The Real Deal New York

Appraisers see more divorce work

July 10, 2008 03:56PM
By Adam Pincus

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As the real estate owned by Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and model Christie Brinkley is thrust into the spotlight by their much-hyped divorce battles, so is a type of behind-the-scenes expert that has been in more demand lately: the real estate appraiser.

The appraiser working on Brinkley’s case would have been very busy: she had 18 properties valued at up to $80 million in the Hamptons that were in dispute in her divorce, which was resolved with a settlement reached today. The settlement left Brinkley in control of all 18 properties.

The request for real estate appraisals in New York divorces cases has climbed over the past year as housing prices have fluctuated, creating uncertainty in home values, industry experts said.

Two of New York’s top appraisal firms for housing reported increases in divorce cases this year.

Marianne Mueller, the director of private client and legal services at Manhattan-based appraisal firm Mitchell, Maxwell and Jackson, said the volume for divorce work was up about 17 percent in the first quarter.

“That is indicative for me clearly that (clients) are not confident to use their own values so they hire an appraiser to determine the market value,” she said. “There is so much contradictory information,” in the media and the marketplace.

Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of appraisal firm Miller Samuel, said he had seen a substantial increase from January to May, compared to the year before, although he did not provide exact numbers. Most of the firm’s work is for legal matters, he said.

“I am struck by its broad base. It is not isolated to high end,” Miller said. “It is covering most demographics.”

He said he noticed a similar, but less pronounced, increase in demand after September 11, 2001.

Gauging the correct value of that real estate becomes a highly-scrutinized part of a big case like Brinkley’s, said Miller, who was not involved with the trial.

“Usually real estate is the largest asset and tends to be the centerpiece of a divorce. It becomes imperative that both parties come to terms with what the properties are worth,” he said.

Hamptons broker Michael Daly, principal of Beach Property of the Hamptons, said Brinkley has a knack for finding properties. “She has great real estate karma,” he said.

Brinkley and her husband tried to sell their estate in Bridgehampton for $26.5 million, but recently pulled it off the market as their divorce fight erupted. Also pulled were a Sag Harbor home purchased in 2006 for $1.4 million and a beach front parcel in North Haven listed at $15 million.

Despite the reports of more work, the actual number of divorces in Manhattan appeared to be holding steady in the first five months of the year after a longer term decline.

Divorces filed in Manhattan have dropped over the past five years, from 15,520 uncontested and 922 contested divorces in 2003 to 12,263 uncontested and 885 contested in 2007, according to data from the New York State Unified Court System.

In the first five months of this year there were 4,300 uncontested divorces and 342 contested divorces filed in Manhattan, about even with the same period last year.

Mueller said the market volatility and weaker economy increase the need for more appraisals.

“I believe in a stronger market parties tend to agree more,” she said. “A year or two ago a couple dissolving a union was more like to agree to a value.”

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