Often, people resolve the issue of the marital home with one party buying the other out. While people often agree on the value of a home to use to calculate the buyout, sometimes, they can’t agree. In that case, people often retain their own real estate appraiser, and even then, people usually resolve the issue, splitting the difference in some way. Sometimes people agree to use a neutral appraiser or ask the Court to appoint one, as well.
When parties cannot agree on a value, ultimately, the court must have to step in and make a call. But can the Court simply review the reports from the various appraisers and simply pick one – without having a hearing and getting the benefit of cross examination.?
That is what occurred in the case of Knaust v. Knaust, an unreported (non-precedential) case decided on August 30, 2022. In that case, the parties agreed to a mutually selected appraiser to come up with a value to calculate the defendant’s buyout of the plaintiff’s interest in the property. Defendant submitted a report that valued the marital home between $300,000 and $325,000. The joint appraiser valued it at $360,000. After the parties could not agree on a value, plaintiff requested that the court appoint its own appraiser and the court granted that motion. The Court appointed appraisal came it at $200,000, substantially less than both defendant’s appraiser and the joint appraiser.
Defendant filed a motion asking for the court to adopt the $200,000 value and the Court granted that relief. Plaintiff filed for reconsideration which was denied with the trial court finding that “plaintiff’s opposition to use of the [court appointed](sic) appraisal “meritless,” concluding that plaintiff requested a neutral court appointed appraiser, and essentially got what he asked for.”
Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s Order regarding the appraisal finding:
…the court failed to consider or appreciate the significance the conflicting proofs on property value in the record and should have given those proofs “due consideration.” (citations omitted). To the extent the court considered the conflicting valuation proofs and found that they should be rejected in favor of the [court appointed](sic) appraisal, the court abused its discretion by failing to provide a statement of reasons supporting such a result. Consequently, we find it necessary to vacate and remand for a plenary hearing regarding valuation of the marital residence.
Maybe this would would be a closer call if all of the appraisals were within a closer range, or if the court appointed was in between the two. But in this case, the court appointed appraiser was $160,000 lower than the joint appraiser and $100-$125,000 less than plaintiff’s appraiser. Even then, it seems like the court would need to take testimony and hear the cross examination before making a call. This is especially so because the court family part court rule regarding the appointment of experts specifically provides, “An expert appointed by the court shall be subject to the same examination as a privately retained expert and the court shall not entertain any presumption in favor of the appointed expert’s findings.”
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Department of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.