A Land Survey is your official “map” of your Nova Scotia land

“Is it surveyed?” is a common question that comes up when buying land in Nova Scotia, or anywhere really. While a survey isn’t essential, it’s the surest way to fully understand the boundaries of a property. And for certain activities like subdividing land, it’s essential. In this post we’ll dive into the ins and outs of surveying land, and include a list of Nova Scotia surveyors for each region.

A land survey to confirm property rights

If you’re buying or owning property in Nova Scotia, getting a land survey can help you protect your investment. The work of a surveyor produces a detailed map that shows exactly where your property lines are, which is quite handy for avoiding any mix-ups with the neighbors. Typically you can see the surveyor’s work with your own eyes – in brush-covered areas they will typically cut (or “slash”) a clear trail along the boundary lines. As the landowner, it’s important to keep these boundaries cut. If you let the vegetation erase those trails, you’re losing some of the value of the investment in the survey.

In Nova Scotia, land can take on some strange dimensions. Narrow, long rectangular lots exist in many places. A 200-acre lot might be just 50-feet wide, so knowing where the property abuts the neighbour’s is important. And surveys don’t just mark out the boundaries; they also show where buildings and fences sit on your property, as well as existing rights of way or easements, which can be quite helpful if there’s ever a disagreement over land. 

In one instance I purchased property and later realized as I looked at a satellite map that there was a neighbour’s barn that was clearly encroached on my land. I did what I often do when predicaments arise – absolutely nothing – but luckily the owner reached out to me to resolve the problem. Part of the solution of course was a survey. Together we planned out some subdivision lines and engaged a surveyor to make it official. 

But it’s not just about solving disputes. Knowing the exact scope of your land is useful if you ever want to sell your place or build something new. Everyone involved gets to see the clear-cut lines, which makes everything smoother.

But again, a survey isn’t essential. I typically only get a survey done if there are important questions or issues to solve, or if there’s a development work that requires it such as subdivision. Another thing to explore is whether the property has been previously surveyed. Some surveys will appear in the Property Online Land Registry, but it’s not automatic that all surveys get added to that database. In the example I referenced earlier, I can go to Property Online and view the survey that was created to enable subdivision of the lot. In another example, a neighbour shared with me a survey that was done about 10 years ago – searching Property Online does not turn up that survey.

If you don’t have any luck turning up old surveys, you might be surprised how much you can observe from the land directly. Metal survey markers are often placed at the corners of property boundaries. One parcel I owned had markers on a few corners, a lakefront on another side, and a clear natural boundary (a stream) on the other. This made the boundaries pretty evident without the need of a survey.

Nova Scotia Land Survey

Facilitating Real Estate Transactions

When it comes to buying or selling property in Nova Scotia, having a land survey can give the buyer some assurance that there are no discrepancies with the boundaries of the lot as seen on sites like Viewpoint or Property Online. A professionally created survey gives everyone involved a clear picture of what’s being dealt with, which can really speed things up and boost confidence in the deal.

I have had buyers include different price points in their offers to buy land. For one 30-acre lot, there was an as-is offer, and an offer with an extra $5,000 if the land had a survey. The buyer can also offer to complete the survey at their own expense, with a provision to buy the land if the survey proves true to the description provided. 

Most banks and lenders want to see a recent land survey before they’ll hand over any cash, to ensure that there are no legal issues with the boundaries that could mess things up later. 

 

Development and Land Use Planning

When you’re looking to develop or use land in Nova Scotia, a land survey is like having a roadmap that not only guides you through the local zoning laws but also helps you protect the environment and plan for the future. Let’s break it down:

First up, zoning compliance with Nova Scotia Land Use Bylaws. Nova Scotia’s got its own set of rules about what you can and can’t do on a piece of land, depending on where it’s located. Want to build a new coffee shop or a cozy cottage? You’ll need to check that your plans align with local zoning regulations. A land survey provides important details to make sure your project doesn’t turn into a zoning nightmare.

A land survey can also point out sensitive areas like wetlands or wildlife habitats on your property that need to be protected. By knowing this upfront, you can plan your developments around these areas, ensuring you’re doing your part to keep the local ecosystem thriving. 

Lastly, thinking about the future is key. Whether you’re planning a commercial development or a residential neighborhood, a land survey lays the groundwork for what’s possible. It can help you visualize the space, plan out utilities, and see potential obstacles before they become expensive problems. This foresight can save you time, money, and headaches down the road, making sure your development is practical and sustainable.

In the case of subdividing land, a surveyor will typically provide a complete solution that involves obtaining permits from the municipality and coordinating the review and approval of the application for subdivision. A Nova Scotia real estate lawyer is required as well for registering the new parcel. Another tip: if you need to have the land migrated, do that first! By migrating the full parcel first, you will not need to spend more money to migrate subdivided properties later.

The Cost of A Land Survey in Nova Scotia

Brace yourself – surveys don’t come cheap. Here are some quotes I’ve received:

  • $1,500 for surveying a 16-acre property
  • $11,000 for surveying and subdividing a 100-acre property with very steep peaks and valleys
  • $20,000 for surveying a 30-acre property that was flat and grassy

My best advice is don’t get just one quote. You will find a surprising range of variation from one provider to another. Another important point: get in the queue early. Not much surveying happens in the winter months, so surveyors typically start off in the Spring with a huge backlog of projects that can sometimes extend well into the summer. For one of the quotes above I was told in April I’d have to wait until next year. 

Generally your spot is held by placing a deposit, such as 10% of the estimated price.  

Find a Nova Scotia Surveyor

The best source I have found for locating surveyors in Nova Scotia is the Association of Nova Scotia Land Surveyors, which has a Find by Location page that includes listings for each region of Nova Scotia. 

Caring for the Acadian Forest

So, you’ve hopefully found some useful advice on this site and now you’re the owner of a lovely piece of Nova Scotia land. If you’re fortunate or lucky enough, you’ve got acres and acres of it, with running streams, wildlife, and trees, trees, trees! If so, welcome to being a woodlot owner. You’re now accountable for an ecosystem, and a complex forest network that is vital to our lives. No pressure!

Personally, I’m a fairly new woodlot owner, and very new to forest management practices. But I’ve been soaking it up, and learning from some smart people, so I’ll share some things I’ve learned as well as some useful resources for Nova Scotia woodlot owners. I’ll share my experience getting a forest management plan created by a Nova Scotia forester, and I’ll talk about the income one can expect from sustainable timber harvesting.

But first, the obligatory shameful look at our cultural history! It’s a sad comment on our society that across Canada forests were once considered nothing but valuable timber commodities, and gruesome logging practices eradicated old-growth forests from coast to coast. In Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick, the predominant forest type is the Acadian forest – a diverse mix of over 30 native tree species. Today, less than 1% of original old-growth Acadian forest remains, making it one of the rarest forest types in North America. 

The Acadian Forest: Resources for Woodlot Owners

If you’d like to learn more about the various trees of the Acadian Forest, I’ll point you to a fantastic resource that I’ve come across. It’s called “Trees of the Acadian Forest” and it’s a linked PDF that allows you to look up and classify trees based on their characteristics. Whoever took the time to build this is badass – my hat’s off to you. I’ve used it more than once to identify a tree I was unfamiliar with, and it’s quite useful. You can download the file to your phone and use it in areas with no cell coverage.

Another useful resource, if you want to understand the general forest characteristics of an area in Nova Scotia, visit the Provincial Landscape Viewer. Click on the region you want to learn more about, and you’ll see an ecozone label. In my case “210 Cape Breton Highlands”. A quick Google search on that phrase turns up the detailed overview of that region.

An Important Topic for Woodlot Owners: Silviculture

If you’re considering how to manage a woodlot with some care for wildlife and the health of the forest ecosystem, you’re dabbling in silviculture. The US Forest Service defines silviculture as “the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests and woodlands to meet the diverse needs and values of landowners and society such as wildlife habitat, timber, water resources, restoration, and recreation on a sustainable basis.” So, rather than thinking “how much is all this timber worth?” you’re considering a sustainable approach to tending a tree stand, harvesting, and regeneration.

If you’re thinking that all sounds a bit flaky, consider this: there are government support programs with funding available for silviculture treatments. Ah, NOW you’re interested…

Canada Forest Regions

Getting Started with Woodlot Management

A good first step, and a fairly easy one, is simply taking the time to walk your forest and know it well. It’s amazing what you’ll see when you stop and look. A meadow with a lot of new saplings might be new growth replacing an area ravaged by fire years ago, giving new species an opportunity to change the forest composition. You’ll see mature trees dominate light in some areas, leaving room only for their seeds to grow. You’ll notice how one stand of trees changes abruptly to another, and with some practice you can likely spot the landscape factors causing the transition such as shade or soil composition.  

That’s all good, but when you’re ready to get into harvesting practices and regeneration, you may want to call in a professional. I own a 100-acre lot in Cape Breton that is primarily forest, so my approach has been to work with a forester to create a forest management plan for that property, and learn as much as I can so that I can apply some of the practices to smaller parcels of land that I own. 

Joining a Woodlot Owners Association

As a woodlot owner, it can really help if you can leverage the expertise of others to manage your forest. That’s where a Woodlot Association can help. For my property in Cape Breton, I joined the Cape Breton Privateland Partnership (CBPP). For a small annual fee, this association will prepare detailed maps on your woodlot showing species, age, wildlife considerations, and much more. The maps are free, and as a next step you can obtain a forest management plan prepared by a forester for a highly discounted rate. I’ll dive into that later. 

If you’re looking for an association, or just some valuable information to help you manage your woodlot, see the section on resources for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia below.

Getting a Woodlot Assessment Report

Through my woodlot owners association, I can receive woodlot maps and reports, for free! Now, they tend to only offer this service for lots of 10 acres or more. I truly value these reports – for one thing, it will give you extremely high-quality satellite imagery of your property (from GIS mapping tools) with the property boundaries clearly shown. Furthermore, the files are delivered as geo-linked PDF files. Without getting too tech-y, the benefit of this is you can load these files into a free map reading application like Avenza maps, and when you walk the lot you will know your precise location, even when cellular service isn’t available. This has been a game-changer for a guy who has often found himself wandering large lots not entirely sure if I’ve stumbled into the neighbouring lot of a drunken hunter.

But back to forestry. The woodlot assessment report contains some great information, gathered from forestry databases (not the first-hand observation of a forester – that is covered in a section below). You’ll find tables like this… showing the composition of your forest by age and area.

Basic stand information lets you know the specific species observed on your woodlot.

There is a section for sensitive areas (e.g. water supply zones) and wildlife habitat.

Based on Acadian Forest characteristics, you can explore the most dominant natural disturbance for an area, such as wind, fire, or insects.

The maps really are the best part of the report though. Here’s an example of a map showing forest cover type:

And here’s the same view using satellite imagery:

Creating a Woodlot Management Plan

Once you’ve received a woodlot assessment report, you may want to take the next step, which is engaging a forester to create a forest management plan. Through my woodlot association, I received a discounted price of $500 for creating a plan ($1,200 for non-members). With this service, a forester will walk the lot and provide more detailed documentation on your woodlot, as well as recommendations for sustainable harvesting in the years to come. As you can see from the image above, I own a long and incredibly steep 100-acre lot. Just walking it end-to-end is a workout. I can verify that the forester I hired trudged through the whole thing – he knew all areas of the land very well, with specific details.

The Forest Management Plan included over 45 pages of details on my woodlot – way too much to summarize here. For a sense of what’s included, here is the table of contents:

Let’s get to what I learned from the report. The most valuable section for me was the recommendations. In most cases, the answer is ‘leave it alone and let it grow’. In some zones, there were recommendations for a clear cut, a partial cut, or crop tree harvesting. I have opted to hold off until around 2026 so I can have work done on multiple forest sections at the same time. What’s that worth? It’s in the thousands, but not the 10s of thousands. 

The report also contained some useful information on soil types, threats to the tree species on my lot, and the annual allowable cut (the maximum amount of wood that can be cut off my woodlot in a year). 

The forester walked me through the report in detail, and answered every single question I had. He also informed me about silviculture grants that may be applicable for reforesting after any harvesting is done. All in all, well worth the money spent.

Working with a Forester for Harvesting

As mentioned, I haven’t yet harvested a single tree from my lots, so I’m no expert. But I do have a handy fact sheet from NSWOOA about hiring a contractor. Here are the things they recommend including in a contract:

  • Term: how long the contract is valid for
  • Estimated start date and end-date of operations
  • Property identification: The PIDs for the land
  • Method of Payment: Who is paying whom? This section should also include any estimates or quotes and commitment to meeting budget. If you are receiving payment for your forest products, it should be clear whether it’s lump-sum or a fixed rate based on mill scale. 
  • Proof of liability insurance: including Worker’s Compensation and liability insurance
  • Compliance with regulations: The contractor should agree in writing to comply with applicable laws
  • Signatures: including witnesses
  • Maps: Showing a clearly defined area of operations as well as loading spots, proposed roads, etc.
  • Prescription: It should be very clear what activity is occurring in each forest area, such as clear-cut, selection management, or tree planting.
  • Extent of responsibility: The contract should specify all areas of accountability for the contractor, including harvest, hauling, selling, or post-treatment assessments.
  • Safety Plans: should address any special considerations in treatment areas such as a steep slope, or fire prevention.
  • Post-harvest assessments: After harvest, the site should be inspected to ensure best practices have been followed, and a 2-year inspection post-harvest is also recommended to determine how the forest is responding.

Carbon Offset Programs for Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners

There has been a lot of promise, pilot programs, and scandal surrounding carbon credits. The premise is, woodlot owners opt to let trees grow instead of clear-cutting. This prevents the release of carbon into the environment and helps with global warming as forests are very effective at sequestering carbon. In return, woodlot owners receive carbon credits which have a free-market price (like a stock) that can then be sold.

I follow news in this area closely, and have yet to see a viable option/program for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia. However, this space is changing rapidly so time may change things. If you know of a carbon-credit-based program that Nova Scotia woodlot owners can apply for, please let me know!

Resources for Woodlot Owners in Nova Scotia

Family Forest Network: 11 organizations have networked to provide support to woodland owners. You can find some valuable resources on this site.

Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association (NSWOOA): This association offers resources and a mentorship program for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables: Offers a free home-study program to learn the basics of woodlot management.

NSWoods.ca: Find events and conferences for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia

A Final Thought for Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners

One of the most beautiful elements of Nova Scotia are the boundless trees that we see everywhere. It’s easy to take these gentle giants for granted. And of course, people need money to pay bills, and for many, fuel to heat their homes. I’m not advocating a total hands-off approach to forestry – in fact, forests can become healthier through human involvement. It’s simply a matter of taking an informed approach, giving thought to the health of the forest, and what we’ll leave behind for the generations that follow.

If you’re involved in buying or selling land, or any real estate, a good real estate lawyer is essential. We’ve provided contact details for several below. A good first question to ask is, “how local does my real estate lawyer need to be?”. In my opinion, you’re better off with a good real estate lawyer hundreds of miles away from the property you’re buying than an average lawyer in the vicinity. Unlike a surveyor, your lawyer doesn’t need to walk the lot. You want someone sharp on property law with good diligence for reviewing and submitting documents, and who responds promptly to your questions. I use the same real estate lawyer for all my deals, even though he’s often at the other end of the province from the properties I’m purchasing.

A real estate lawyer can help you with many tasks, including subdividing land, land migration, purchase and sale agreements, interpreting zoning bylaws and title searches. As we’ve written elsewhere, you can access title information through the Property Online land registry on your own, but a lawyer will have more expertise with the types of documents you’ll find there.  

The days of going in to the law office to sign documents are over, as those things can be done virtually from anywhere. Still, sometimes it’s nice to meet professionals in person, so we will summarize our list of Nova Scotia real estate lawyers by region. Recognizing some real estate lawyers will come and go with different firms, in most cases we’ve listed the real estate law firm rather than an individual.

If you’re looking for surveyors, developers, realtors or other professionals, please visit our Nova Scotia Land Development Guide.

  1. Annapolis Valley real estate lawyers:
  2. Central Nova Scotia real estate lawyers:
  3. Eastern Shore real estate lawyers:

     

  4. Halifax real estate lawyers:
  5. Musquodoboit Valley real estate lawyers:

     

  6. North Shore real estate lawyers:
  7. South shore real estate lawyers:

 

So, you’ve got some land – now what? It will take some time but we plan on building a comprehensive resource covering all the aspects of taking raw, vacant land and turning it into your dream home, cabin, or even a rental property. 

Topics will include land clearing, septic, water and power, excavation, permits and surveys. So, lot’s more to come! To begin, let’s acknowledge the range of professional services that you may need as you develop your property. Those include:

Realtors: for the initial land purchase

Surveyors: for establishing boundaries, and any changes such as subdividing a lot into multiple parcels

Excavation: including clearing land and installing driveways and laneways

Well Services: Most rural areas rely on drilled wells for the water supply

Lawyers: Useful for buying and selling real estate, establishing sale agreements, etc.

Builders: For construction of new buildings