Water Tower | La Porte City, IA

Right-of-Way the Right Way

Beth Steinhauer | with 0 Comments

Right-of-Way the Right Way

Every infrastructure project takes up space. As they work on projects, engineers try their best to build within the existing right-of-way. It’s usually cheaper to build on what you have rather than buying additional land. This isn’t always possible, however. When your project does need additional right-of-way, are you purchasing it properly?
The real estate acquisition process is codified in state and federal laws. The process exists to protect the rights of property owners.
The basic outline of the process is as follows:
  • The landowner is presented with a copy of “The Rights of Landowners” which outlines their rights under eminent domain laws
  • Appraisal of the property by a Certified General Appraiser to determine Fair Market Value
  • The appraisal and required offer documents are presented to the property owner by a DOT Approved Real Estate Negotiator
  • The owner has 60 days to get their own appraisal
  • Review of appraisals and negotiations
  • A final offer letter is issued by the unit of government
  • The property is acquired
Keep in mind that this process can take anywhere from several months to nearly a year. Proper planning for the time necessary to complete real estate acquisitions will help ensure that the project stays on schedule. It’s best to consult with a real estate acquisition expert early in the process to establish the proper timeline.
I’ve heard people say they can get away with a “quick and dirty” real estate acquisition. They don’t provide information to the landowner about their rights. They don’t get the property appraised by a Certified General Appraiser to establish Fair Market Value. They don’t offer the property owner the right to a review appraisal. They don’t use a DOT Approved Real Estate Negotiator. Not only are they doing a disservice to the property owner by not giving them due process, they could well be in violation of the law.
The Wisconsin DOT has caught municipalities who haven’t followed the proper real estate acquisition procedures. The consequences can be rather unpleasant. Communities have lost millions of dollars in state and federal funding due to violations of DOT real estate rules. Heck, the Federal Highway Administration even has a presentation on real estate acquisition compliance entitled, “50 Ways to Lose Your Money.”
In order to eliminate violations, the State of Wisconsin adopted strict new rules governing real estate projects. Starting on January 1, 2014, the Wisconsin DOT mandated that all real estate purchases on projects involving state or federal money must be completed by an Approved Real Estate Negotiator.

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