Equitable Distribution in North Carolina is a legal process by which the court divides the marital property between the parties. It involves three steps: 1) classifying the property as marital or separate (or some mix); 2) assigning value to the property; and 3) distributing the property in an equitable manner between the parties. We have written a lot with emphasis on the first step of the analysis, classification. This makes sense in that the court will only distribute marital assets and not touch the separate. So today we will talk about the second step, valuation.
There are many ways to value property. The methods by which assets and liabilities are valued can differ, and some methods are preferred over others depending on the nature of an asset. A house will not be valued the same way as a chair. A chair for the most part is mass produced and is only as valuable as the materials and craftmanship associated with it. Real estate is unique and has enjoyed a special legal significance since the founding of the country. So how does the court accurately value real property?
One common method is to engage the services of a home appraiser. If you’ve ever bought a home using a mortgage, you will very likely have encountered a real estate home appraisal. The appraisal is a report that details how the value of a home is determined. The appraiser will do an in-person inspection of the house and land and then take a look around the neighborhood and, combined with the housing market trend, determine an appraisal value. Appraisers are required to be licensed or certified and part of an association that governs their conduct and process.
The report (most will use a Uniform Residential Appraisal Report) will often contain maps showing comparable recent sales in the nearby area. (Homes with similar square footage, amenities, condition, rooms/bathrooms, are often termed comparables or “comps.”) It may also have detailed photos and sketches of the exterior and interior rooms. Photographs of the comparables are often included as well because the appraiser will need to determine how the comps and the appraised homes differ and assign a value for the difference. (An example might say that the appraised home is valued at 5% less than a comparable because the comp has a screened porch while the appraised has a smaller concrete patio.) All the vital features of the subject home will be listed in comparison with those comparable homes. Finally, the report will contain the fair market value of the home.
Most times in an Equitable Distribution case, the appraisal will be for two time periods. The first will encompass the date of separation. The second will be a current value. Passive increases or decreases in value are part of the equation, so both timeframes are required. The appraisal is often used by the court as evidence of the value of the home. Please speak to your attorney if you feel that one will be required for your property division case.