options for hiring
If the parties can agree, they might choose to hire a neutral appraiser and accept their valuations. Or, each spouse could hire their own appraiser and agree to meet in the middle between their appraisals. The spouses could submit any appraisal for court consideration or if necessary, they could call the appraiser to testify as a witness.
Real estate appraisals are an important part of the larger questions related to equitable division of all property types.