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.

 

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