Hurricane Fiona swept through Nova Scotia recently and caused significant damage to properties in Nova Scotia, particularly the Cape Breton area. If you are a landowner in Nova Scotia, there may be government financial assistance available to you. For a rundown of the various support available, visit https://novascotia.ca/hurricane-fiona-support/

Homeowners have several support options available, but those with raw land may be eligible for financial assistance as well.  There is a forthcoming program to support private woodlot owners that have been impacted by forest damaging arising from Hurricane Fiona. As with the other programs, details will be made available here

One of the challenges of buying land in Nova Scotia is determining what the potential uses of that land may be. Each municipality maintains their own zoning maps and land use bylaws. The zoning maps are useful to pinpoint a particular plot of land and determine its zoning. With that established, the land use bylaw contains the details on the permitted and restricted uses of each particular zone. Sounds like fun, right?

 

Well, here’s some good news. In this post we’ve created the first all-in-one reference for Nova Scotia zoning maps and land use bylaws. We THINK we’ve found them all, but if something is missing or inaccurate please let us know. Of course, zoning is important to consider when buying land, but so are 1,000 other things. Be sure to check out our guide to buying land in Nova Scotia

 

Cape Breton Zoning

Cape Breton Land Zoning Map: https://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=34b5e62a2a7f4904bde0b56a9e27df05

Cape Breton Land Use Bylaw: https://www.cbrm.ns.ca/municipal-planning.html

 

Halifax Zoning

Halifax Land Zoning Maps:  https://www.halifax.ca/about-halifax/regional-community-planning/community-plan-areas/halifax-plan-area

Halifax Mainland Land Use Bylaw: https://cdn.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/about-the-city/regional-community-planning/halifaxmainlandlanduseby-law-edition216-eff-22sep15-caserp16-16-toclinked_0.pdf

 

Queens Zoning

Region of Queens Municipality land zoning maps and land use bylaws: https://www.regionofqueens.com/municipal-services/planning/land-use-planning

 

Hants Zoning

East Hants land zoning map: https://www.easthants.ca/government/municipal-departments/planning-development/interactive-east-hants/

East Hants land use Bylaw: https://www.easthants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/LUB-2016-Part-1-Administration.pdf

 

West Hants land zoning map: https://www.westhants.ca/planning/planning-documents/3122-mps-map-1-generalized-future-land-use-map/file.html See additional documents here: https://www.westhants.ca/planning-documents.html

West Hants land use Bylaw: https://www.westhants.ca/by-laws-and-policies/by-laws/west-hants-by-laws/3471-wh-land-use-by-law-consolidated-november-18-2021/file.html

 

Annapolis Zoning

Annapolis County land zoning map: https://annapoliscounty.ca/Documents/1EzFolderList/CommunityDev/MunicipalPlanningStrategyLandUseBy-law/AnnapolisCounty/Future%20Land%20Use%20Map.jpg

Annapolis County land use bylaw: https://annapoliscounty.ca/community-development/zoning-development-control/291-municipal-planning-strategies-land-use-bylaws

 

Antigonish Zoning

Town of Antigonish land use zoning map: https://www.townofantigonish.ca/news/757-toa-zoning-map/file.html

Antigonish County land use zoning maps: http://www.edpc.ca/plan_docs.htm

Antigonish County land use bylaws: http://www.edpc.ca/plan_docs.htm

 

Colchester Zoning

Colchester County land zoning map: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/dashboards/510215b0a4384cbfaf901dac8b25347a

Colchester County land use bylaw: https://colchester.ca/3494-central-colchester-land-use-by-law-chapter-40/file

 

Cumberland Zoning

Cumberland County land zoning map: https://www.plancumberland.ca/zoning-map

Cumberland County land use bylaw: https://www.plancumberland.ca/documents

 

Inverness Zoning

Inverness County land zoning maps: http://www.edpc.ca/plan_docs.htm

Inverness County land use bylaw: http://www.edpc.ca/plan_docs.htm

 

Kings Zoning

County of Kings land zoning map: https://www.countyofkings.ca/upload/All_Uploads/services/maps/Master%20Map/CountyLUB_map.pdf

County of Kings land use bylaw: https://www.countyofkings.ca/residents/services/planning/lub.aspx

 

Pictou Zoning

Pictou County land zoning map: https://www.townofpictou.ca/planning/244-land-use-by-law-zoning-map-schedule-a-2/file

Pictou County land use bylaw: https://www.townofpictou.ca/planning-by-laws-and-documents

 

Richmond Zoning

Richmond County land zoning maps: http://www.edpc.ca/plan_docs.htm

Richmond County land use bylaw: http://www.edpc.ca/plan_docs.htm

 

Victoria Zoning

Victoria County land zoning maps: http://www.edpc.ca/plan_docs.htm

Victoria County land use bylaw: http://www.edpc.ca/plan_docs.htm

 

Yarmouth Zoning

Yarmouth County land zoning map and land use bylaw: https://www.townofyarmouth.ca/land-use-by-law-and-zoning-map2.html

 

Shelburne Zoning

Shelburne County land zoning map (see page 27) and land use bylaw: https://www.municipalityofshelburne.ca/by-laws/377-municipal-planning-strategy-and-land-use-by-law-l-101/file.html

 

Lunenburg Zoning

Lunenburg County land zoning map: https://www.modl.ca/zoningmap.html

Lunenburg County land use bylaw: https://www.modl.ca/zoning.html

 

Digby Zoning

Digby County zoning map (see page 13) and land use bylaw: https://digbymun.ca/1078-regulation-of-wind-turbine-development-land-use-by-law-july-2018/file.html

 

Guysborough Zoning

District of Guysborough land zoning map: https://modg.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/Existing%20Land%20Use%20By-law%20Zoning%20Map.pdf

District of Guysborough land use bylaw: https://modg.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/LAND%20USE%20BYLAW.pdf

 

Effective April 1, 2022 the Province of Nova Scotia introduced a non-residential deed transfer tax. It is described as a measure to make home ownership for Nova Scotians more accessible. The tax amounts to 5% and is paid as deed transfer tax when a property changes hands. 

 

So what about vacant land? Vacant land is subject to the 5% transfer tax if it is classified as “residential”. To my understanding, this includes all land except land classified as “resource” or “commercial”. Most individuals aren’t buying vacant land classified as commercial, however the “resource” classification is not uncommon. On forested lands, there can be a percentage split between “residential” and “resource”. 

 

There are some exceptions, for example if you plan to move to Nova Scotia within six months. You can see full details here. Unfortunately, most out-of-province buyers will be dinged with this new tax. To give an example of the difference, let’s take the average vacant land sale price from our recent post on Nova Scotia vacant land sales statistics: $72,250. There’s a deed transfer tax calculator on wowa.ca. So, on that $72,250 purchase, an out of province buyer is paying $4,696.25. A Nova Scotia resident, in contrast, would pay $1,083.75.

 

So congratulations to Premier Tim Houston –  you’ve chased off a whole class of buyers that were ready and eager to invest in Nova Scotia. Many of these buyers are also developers, with an interest in building on vacant land. Are they building luxury vacation homes so they can helicopter in on weekends, eat caviar and splash around in the pool? No, most that I know are looking to build… wait for it… affordable single-family homes. This new housing would then be sold on the market, providing a much-needed boost in the amount of homes available for local buyers. 

 

With this new tax, many developers will simply look elsewhere. Nova Scotia’s production rate of affordable housing will be limited to the slow pace provided by local economies. It’s a penny-wise-pound-foolish approach designed to win popularity points with voters who tend to perceive “outsiders” as the problem for whatever ails them. 

 

According to a CBC article, there are about 28,000 non-resident property owners in Nova Scotia. Of these, 42% hold vacant land. It’s not a large number for a province the size of Nova Scotia, and the vacant landholders in particular are not to blame for a shortage of affordable housing in Nova Scotia.

 

The legislation brought a lot of negative attention to the Nova Scotia government, leading them to pull back on another component: the non-resident property tax. And the distaste for the new taxes wasn’t limited to foreigners. As one Nova Scotian commented online: “Everyone except the xenophobic types saw this as the bad idea it was.”

 

I spent some time trying to find statistics on land for sale in Nova Scotia, average sale price etc. While it’s easy to find sales statistics on residential real estate, sales of vacant land are seldom reported. So thanks to some help from the Canadian Real Estate Association I was able to obtain some info. 

 

So what is land worth in Nova Scotia? Are average sale values increasing? This chart plots the trendline of average sale price and median sale price for vacant land sales in Nova Scotia from 2019 through to March 2022 (just one quarter of 2022 data, so take it with a grain of salt). During that time, the median sale price has increased from $43,000 to $72,250, a gain of 68%! Sure beats the performance of my stock portfolio. At the same time, the average sale price has risen 39%, from $67,011 to $93,240 during the same timespan.

 

Nova Scotia Vacant Land Sales – Average Sale Price 

Nova Scotia Land Sales - Average Sale Price 2022

 

I was also interested in statistics on the duration of land sales in Nova scotia. How long is the average duration between when land is listed for sale and actually sold? The average days on market for land has dropped dramatically in the last few years, from 265 days in 2020 to an average of 155 days. For this statistic, the median (which represents the “middle” value of the full range of values) is down to 76 days whereas it was 123 days in 2020.

 

Nova Scotia Vacant Land Sales – Days on Market

 

So, not only are Nova Scotia vacant land sales increasing significantly in value, the deals are moving faster.

 

I also wanted to explore the gap between list price and sold price. In a seller’s market, this gap narrows as more competition drives prices closer to the original asking price. As the following chart shows, this gap has been decreasing year-over-year. In 2019 the gap between Average List Price and Average Sold Price was $8,804. In 2020 it was $8,121. In 2021 it was $5,901. For the short portion of 2022 measured that gap is down to $4,607.

 

Nova Scotia Land Sales – List Price vs. Sold Price

Nova Scotia Vacant Land Sales - List Price vs. Sold Price

 

This suggests that buyers likely won’t be able to purchase vacant land in Nova Scotia at the same discount of List Price that we’ve seen in the past. 

 

The Bottom Line

No market is immune to change, and it’s yet to be seen what impact interest rate increases will have on sales of vacant land in Nova Scotia. I suspect these impacts will be felt more severely in the residential real estate market where a mortgage is the most common financing vehicle; many land plots are purchased in full through personal funds rather than a mortgage. 

 

Inflation and the rising cost of living may also put a damper on a hot market, leaving buyers with less disposable income to purchase a property they’ve been eyeing. All in all however, I think any sort of market slowdown will be muted when it comes to land buying in Nova Scotia. Unlike commodities such as stocks, bonds, etc, land holds value well with little volatility. Housing is still out-of-reach for many young people looking to own a home in places like Ontario, and the trend of increasing remote work options makes it likely that a high level of immigration to Nova Scotia will continue, and that will buoy the values of land sales.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on both the buying and selling side for Nova Scotia land sale transactions. I’ve asked 100 questions, and fielded as many from potential buyers. Asking questions is always a good thing, but this post is designed to help you ask smart questions that help you refine your judgement toward a purchase decision versus… questions that don’t. Those that fall in the latter category are typically ones you could easily answer yourself with information at hand. These, what I’ll call “bad questions”, not only waste valuable interaction time, they typically signal a lack of serious buying intent. There’s plenty of tire-kickers out there, but you can be sure that sellers will be less responsive when they sense this is the case. Instead, focus your and the buyer’s energy on questions that really help illuminate the value of the property in question. Use the various tools highlighted in our Guide to Buying Land in Nova Scotia to fill in the gaps, both before and after you engage with the buyer. 

Like our Buyer’s Guide, this guidance is intended primarily for someone at-a-distance (e.g. out-of-province) who may not be able to visit the property with a short drive. It’s also intended for buyers engaging directly with sellers; for those with a realtor, many of these questions will be useful ones for them to answer.

Good Questions to ask when buying land…

01

What’s the PID?

The PID should always be listed alongside a description of a property for sale. But sometimes it isn’t. This is the most single useful piece of information, particularly for looking the property up on a map. If a seller is hesitant about providing the PID, something’s not right. If they have a long story about how it’s multiple PIDs, or if the PID doesn’t match what they’re selling, be cautious.

Here’s a few examples. A seller once gave me a PID for a 50-acre property, but their listing was only 20 acres. I asked about this and was told that the buyer was in the process of severing the lot into multiple parcels (with multiple PIDs). Now, severing land is a process that involves municipal approvals and not inconsequential costs. A responsible seller would have this completed and closed out before listing a property for sale. Another seller sent me a picture of a gorgeous oceanfront lot with a well-groomed road through it. Once I got the PID, I realized he was selling the adjacent lot, with no road. Factoring in the cost of adding a new laneway changed my buying decision completely.  

02

What’s the Assessment #?

Most people will ask “how much are taxes?” It’s a good question, but you’ll get much better information by asking for the assessment number (or AANN). You can use this number to lookup the property on pvsc.ca where you’ll see a map, detail on any structures on the property, and assessment values for the last several years. 

This may seem like overkill when all you really want to know is what the annual tax bill will be, but there’s useful information here that can be overlooked. For example, a big drop in assessment value, say from $140,000 to $20,000, suggests to me that a residence or commercial building once existed on the property. Was it condemned, did it burn down, is it still standing? Doing a bit of digging once you have the assessment number can provide you with some great follow-up questions.

03

What’s the zoning?

You’ll rarely find any zoning information in online listings, but it can be quite important depending on your future plans. When you know the specific zoning of the property based on the local Muncipality’s land use bylaw, you can then go directly to the bylaw yourself and read the fine print. Most of these documents are readily available online and easy to access – though not fun to read!

04

How far is the nearest pole?

We’re talking about hydro lines here, but Nova Scotian’s use the term “power” rather than “hydro”. If you want electricity, it’s an important question to ask. Now, it’s not a matter of “yes” or “no” here – it’s simply a function of cost. Power is theoretically available to even the most remote areas, if someone is willing to pay to have a series of new poles installed to run the wires. 

According to NS Power, “Under normal circumstances, we supply — free of charge — up to 92 meters of pole and service line installation from an approved attachment point.” Beyond that distance I’ve been told anecdotally that you’re paying about $1,000 per pole. 

05

Tell me more about the road

There’s a few important things to assess here. 

  1. Is the road serviced year-round? Some “cottage country” areas don’t have snow-plow service in winter.
  2. Is it paved, gravel, etc. A rutted road can reduce the appeal and accessibility of your property and even cause damage to your vehicle. Flooding may also be an issue – a significant one when you find you can’t safely drive through the pooled water on the road.

06

What is the terrain like?

Viewing the property (by PID – see #1 above) should be your first step. Then, using a tool like Google Maps, you should look at the different layers of information, particularly the topographic view. This will show swampy areas, elevation, streams, etc. 

So once you’ve completed those steps, your questions here are around specifics. Ask about marshy areas, flooding, erosion, etc. based on your observations.

07

(for wooded areas) Has it been logged recently?

If timber value is important to you – or you just want a mature forest to call your own – ask specific questions about logging activity on the lot. 

Some lots will have a forest management plan available that’s been professionally prepared – a valuable document to review when one exists. There has been a big push for sustainable forestry practices in Nova Scotia. You can learn (a lot) more through the Woodlot Owners Association of Nova Scotia, and the resources they have on their site might prompt additional questions for you to ask. 

08

Where’s the nearest… ?

Nova Scotia can be quite remote, so here’s your opportunity to ask about proximity to the things that matter to you. 

09

Does the title have… ?

You want to ask about material items on the title that might affect your purchasing decision. Some examples include any rights of way or easements. This information is included in a typical title search by a lawyer, but it’s best to get the most relevant facts up-front rather than later in the buying process. 

It’s common for some form of easement to exist – don’t let it scare you off too easily. Just be sure you understand what it entails. 

10

What are the financing terms?

If you are considering seller financing, be up-front in asking about the downpayment, the repayment period, monthly payment amounts, interest rate, late-fee penalty, etc. Walk through each step in terms of obtaining and signing-off on a buyer agreement, from the initial down-payment to the final transfer of the deed.

You’ll also want to clearly understand any provisions about use of the land during the financing period – e.g. can you build on it with or without the owner’s permission? – in order to ensure that the terms suit your plans for the lot. 

11

Can I visit it on my own?

Most land sellers will be perfectly happy with you wandering in and taking a look on your own, but make sure first. Better yet, get it in writing so that you have written permission. Reason being, if you were to say.. fall down an abandoned well and injure yourself (please don’t!), a negligent seller might claim you were trespassing in the first place if it’s not in writing.

12

Are there natural water sources?

This one may not matter to most people, but a fresh spring is an asset that has material value, and is not often included in a property description. For off-grid enthusiasts this has the added appeal of microhydropower opportunities. 

With these questions, you can drill in on the most relevant information about the property you’re considering. You’ll show up as a knowledgeable prospect that should be answered promptly and taken seriously. My work is done here! Oh wait, that’s right I promised to include…

Bad questions to ask when buying land

-1

What’s the street address?

Before you ever ask this question, go back to #1 above – get the PID! Land parcels don’t have numbered street addresses like residential homes. PID is the best way to view them in a mapping application like Viewpoint or ReMaxNova. Some prospects will go to their default mapping application (Apple Maps or Google Maps) – these are much better used as a secondary source of information. For example, if I’m viewing a property in Viewpoint and see houses nearby, I might grab the street address of one and enter it into Google Maps so I can see the quality of nearby homes and take a Street View stroll as close as I can get to the land for sale. But it all starts with a PID!

-2

Can I build on it?

There’s legitimacy to the question of course, but … build what? An off-grid cabin? A casino? A coal mine? You’re much better off with the approach in #2 above – determine the zoning of the lot in question and then look up the permitted uses yourself. If you’re looking for a shortcut, that’s ok, just be specific. If your plan is to build a 4-season home, ask whether the zone allows for building a detached, single-family home.

-3

Is it on the water?

I’ve listed many things above that may or may not appear in an online land for sale listing, but there’s one thing I can assure you of: if it’s on the water, it will be mentioned in the listing. No one says “oh that’s right I forgot – it’s got 300 metres of white sand oceanfront.” Furthermore, back to #1, if you have the PID you can look it up and see for yourself.

-4

Is the price negotiable?

I love Canada, and Canadians, but sometimes we’re too polite! My view on it is, like residential real estate, everything is negotiable unless the listing specifically states the price is firm. So skip this formal parley and get to the good stuff – when you’re ready, make an offer. The worst that can happen is they say it’s too low. 

-5

Is the obvious, obvious?

Not everyone catches every detail from a listing, but try to avoid making the owner answer questions that are clearly specified in the listing itself. Again, we’re all pressed for time and sometimes you’re pursuing multiple properties so the details get confusing, but I’m talking about egregious inquiries here. I listed a property with a title like this: “6 Acres Lakefront Lake Ainslie – $99,000” and one person came back asking:

  • Is it waterfront?
  • How big is it?
  • How much?

I’ll stop here – hopefully the obvious is obvious 🙂

That covers both the good and the bad questions. Happy hunting! If you should need any help along the way, contact us and we’ll be happy to provide free (and hopefully useful) advice. No bad questions, we promise! While you’re at it, check out our current listings of land for sale in Nova Scotia. There are new gems being added all the time.

 

Cape Breton Island

Buyer’s Guide: How to Buy Land in Nova Scotia


Who is this guide for?

I have driven all over Nova Scotia in search of prize parcels of land, gems tucked away in forests or remote coastlines that few have visited. I’ve seen places I’ll never forget. In writing this guide however, I’m quite aware that not everyone can devote such time and energy to their search for land. So here’s the first bit of good news – 90% of the work can be done from any laptop anywhere in the world. With the range of data and satellite mapping available today, you can get an in-depth view of any land parcel from Barrington to the top of Cape Breton. This document will hopefully be useful to everyone with an inclination to buy acres, but hopefully particularly valuable for those at a distance such as out-of-province buyers.

Why buy land?


Let’s start with the fundamental question of “why?” There are SO MANY reasons that buying land in Nova Scotia is a smart move. I’ll describe some here:

  • Appreciation potential: unlike your car, your TV or your laptop that decrease in value for each year you own them, land is an asset that generally appreciates in value over time. And the best part is this appreciation happens passively through market forces – you can literally do nothing and watch your real estate values increase.
  • Land is a fixed commodity: Money gets printed, new corporate stocks get issued, new cryptocurrencies and NFTs pop up daily – there are no expansion limits to these assets. Land, on the other hand, has a finite supply, No government or billionaire is issuing new land. It has a lasting value that is more durable and predictable than other asset classes.
  • Low carrying costs: Owning a home, whether you live in it or not, involves significant upkeep and maintenance costs, plus taxes and insurance. Land, should you choose to leave it, will hold its value at very little cost to you. Most land owners pay only property taxes to maintain their land. We’ll dive into property taxes and assessments later – but suffice to say, the costs are minimal.
  • Land has many uses: I tend to look for land that has potential for a great residential home or cabin. Others are looking for farmland or pasture. Forestry is a big industry in Nova Scotia as well. You can lease land for hunting or camping. And then there are many commercial / small business uses as well.
  • Environment, sustainability and climate change: Natural land, particularly forested areas, have a beneficial effect on limiting climate change. Forests sequester twice as much carbon as they produce (wri.org). If you’re looking to improve your carbon footprint and achieve net-zero, sustainably managed forest lands can help you achieve that goal. You can also play a role in protecting natural habitats and flora and fauna.
  • Land use opportunities are evolving: Voluntary carbon credit markets are expanding rapidly and the projected value of carbon credits is poised for rapid growth. Initiatives like  the Family Forest Carbon Program are generating new revenue for woodlot owners who simply maintain a healthy forest. This activity generates carbon credits that have commercial value. We have yet to see these programs fully expand to Canada, but expect it will be soon. 
  • Leaving behind a legacy: What better inheritance for your successors than a beautiful place on Earth? Land is often passed down through multiple generations, making it a generous gift that has new potential with the next generation.

Why buy in Nova Scotia?


Appreciation potential: According to Statistics Canada, the average price per acre of “farmland with buildings” in Nova Scotia has increased over 40% in the last 10 years. But this is just an average – hot markets and unique properties (e.g. waterfront) have the potential for very strong return on investment.

Natural beauty: There’s only so much oceanfront in the world, and Nova Scotia certainly has its fair share. Add to that all the lakes and forests and rivers, and the diverse landscapes from the Annapolis Valley to the Cape Breton Highlands, and you’ve got something unique. 

Affordability: Nova Scotia is among the most affordable places to buy land in Canada, according to Statistics Canada, ranking behind only Manitoba and virtually equivalent to Saskatchewan. By comparison, land in Ontario is nearly 5x more expensive. Check out our post on Nova Scotia vacant land sales statistics.

 

Where should I buy?


It’s a critical question. Nova Scotia has so much range in terms of geography, climate, access to infrastructure, land cost, and employment opportunities. So naturally the choice will vary based on your needs. You should start by narrowing it down to a cluster of counties.

You can use some data here to help with your search. Are you looking for urban areas, or remote getaways? Population data provides a clue to that, particularly the last column below “population density”.

As for climate, there are certainly differences between counties, but I find these are overstated relative to the facts. The South Shore municipalities (Shelburne, Yarmouth, etc.) have milder winters due to Gulf Stream currents, whereas the more northern areas like Inverness is slightly colder due to the colder waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

 

I have spent time in most, but not all, Nova Scotia counties. It’s so hard to generalize all those experiences, but here’s a few observations:

  • Halifax is of course the epicentre, and generally land values are highest there and radiate outward
  • South shore municipalities have milder winters, more fog, and are generally more remote
  • Annapolis Valley is the spot of choice for farm produce
  • Inverness and Cape Breton have higher elevation levels, providing the best mountain views

 

How to buy land in Nova Scotia

The most common method is through a realtor, which follows many of the same steps as purchasing a house. I’ll deal more with private sales here, which is what a lot of people ask about.

 

Buying through a realtor: Local is always best. Find a realtor who lives and works in the vicinity that you’re searching. Talk to a few, and ask questions about their expertise in land, their commissions, and how they will help with your search. Once you’ve found a good fit, they’ll issue a contract. Read it carefully – you’re making a commitment to be their exclusive client for (how many months?) for any land purchases in (how big of an area?). These are boundaries and obligations you need to be aware of. If you’re out of province, a good realtor will do most of the looking for you and filter it down to the best opportunities. If you’re bold and trusting, you can buy the land sight-unseen – my recommendation will always be to visit and walk the property.

 

Buying through private sale: There is a huge hidden market in Nova Scotia of landholders who aren’t marketing their properties through MLS. I’ll dig in to how to find these opportunities later. A private sale is simply the purchase of a good between one party and another. It’s quite simple, but of course there are some important factors to watch for. Done right, it’s quick, painless, and commission-free!

 

Other methods of buying land: There are tax sales and foreclosure sales happening all the time. While I have fairly deep experience with these methods, they are not for your average buyer and I won’t go into detail here.

 

Finding land to buy

Here we’ll cover the traditional method of finding land to purchase, as well as some lesser known methods.

 

Real estate sites/apps: The global real estate sites such as realtor.ca, point2homes, zillow etc. will likely have some listings, but I prefer to use a regionally focused site. I’ll zoom in on the two that I use. Note that I’m almost always looking using a map as my main frame of reference, so for me a good map that plots land for sale is key.

  • Viewpoint.ca: Viewpoint is focused exclusively on Nova Scotia. It’s a website with MLS listings as you’ll find elsewhere, but for me it stands out for the quality of its user interface, the integration of valuable data points, and some handy tools.
  • RemaxNova: ReMax’s Nova Scotia focused web property is far better than those I’ve seen for other provinces, primarily for its quality map view and associated tools. 

I will dive into some power user tips for these two properties a bit later in this document.

 

Classified Listings: You’ll find land for sale in local publications and their online properties. I find these a bit cumbersome and low-value based on my limited experience. Kijiji.ca is a faster alternative and has categories devoted to land for sale. 

 

Facebook Groups: There is at least one Facebook group devoted to land for sale in Nova Scotia. Want to join it – search for “land for sale in Nova Scotia” 

 

If you’ve narrowed your search to some key specifics (e.g. Lunenburg County, 6-10 acres with lake or river access), try posting a “wanted” post in Kijiji or a Facebook Group. It’s an easy way to reach out to private sellers who may have exactly what you need, without the competition of all the potential buyers browsing available MLS listings.

 

What’s in a Land Listing?

There’s a lot of detail in a typical listing of land for sale, so let’s take a look at the meaning and importance of these data points. Here’s a typical listing of land for sale from Viewpoint.ca:

There’s some vital information here, some of which is obvious (e.g. price), and others that may require some explanation:

PID: The Property ID is the most valuable identifier of a land parcel. It’s a unique number that allows you to find that land and the boundaries of it through the various tools I describe in this guide. Sellers will usually include the PID when they reference a plot they have for sale, but if they don’t it should be the first piece of information you ask for. It’s essential.

Assessment value & Tax: These figures show the assessed value of the land, as well as the annual tax that is levied on the owner. Assessments are provided annually by Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC). As they explain on their site, assessment value is intended to reflect market value (what it would sell for), but never assume the two are the same. Actual market values can vary widely from assessment values, usually higher in a market with active buying and selling. It is however a useful reference point for looking at the relative value of the land compared to the selling price, and provides a clear indication of what the taxes will be (with some variance year to year).

Like the PID, each parcel of land is attached a unique number that relates to the assessed value. This is the AAN or AANN. In Viewpoint, hovering over this listing on the map reveals the AAN number. It’s important to know this number as well. You can use it to do a lookup on pvsc.ca and find valuable additional information on the property.

PCDS: This stands for Property Condition Disclosure Statement or PDS for Property Disclosure Statement. Here is more info from the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission. Now here’s my take on it. Buying land vs. buying a home or commercial real estate involves different risks and different forms of due diligence. Some examples:

  • A home may have a leaky oil tank that creates soil contamination. A good home inspector and possibly an environmental assessment may be required.
  • A home may have an under-the-radar extension to it that is not up to code and has no associated permit with the municipality. Again, a good home inspection can help. 

Land, on the other hand, has different types of risks.

  • Coastal properties may suffer from increased flooding or erosion risk due to rising water levels
  • Land that appears nice and dry in good weather may be flooded and soggy 9 months of the year

Most land that I see, have purchased or sold, is as nature built it, with few signs of human influence. With these types of properties, I’m mainly looking for nature-based risks that would diminish the land’s value. If there’s a run-down sawmill on the property, whole different ball game – more due diligence required.

Bottom line is a PCDS or PDS is a good idea if you’re purchasing a building. Land that is unused has less risk, and I would not suggest limiting your search to those that offer PCDS documents as those are exceedingly rare based on my searching experience.

Lot Size: Fairly obvious, but occasionally you’ll be required to compare square feet against acres against hectares. Square feet is common to most people. There are 43,560 square feet in one acre. Got it? Here’s an easier reference… remember your old high school football field? Include the end zones and now you’re picturing what one acre looks like. So eight acres is 8 football fields. A hectare is 2.47 acres  – let’s just stick with acres!

The smallest lot I have purchased in Nova Scotia was 21,000 square feet, so almost a half acre. The largest was 204 acres. The median size lot for a typical city dweller is 7,700 square feet – but unless you’re looking at something in metropolitan Halifax, you’ll likely want something larger to give yourself room to roam!

A good property search tool like Viewpoint or ReMaxNova will also allow you to see sales history for the lot, as well as tax assessment history and other details. 

So what can you not tell from a listing? Some pretty vital details:

  • Accessibility: Is it accessible by a 4-season, well-maintained road? Is it landlocked?
  • Proximity to…: where’s the nearest gas station, store, town, hospital, school? How far to the nearest lake or ocean?
  • Views: Can you see the ocean? Does it have elevation that allows you to watch the sunset? These can be factors that affect price dramatically.
  • Terrain: what is the land made up of? Forest, meadow, marsh?
  • Timber value: has it been clear-cut recently? Is there commercial value in the standing timber?
  • Zoning uses: Can you build on it? 
  • Access to power: are there hydro lines in the vicinity?
  • Sewage and water: The most common method in rural lands is a well and a septic tank, but some areas have access to municipal sewer and water lines

 

Power User tips for reviewing online land listings

Here are the most useful tips I’ve found for reviewing land listings. Hopefully they save you as much time as they’ve save me!

  • Filters, filters, filters: Often the most meaningful method you’ll find for evaluating the market value of land comes from comparable sales of similar land lots in the vicinity. I look for land lots of similar size and quality as close as possible. Two filters are useful here:
    • ReMaxNova has a filter for “Class”, and you can select “vacant land” to see only listings of this type. This is handy, but I don’t use it exclusively – seeing nearby home sale values is also a good indicator of land value.
    • A good map like Viewpoint or ReMaxNova will allow you to toggle on/off listings that are “active”, “pending” or “sold”. Very useful for comparing against land you’re looking at. Active listings are useful, but bear in mind some sell for less than asking price. Pending sales are a better indicator of actual value, and sold listings are genuine money in the bank.

Use filters to compare against similar properties sold in the vicinity.

  • View terrain through multiple lenses: ReMaxNova uses a different satellite imagery system than Google Earth. Why is this important? A view that shows a lush forest in one might be clear-cut in the other. A dry area in one might be flooded in the other. Scanning multiple views gives you more pictures from above and a more accurate picture. You can also see a topographic view of the land, showing elevation, marshy areas and other natural highlights – very useful for spotting swampland!
  • Note the date of the satellite imagery: Sources like Viewpoint that pull in Google Maps imagery will always list the copyright as “Google (current year)”. Viewing that same image in Google Maps will show you the actual year it was taken, sometimes more than a decade ago! I’ll deliberately go to Google Maps to determine how old the satellite photos are.
  • Always look at Street View, when available: Viewpoint nicely integrates Google’s Street View so you can zoom in on listings and get a much closer look. This really gives you a feel for the terrain as well as the quality of the property and other important factors like road conditions, views from the property, etc. There are many rural areas that are not mapped with Street View however. In these cases, you sometimes you can get a view from a nearby road – not as useful but still gives you an impression of the landscape, tree height, forest quality, etc.

Street View is a great way to get a closer look at an area, noting property views, access to power lines, and terrain quality. Viewpoint integrates this view, but go to Google Maps directly to note the actual year of the satellite imagery (in this case 2018)

A handy measuring tool: Viewpoint has a great “measuring tool” feature that allows you to pick points on a map and easily measure the distance in between. Extremely useful. Update: RemaxNova has a handy measuring tool as well! And it works well on the mobile view of their site too. 

Is there room for a driveway? Viewpoint’s measuring tool helps you find out.

 

Things you can’t see on a map

There are of course many important details that a map view won’t illuminate. The two main ones are zoning details and title issues.

 

Zoning Bylaws

Zoning refers to land use bylaws of the local municipality. These are highly localized to the specific area – no one-size-fits-all answers. If there’s a realtor involved on the buying or selling side, they should be able to inform you of the zoning and the relevant uses. For a private sale, searching within the municipality may yield some luck. UPDATE! Search no further my friend… we’ve compiled links to all Nova Scotia land zoning maps and land use bylaws for every region in Nova Scotia.  

 

Let’s use an example. I have a 14-acre lot near the Cabot Trail that falls under the jurisdiction of the County of Inverness. Through our handy list of all Nova Scotia zoning maps I was able to find the zoning map for Inverness and determine that my lot is zoned as RR-1 – Rural-Residential. From there it’s a matter of digging into the relevant local land use bylaw. These are long documents that contain all the ordinances associated with each type of zone. For RR1, for example, the following land uses are permitted: 

  • Single detached dwelling  
  • Duplex and Semi-detached dwellings  
  • Converted dwelling up to two units  
  • Mobile homes subject to setback requirements  
  • Cottages and other seasonal dwellings  
  • Tourist and guest homes  
  • Agricultural uses including barns and stables  
  • Forestry uses  
  • Post offices  
  • Community centres  
  • School, churches, cemeteries and other similar institutional uses  
  • Recreational uses such as parks and playgrounds, golf courses, beaches and associated buildings and uses  
  • Campgrounds and associated uses  
  • Existing Mobile Homes which are located within the 300 foot setback requirement from the Cabot Trail 

The document also contains provisions for minimum yard space and maximum height of buildings. Now, this is an example of when you fairly easily find what you’re looking for. In many cases you won’t – you can always get in touch with the municipality if you need a definitive answer.  Zoning bylaws are quite important and it’s a good idea to review these provisions in detail, even if you have a realtor summarizing the information for you. If you have a specific plan in mind for the lot (e.g. building a summer campground) talking directly with the person who approves permits could provide you with some vital information for your go/no-go decision.

 

Title Issues

Title refers to the legal documents binding the land to a specific owner, as well as details and provisions specific to that land. It includes, among other things:

  • The various deeds associated with the property over the years
  • A map of the property
  • Easements and rights of way (often included in the deeds mentioned above). These are especially important when land appears landlocked (no road in) or if there are shared private laneways or driveways. You’ll also find that many easements exist for logging operations within Nova Scotia.
  • Claimholders on the property (e.g. mortgage owner)

Title reviews and issues are the realm of lawyers, and I’m not one. Typically a title review is a step undertaken by a lawyer late in the purchase process. It ensures the land is indeed owned as indicated and identifies any potential red flags for the buyer. 

 

You can, however, gain access to the database that houses all documents related to properties in Nova Scotia. Access Nova Scotia’s Property Online (POL) database is available to subscribers for $100 monthly (as of March 2022). I pay this fee and use the database as an essential component of due diligence as I research properties. Here as well, a good realtor should be able to raise any issues you’d find by doing the research yourself – I just prefer to access the information myself directly. 

 

Closing the purchase of your land

Much like buying a house, the purchase of land involves the following steps. Usually there’s a series of questions from seller to buyer (directly in a private sale, or through a realtor when one is involved). There are a lot of important things to look into and ask about, which is why we compiled our list of Good (and bad) questions to ask when buying land in Nova Scotia.

Once the potential buyer has all the information they need, the next steps are:

  • Negotiation, or the presentation of a written offer
  • Signed acceptance of the offer and associated terms
  • Deposit delivered by buyer within a specified timeframe
  • Title search and deed transferal / registration conducted by the buyer’s lawyer

I’m not going to dive into a lot of detail on these steps as they are pretty straightforward and likely better explained by a realtor or a lawyer. I will comment however on some differences associated with a private sale of land.

 

Private Sales and Seller Financing

Private sales are typically less formal and more flexible. There is a period of questions and answers between the buyer and seller, warming up to negotiations and an offer. There is room for unorthodox financing methods: I’ve had a potential buyer offer me to trade his truck for land, for example. Seller financing is a flexible option in private sales. When the buyer is willing, they can work with the seller to establish terms of payment on a set schedule. Typically the deed is not transferred until payments are complete. An important discussion point in these agreements is how the land can be used while payments are being made. Can the buyer begin to develop the property? Can trees be cut down? Sellers will be cautious due to liability concerns, so ensure that these points are talked through and jointly understood.

When all factors align, a lawyer is engaged to draft a sale agreement. This specifies the sale price, deposit amount, terms of payment, and when/how the deed is transferred. As a buyer, you should engage a lawyer to review this document in detail. Most agreements are fairly standard, but you don’t want to regret something later. Here is a fairly basic and standard template of the steps involved in a sale with seller financing:

  Action Owner

Description

1.

Review confirmation of ownership Buyer

Attached document provided as proof of title ownership

2. Send initial deposit (e-transfer) Buyer

$XXX deposit, refundable if sale agreement is not signed. Once received, owner will pause all advertising and negotiations with other buyers. Receipt provided by Owner.

3.  Lawyer engaged to migrate land and create sale agreement  Owner

(Name of) law firm engaged to migrate property and draft sales agreement. Legal fees paid by Owner.

4.  Review and signing of Sale Agreement Buyer

Sale agreement specifies downpayment, monthly payment terms, conditions of sale.

5.  Downpayment sent to Owner Buyer

$XX,XXX delivered to Owner

6.  Access to land  Buyer

Buyer is granted access to land upon delivery of downpayment, subject to usage terms of sale agreement. 

7. Monthly payments  Buyer

Monthly e-transfers to owner based on sale agreement schedule. Written confirmation of payments provided by owner. 

8. Deed Transfer Owner

Upon completion of final payment, Owner will transfer title of deed to Buyer. 

Do I need insurance on vacant land?

I’ve been asked by land buyers whether they should hold an insurance policy on their land. The short-but-not-terribly-helpful answer is: it depends. I won’t give a prescriptive answer, just my opinion – and of course you might want to consult with your lawyer. I have multiple lots of vacant land, in remote areas. I don’t lease it out for hunting, I don’t grant permission for access to hikers or snowmobilers, I’m not aware of any open wells or … pit mines… someone might fall into, and I’m not located in shared paths that others might tread. So, no insurance for me at this time. Should someone trespass on my land and injure themselves, I’m fairly confident that I won’t be held liable, so I take that risk. There’s no excuse for negligence however, regardless of the insurance you carry – if there are hazards on your land, take appropriate action to ensure no one gets hurt.

On the other hand, if you have a shared right of way on your property, or agree for any reason to allow others to access your land, it’s worth looking into. Also, if your property has value in the form of standing timber, fire insurance is something to consider. 

Is there HST or other tax on land sales?

Most sales of vacant land by individuals are exempt from HST, in Nova Scotia and across Canada. According to the CRA information sheet,  examples of exempt sales are:

  • the sale of land that had been kept for personal use; or
  • the sale to a relative (or to a former spouse or common-law partner) for their personal use of a parcel of land created by subdividing another parcel.

However, there are situations when sales of land by individuals may be taxable. Examples of taxable sales include:

  • the sale of land that is capital property that had been used primarily in a business;
  • the sale of land in the course of a business; or
  • the sale of a parcel of land created by subdividing another parcel into more than two parts.

Based on these definitions, the sale of farm land in Nova Scotia is generally taxable at the HST rate of 15%, but there are some allowable exceptions. 

As a buyer, you don’t need to know the specifics of the tax code re: HST applicability. That’s up the to the seller to determine. Just make sure you know whether HST is included, additional to, or not applicable on the sale of the property in question.

If you are out of province, you should definitely be aware of Nova Scotia’s non-resident deed transfer tax, which is 5%. For more on this, view our blog post on the non-resident deed transfer tax

 

Conclusion

Owning a portion of Nova Scotia’s natural beauty is something unique and special. I hope you found my tips, advice and information useful, and I hope your search is fruitful in terms of landing you the place of your dreams. 

 

I’ll continue to update this document over time, and your feedback can likely make it much better. Please feel free to add a comment below – I will read them all and give them careful consideration.

 

Let’s Get Started

Victoria County, Nova Scotia

We’ve been actively buying (and selling) land in Nova Scotia for years, and this site and blog is here to help assist you in finding the property of your dreams. 

The site contains some valuable resources such as our Guide to Buying Land in Nova Scotia, but most people spend time reviewing our current listings of land for sale in Nova Scotia.

Our commitment to you is to keep our site up-to-date, and continue adding valuable content to help land buyer’s achieve their goals. 

We’ve travelled from Barrington to Meat Cove looking for good value, unique forests, lakes and mountains that are true gems for the potential land owner. 

We’re also tracking trends in forest management, sustainability and carbon credit markets – patterns that are reshaping how we assess and value land in a modern world. 

So, bookmark our site, and visit often – we’ll make sure there’s something special here waiting for you. And if we can help you in your land buying journey in any way, reach out and contact us.