Skip to Content

Dueling Home Appraisal Evaluations


The Sanchez rule continues to have a far-reaching impact through civil and family law cases despite originating in the California criminal case, People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665. The Sanchez rule simply states that it is hearsay for an expert witness to testify to the case-specific facts/evidence of the case they are testifying in, unless that evidence is independently proven or subject to a hearsay exception.

The California Court of Appeal recently had the opportunity to explain the Sanchez rule in a case where Wife and Husband both had competing appraisers to determine the value of the marital home. In Marriage of Lietz, Wife’s appraiser valued the marital home at $1.1 million dollars, while Husband’s appraiser valued the marital home at $1,020,000. Both appraisals and associated reports were based on the marital home being situated on a 9,000 square foot lot according to the Orange County records portal. However, during a break in her own appraiser’s testimony, Wife discovered the county portal was wrong and the actual lot size was much larger, approximately 10,400 square feet. Yet, the Family Court did not allow Wife’s appraiser to testify to the larger lot size because Wife could not overcome the hearsay exclusionary rule—i.e., the Family Court could not independently admit the evidence of increased lot size or find a hearsay exception that applies—and ultimately ruled in favor of Husband’s appraised value of $1,020,000.

In upholding the Family Court, the Court of Appeal explained the role expert witnesses play during trial. Namely, expert witnesses (here the appraisers) can testify about their general knowledge and their field of expertise; however, expert witnesses traditionally are not allowed to testify about case-specific facts (i.e., facts relating to the particular events or participants in the case being tried) if they have no independent knowledge of those case-specific facts. In other words, the appraiser can testify about generalized information to help the judge or jury understand the significance of other properly admitted evidence (i.e., case-specific facts), and can even give an opinion on those properly admitted case-specific facts, but the appraiser cannot supply those case-specific facts about which he or she has no personal knowledge. The justices explained that when an expert testifies to case-specific facts that are out-of-court statements to explain the bases for the expert’s opinion, it is hearsay because those statements are necessarily considered for their truth without any of the safeguards the hearsay exclusionary rule is meant to provide.

Here, the square footage of the lot is a case-specific fact. Because Wife’s appraiser did not actually calculate, or have personal knowledge of, the lot size, and relied on an out-of-court statement to determine the county portal was wrong, it is hearsay. Fatally, Wife did not identify or produce the public record regarding the increased lot size, which could have been the independent basis needed to elicit the increased lot size testimony from Wife’s appraiser. Thus, the Family Court properly sustained the hearsay objection.

Wife also argued that the “plat” map in both appraisers’ incorrect—but properly admitted—reports demonstrate the increased lot square footage based on “basic arithmetic” and “simple geometry” by calculating the sum of the area of a parallelogram and triangle because this is common knowledge without the need for an expert. However, the justices rejected this argument as well. First, Wife sabotaged her own argument when she supplied the incorrect formula for calculating the area of a parallelogram and triangle, thereby demonstrating that it is not necessarily common knowledge. Second, the justices’ rationale was further supported when Husband also supplied incorrect information for calculating the area of a triangle. Finally, as Husband pointed out, the lot did have a parallelogram and triangle; instead, the two shapes overlapped some, thereby making the sum of the two separate formulas inaccurate. Consequently, the justices reasoned that “[t]he best way to measure the area of the lot would be to hire a surveyor ”—i.e., an expert.

Finally, even though Wife moved for a new trial, by filing this appeal, the motion for new trial was denied by operation of law. The justices concluded that since Wife did not argue the denial of her motion for new trial by operation of law should be reversed, she forfeited the argument.

And for those curious:

Area of a parallelogram = base x height, not base x side as Wife argued.

Area of a triangle = one-half (base x height), not one-half (base x side) as Wife argued.

Wife should have produced the city record with the correct lot size. But she didn’t. Moreover, Wife should have double-checked her math formulas! But, again, she didn’t. Finally, Wife should not have left the argument regarding the motion for a new trial on the cutting room floor. But she did, and consequently, for purposes of her divorce, the marital home sits on a 9,000 square foot lot.

Authored by Kevin A. Alexander II, Esq. on February 20, 2024

Andy Cook Law Contact Us Today

Get Experience On Your Side

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • Please enter your phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
  • Please enter your email address.
    This isn't a valid email address.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.
  • By submitting, you agree to be contacted about your request & other information using automated technology. Message frequency varies. Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to cancel. Acceptable Use Policy