When buying land in Nova Scotia, a title search is essential.

Paperwork, right? When what you want is a beautiful slice of Nova Scotia land, who wants to dig through dusty old deeds and legal documents? But as I’ll explain below, a title search is a MUST-DO activity for any prospective land buyer. Let’s dive into why it’s important, and how to get it done. 

What is a Title Search or Land Registry Search?

A title search involves looking up a real estate property to determine important information such as ownership, claims on the property, any rights of way or encumbrances, etc.

Why is a title search important?

A title search is essential because it verifies the identity of the seller, and makes the buyer aware of any claims or restrictions associated with the property. If you’ve ever purchased a home, you’ve done a title search – it would have been completed by your lawyers as part of the sale closing process.

 

When it comes to buying land, particularly with a private sale, you need to ensure a title search is completed. It can be done as part of the closing process, but I strongly recommend conducting a title search much earlier, basically before any money changes hands.

 

To point out just a few of the issues that can be spotted through a title search:

  • Owner fraud: A title search tells you exactly who owns the property you’re considering buying. Don’t take ownership on good faith simply because someone is claiming they own a property for sale – a title search gives you certainty from a trusted source.
  • Claims on the property: Just a few weeks ago I was contacted by someone who had made a large deposit on a land parcel through a private sale. There was no purchase and sale agreement in place, and the buyer hadn’t conducted a title search. When I looked up the property in question, it had an “interest” on it. There was an existing mortgage from one of the big 5 Canadian banks. The seller had a home nearby, and all three parcels of land they owned were included as collateral in the mortgage on their home. So what? Well, if the buyer had carried on with payments, while the seller neglected mortgage payments and fell into default, the bank could then legally take possession of all of the land parcels.
  • Rights of way and easements: Many rural land plots in Nova Scotia are accessible only through rights of way established in dated documents that can be tough to decipher. The ultimate question with a land parcel is, can I legally get in and out of it with a vehicle? A title search will reveal the terms of any rights of way that apply to the property.  

 

When should I do a title search or land registry search?

If you are serious about purchasing a property, it’s best to do the title search as early in the process as possible. Title search fees and services will be included in the closing costs that you would pay to a real estate lawyer, but that step typically takes place at the end of the sale process. Doing a title search early helps you spot any issues that might affect your decision to buy in the first place.

 

Do I need a lawyer to conduct a title search or land registry search?

No. You can do it yourself if you can Access Nova Scotia’s Property Online (POL) database. It’s an online search tool for finding land ownership and related information associated with a Nova Scotia property. Online access costs over $100 per month, so it’s not for everyone, but you can also buy access for a half day of searches for $6.59 (fees are listed here) by visiting a Nova Scotia land registry office

 

You may need a lawyer if the title search turns up items that are confusing or unclear. Rights of way can get particularly confusing when the only definition comes from a handwritten deed from decades ago. Fortunately though, most title searches I’ve engaged in generally show what you want to see – a clean and unrestricted title to the land. When that’s the case, the conditions for buying/selling are clear-cut, and your only restriction on the use of the land will be the local zoning bylaws.

 

What info do you need to conduct a title search?

You’ll typically need one of the following identifiers:

  • Property Identifier (PID#): this is a unique number for each parcel of land in Nova Scotia
  • Assessment Account (AAN): This is the account number associated with a parcel of land’s assessment value and property tax.
  • Owner Name
  • Civic Address: This is tricky with undeveloped land as there won’t be a typical civic address

What information is included in a property title search?

If your search in Property Online (the Nova Scotia land registry database) turns up a result, you’ll see an initial overview page for the property…

Nova Scotia property title search details

Here you’ll find standard information on the property:

  • PID#
  • Type: e.g. Standard Parcel
  • Status: e.g. Active
  • LR Status: NOT LAND REGISTRATION or LAND REGISTRATION. This field indicates if a property has been migrated in the Nova Scotia Land Registry system. For more detail, read our post on how to migrate land in Nova Scotia.

The owner…

  • Name
  • Address

The location…

  • Civic Address
  • County
  • Area: (size, e.g 100 acres)

Assessment value…

  • AAN: You can use the AAN to look up current and historical property taxes on the PVSC website.
  • Value: $(residential, resource). This represents the currently assessed value of the property. For more, read our post on property assessments in Nova Scotia.

From here you have a few options to see more details within Property Online. The “Details” link takes you to more specific information on the property.  You can also click to view a map of the property. While the mapping tool is not as useful as the tools from Viewpoint and RemaxNova, it is THE official record of the dimensions and layout of the property, so it’s worth a look.

 

Diving into the Property Online Details

There are a lot of fields on the Property Online details page – too many to list. Instead, I’ll emphasize the ones with the greatest potential impact for a buyer or a seller of Nova Scotia land.

 

Owner Name: This should match the person you’re intending to buy land from. If there’s a discrepancy, you want to make sure they are entitled to sell and transfer the property. 

 

Instrument Types:

Deed: There’s a section for instruments (documents) that will often have the most critical information. In it, you should find any deeds associated with the property. The most recent, and therefore most relevant, will be at the top of the list. You can click on the deed to read the details.

 

Viewing the most recent deed is essential. It will specify the boundaries and dimensions of the property as well as any conditions or easements associated with it. Now here’s the fun part – there’s no single template for deed documents. While they generally follow the same flow and format, there are differences. Older deed documents will be typed or even hand-written, sometimes in a writing style that is hard to decipher.

 

Registered Interests: If there is a registered interest on the property, it means that a third party (most often a creditor, like a bank) has a claim to ownership based on an agreement. Most often when a registered interest appears, it’s a mortgage lender. You can directly access the mortgage documents, which will let you see when the loan was established, the principal and the rate of interest, and any other conditions on the loan. What you can’t see unfortunately, is how much has been paid off and how much is outstanding. 

 

In order to sell a plot of land or a subdivided portion that has a mortgage-related interest on it, the seller needs to obtain permission (or a partial release) from the lender. This reduces the collateral for the lender.

 

Right of way: There are two places you’ll find right of way or easement information associated with a property. In some cases they are unique instruments (documents) that show on the details page. In other cases they are included in the property description within the deed itself. Rights of way are pretty critical for some properties. You don’t want to unknowingly purchase a landlocked property. Many right of way descriptions are vague. Nothing can stir up neighbourly disputes like unclear right of way details. If you’re unsure what rights that right of way includes, it’s best to consult with a Nova Scotia real estate lawyer. One quick example: I have a lakefront property with a deeded right of way through a neighbour’s property. Over the years, trees and brush have grown up over the right of way area. Can I just show up one day with a bulldozer and start tearing through my neighbour’s land? Better ask a lawyer first.   

 

Easements: Logging companies and utility operators have easements associated with many properties. This gives them the right to access the property based on the terms specified in the document.

 

Our list is not exhaustive. Sometimes you’ll find something more rare like a covenant, which lays out in specific terms how the land can be used by any future owner. The main point is to avoid surprises. Lastly, if you’re looking for detailed advice on buying land, check out our buyer’s guide called “how to buy land in Nova Scotia.”

Cabot-Trail-Oceanfront

Property Migration: How to Migrate Land in Nova Scotia


“Is it migrated?”

It’s a question that will come up for any property purchase in Nova Scotia. In this post we’ll cover the basics of migrating land in Nova Scotia, as well as some important reasons why both buyers and sellers should care about whether a property is migrated. 

 

 

What is land migration?

Call me a cynic, but the root cause of the need for land migration in Nova Scotia is the price of going digital. Instead of funding the entire paper-to-digital conversion for all Nova Scotia properties, the government elected to have property sellers pay for the legal costs on a per-property basis before any property can be sold. It’s essentially the act of recording property information in the Nova Scotia land registry.

 

Is my property migrated? 

It’s easy to check. Enter the PID in a good real estate search site like Viewpoint.ca. Assuming you found the property, click on it for details. In the accordion menu on the details screen, you’ll see a row for “Land Registry”. Click on that sucker. Look in the center column, “MIGRATED” will show a Yes or a No. 

 

The provincial website also points out that you can determine if your land is migrated by contacting the Land Registration Office in your county. I’ll use the web, thanks.

 

I can’t find any stats on the total percentage of Nova Scotia properties that have been migrated. Many haven’t. Generally, the older the property and the longer it’s remained in the same hands, the less likely it has been migrated. 

 

Do I need to migrate a property to buy/sell?

Yes, very likely. Conversion is mandatory if: 

  • Ownership changes via a transfer of value
  • The lot is subdivided into three or more lots (unless lots are for family transfer)
  • You obtain a new mortgage or increase the principal on your existing mortgage.

 

Who pays for land migration?

The seller typically pays for land migration. In some private sale arrangements, costs may be shared or the buyer may agree to fund the migration cost. (Note: we have a sample Purchase and Sale Agreement for Vacant Land here) In a normal transaction however, the cost is covered by the seller.

 

What are the costs?

I’ve migrated multiple properties, and the cost is typically around $1,200 CAD. Most websites will quote a range from $800 – 2,000. Some properties may be more complex, but for the most part the process is quite simple. That amount should include the government’s $100 registration fee for converting a property. The lawyers pocket the rest.

 

How is land migrated?

You can explore the full details here, but to put it simply, you contact a Nova Scotia real estate lawyer and share the property details. They will look into the title of the property and any registered interests (mortgages, etc.). The lawyer will then submit registration paperwork (a document called an AFR) to the Land Registration Office. It includes sections for parcel information (address, PID), registered owner, Qualifications, Opinion & Certificate of Title, and Parcel Description Information. There’s a few checks and notifications that come next, but most of that happens between the lawyer and the Land Registration Office. 

 

Do I need a lawyer to migrate land?

Yes, I believe you do. I’m a big fan of DIY options, but I think only Nova Scotia-authorized lawyers can complete a property migration. Happy to be told otherwise! We’ve compiled a region-by-region list of Nova Scotia real estate lawyers.

 

How long does it take to migrate land?

About two weeks generally. But wait! Part of the lawyer’s title history search will comb through 40 years of property history. If you have any sort of hiccup in the process this is likely where it will emerge. I have one property that could not be migrated based on the dates of the wills associated with the property. It was lacking “a good root of title” according to the Real Estate Standards. In this case, the land was purchased at tax sale, which means I’m waiting six years from the original purchase of the land. As the Lawyers’ Insurance Association of Nova Scotia describes, “A lawyer may migrate a parcel using a tax deed as the root of title only if six years have passed since the tax deed was registered”. Four more years to go… 

 

What property migration issues should buyers be aware of?

Well, if you’re purchasing land that hasn’t been migrated, there’s a small chance that title issues may surface in the process. It’s rare, but as mentioned above, I’ve had it happen to me first-hand. It’s important to know if a property is migrated, but not as important as our list of Good Questions to Ask When Buying Land.

 

What property migration issues should sellers be aware of?

First of all, not all migrations are a slam-dunk. If you are arranging a private sale through an agreement, that agreement should stipulate what will happen in the event of migration issue. There’s also the cost – you should know if your property is migrated before you attempt to value it for sale, and factor the migration cost into your asking price so that you’re not taking a surprise hit on your profits.

 

When is the right time to migrate a property?

If you have no plans to sell a property, you can carry on with unmigrated as long as you like. However, if you plan on selling, it’s best to get it done beforehand. 

If you plan on subdividing your lot into multiple properties, you should migrate beforehand. That way you can migrate the full lot for one fee. If not done before your subdivision is approved, each subdivided parcel will need to be migrated separately. 

 

A few notes on my real estate law credentials…

I have none. As always, I’m sharing my information on land migration simply as a guy who’s been down a few roads and learned a thing or two. For any complex situation involving land migration, you’re best bet is a seasoned real estate lawyer to help you through. 

For more tips on how to buy land in Nova Scotia, visit our Buyer’s Guide: How to Buy Land in Nova Scotia.

We’ve previously written about how the Nova Scotia Non-Resident Deed Transfer Tax may impact foreigners hoping to buy land in Nova Scotia. But here we’re discussing a different type of legislation (the federal government’s Prohibition on the Purchase of Residential Property by Non-Canadians Act, which came into effect Jan 1, 2023). This Act is far more impactful on the ability of foreign residents to buy land in Nova Scotia. And for a change, there’s good news to share.

Today the CBC posted an article titled “Federal Government eases some restrictions on non-Canadians purchasing property.” The government is walking back restrictions that were passed into law earlier in 2023. 

Here’s some good news. People from outside Canada who have a work permit or are allowed to work here can now buy a home. Just make sure you have 183 days or more left on your permit and only buy one property.

What about buying vacant land? Yes, one of the included amendments repeals the existing provision so that foreign buyers are not prohibited from buying vacant land.  The zoning of the plot of land is important. Non-Canadians and foreign businesses can now purchase vacant land that is zoned as residential or mixed use. After purchase, the vacant land can be used for any purchase by the buyer, including development of residential properties. 

This is a welcome change as we are in the midst of a housing shortage crisis in Canada, particularly in areas like Nova Scotia that are seeing high levels of immigration. Allowing foreign residents to purchase vacant land in Nova Scotia, and develop into affordable housing, will help reduce market pressures and support Nova Scotia’s economic growth. 

If you’re ready to start your journey to buy land in Nova Scotia, we recommend starting with our Guide: How to Buy Land in Nova Scotia – it’s loaded with advice for first-time land buyers in NS and written specifically for someone shopping from a distance. In it, you’ll also find links to the various Nova Scotia land use bylaws and zoning maps, statistics on land sales in Nova Scotia, and so much more. 

 

(Note: this post deals with the provincial deed transfer tax affecting foreign buyers. View this post for information on the repeal of restrictions for foreign buyers purchasing vacant land in the Federal Prohibition on the Purchase of Residential Property by Non-Canadians Act)

 

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.”