The Clean Shoes Syndrome

A wise real estate trial attorney will walk the property, sense it, see what’s around it and see what the agent saw. Then he or she will let me walk the property too. The property’s “feel,” utility, desirability or what should have been done to it can often figures in the litigation as mush as law. An inspection trip to the property usually proves worth the effort and expense. Too often both the attorney and real estate expert witness overlook a fundamental rule: to be a credible witness, the expert should first walk the land before attempting to opine on what happened on it, what should have been done with it or why the transaction unfolded the way it did.

The excuses for not walking the property are legion, including “the case is not about the property, it’s about the malfeasance of the agent (or seller, buyer, property inspector-take your pick).” My observation is usually somebody didn’t want to leave the office and get their shoes dirty. I call this “The Clean Shoes Syndrome.”

Property inspections-the guys who poke around and nit-pick for physical flaws-always contribute something to discovery. But property inspectors are usually contractor, not real estate experts. A major drug store chain was sued by a developer who claims to have been sold the wrong bottle of pills. He alleged the wrong pills prevented him from finishing several developments in Idaho. However, his story and descriptions his projects sounded fishy. As usual, the question of spending the money for an expert to inspect the projects became paramount. Idaho is not a short distance from Los Angeles nor is it on an inexpensive air corridor. Never the less, I was paid to make the trip to Idaho.

After a 895 mile flight to Spokane, WA and a full day of driving to and inspecting so-called developments, the developments sites were found to be mining-polluted to they would not be developable in my great-grandchildrens’ lifetime.

Closer to home in Los Angeles County (where I was raised) I have been involved in at lease a dozen lawsuits where, on personal inspection, the subject transactions called out for Phase One investigations. Phase One inspections are usually relatively inexpensive. If a property needs remediation, the cost is usually astronomical.

Property inspections can reveal nuisances such as noise, non-conforming neighborhoods and the like. They can also reveal opportunities. In one lawsuit a retail tenant complained of no parking. On inspection, I discovered an adjoiningg church had more than seventy-five spaces free during the week.

Personal inspection of the real estate can tell you a number of things not otherwise discoverable in depositions and documents. Particularly property where a buyer would have had second thoughts and manufactured an excuse to get out of the deal.

When you stand on the property you get a different perspective on its surroundings as opposed to reading transaction documents. In fact, the surroundings talk to you about the transaction.

Property inspections are worth it. Shoe shines are cheap. Fact finders usually feel it adds to good judgment and credibility.