Originally published August 3, 2021
Once we were settled in a comfortable spot on Crown Land, it was my job to look for properties and arrange viewings to sort promising land from duds. I also worked on transferring over all of our health cards, vehicle registrations, movers, etc. while Tyler was at work since we were in a new province. I was also on a mission to find a full-time job since Tyler's work only needed me very occasionally. I started pushing out resumes through Indeed and Facebook jobs looking for a full-time gig working as a bookkeeper. Needless to say I was able to keep myself fairly busy throughout the thirty days it took me to accomplish everything.
Moving Provinces- what you need to know
Moving provinces comes with certain logistical demands like changing your provincial health card, license and registration for all vehicles and setting up mail forwarding to your new address. I had to call Nova Scotia health to request the registration packet by mail and book an Access Nova Scotia (the equivalent to Service Ontario) meeting to transfer our vehicles and licenses over. I visited the nearest Canada Post office to Tyler's work to register a post office box and updated all of our bills and government forms with our new address.
Nova Scotia is facing labor shortages, not a lack of work. I expected to be faced with challenges finding work due to my name, my lack of local work experience and the reputation of poor work availability in the Maritimes. I was able to secure a job offer within a few days at a great looking company in Halifax as the resident bookkeeper, but would start in one week. The job offered full time hours, a competitive wage and full benefits. Soon after though, I found our property and we realized I would need to find work in the South Shore instead of Halifax unless I wanted to pay through the nose for gas and spend 15 hours a week commuting (that's a hard no!).
I reached out to an accounting firm that had a posting I found through a Google search and followed up by a direct message on Facebook. Stacey contacted me a few days later by email to offer an interview and I actually called her to explain my predicament- I wanted to work closer to home and for an accounting service so I could apprentice under her (it takes 3 years as an apprentice to become a Certified Bookkeeper), but I had a concrete job offer that I didn't want to give up if she couldn't take me on. After a brief phone call, we agreed I would travel down to her later that afternoon for an impromptu meeting and she took a chance on me by offering me a job that day so I could respectfully decline my other job offer.
Being from Ontario, I definitely expected to face difficulty finding work opportunities in my field. Stacey explained later to me that it is very difficult to find skilled laborers in Nova Scotia and the province's reputation for work shortages is about 15 years old and no longer valid. With so many people moving to Nova Scotia during the pandemic, it feels like the province is really experiencing a turning point in its history. This can only mean good things for us and we were pleasantly surprised.
Finding land in Nova Scotia's South Shore The most exciting part of this time was definitely searching for our dream property. We had some big dreams but reality was always knocking. Our biggest priority was finding land that was heavily wooded as we wanted to live in a forest. Tyler really wanted moderate elevation changes with some interesting geography, like cliffs, hills and preferably water. We both wanted as much land as we could afford. I used the Realtor.ca app to find properties and then texted the listings to our real estate agent to arrange viewings. Since we were looking at bare land, there was little to arrange and I would arrange to do 3-5 listings in one day for a particular area.
The financial impact of buying bare land
For anyone who has tried to buy bare land, a mortgage is difficult to nearly impossible to obtain. My experience was that most real estate agents, mortgage brokers and banks are disinterested in the deal, so its difficult to get them to work with you in the first place. Then if you can get them to work with you, they want 40-60% down at rates that are 6-8% in a time of 1% traditional mortgages. So it isn't easy and it was more than a little belittling to have to fight for the opportunity to start a farm.
Tyler and I had a decent amount of savings, so we decided to try to look only within our price range, about $20 000. We cannot emphasize enough how liberating it was to visit properties with the knowledge that we could pay cash for them. We did not need to provide the ridiculous amount of personal information required by the banks and we did not have to hope that someone else's decision was going to make or break our dream. That, above all else, made this choice worth it, even if we would a little cash poor afterwards. As my sister Petra said, it's not like the money was doing anything anyways, it was just sitting in our savings account waiting for an investment opportunity.
An Old Christmas Tree Farm
I went out to visit 5 properties in one day in the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Two properties of the five had sold since I made the booking (!!), so I had three left to look at. The first property was quite literally in the middle of a floodplain and was obviously going to have issues as a wetland area. I didn't even stop to look at the property and kept on driving to the next one. The next property was very promising, with large old growth trees and quick access to a maintained road, though only seven acres. It was also a corner lot and did not feel very private. I didn't have a good feeling about the property, but I noted the pros/cons and moved on to the final property.
The final property had a highway access from a well traveled highway, though it was so infrequently traveled that I drove past it a few times trying to find it. After turning off to the private road, I was faced with an immediate climb through some beautiful mature trees. I knew immediately that Tyler was going to love the drive into this property because he had frequently mentioned the appeal of a long wooded drive to our future farm.
The top of the hill was marked by an Inuksuk, another positive sign, since Tyler and I have a habit of joining the many other campers who build these little markers while camping. The road was quite adventurous, bending from side to side and up and down. I came across a fork in this road, with a gate to the right and the road continuing to the left.
The quality of the road was noticeably poorer after the fork, but thankfully I had taken our truck knowing I might be adventuring off-road. I continued down this road for about another kilometer before seeing the bushman boundary markers made of old tin cans that were hanging from the trees. I chuckled a bit at the sight of these because they looked straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie. The trees eventually gave way and there was a final sign nailed to a tree that said "Stay on the Trails".
According to the selling agent, this was the beginning of the twenty acre property that used to belong to one of North America's largest Christmas tree company, Kirk Farms. The road that I had just traveled down was essentially an old logging road and was in disrepair since it had been in disuse for roughly fifteen years.
I came to the another fork in the road where I could see the real estate sign. I turned left in that fork and continued down until I found a second fork, kept left and drove essentially in a circle around the loop. The road at the back of the loop was difficult to see from the overgrowth from the trees, but it had good drainage and I could get through easily enough. Once I got back to the real estate sign, I got out of the truck and started exploring the bush for more intel, like whether there was ground water visible, whether there were ample rocks and how large the trees were.
This property was definitely interesting. The forest did not have an old forest feel, but the trees were beautiful and healthy, with fir, spruce and pine varieties along with plenty of young oak and maples roughly between 15-30 feet tall. There was ample rock for building and lots of pretty shale around. The property was fairly level and flat, and the large road was already in place, something that would have cost an arm and a leg to install ourselves. We could pick and choose where we would clear and it would be relatively accessible compared to starting with an old forest. The trees were planted much too close together, so we would have to thin them out so that the rest could thrive, but that was not a bad thing for people who needed to build fences and harvest firewood for heat. Another consideration was that we wouldn't be cutting down old growth forest, but rather get an opportunity to custom design this old Christmas tree farm into a mature forest over our lifetime. How cool!
The Water Situation
The property is nestled between a small lake called Lohnes Lake (a popular family name around here) and the Lahave River, which flows into the ocean near Liverpool. Both waterfronts were visible from parts of our property, so they are only about 100 meters from the boundary lines. It was not until about a month later that Tyler and I found two small ponds on the property and a creek connecting the lake and the river.
We did not get a test well done on the property, but Nova Scotia has a reputation for having ample groundwater and being so close to two large bodies of water made me feel confident that a drilled well would not need to go very deep to access this. In the meantime, we planned to continue to bring in water for our daily use and collect rainwater for the farm.
While we would not have water access ourselves directly to the lake, our neighbor kindly gave us permission to walk from the road through about 100 feet of his woods to make a trail and put a dock in place so we can canoe the lake. This is definitely a lower priority project for us but it is nice to know we will have that as an option down the road.
Pulling the trigger on the purchase
I got home that evening and updated Tyler on the properties. Tyler was pretty sold on the idea right away considering it was the largest property we could find in our price range and everything else seemed to check out. We asked our real estate agent if we could book another viewing the following Saturday so Tyler could get a good look at it as well but he warned us that the selling agent had said he had a few other viewings booked that week as well (Was it a tactic? we will never know). He recommended that we draw up an offer so that if it is accepted we would be secure in our purchase and still have an opportunity to pull out if something came up in our lawyer's review. Which is exactly what we did. The offer was accepted within 24 hours and we started to get really excited that we had a place to call home.
The Legalese of Buying Land
In buying land, we had a few questions we would need to have answered through the closing process with our lawyer:
Tyler and I went back the following Saturday to tour the property, except now we were exploring with the knowledge that if we wanted it, it was ours. That was a very fun day- Tyler loved the property and we decided we were going to take it.
After we left the property, we decided to visit Historic Lunenburg and tour the town as this was going to be a our new stomping grounds. As we were in downtown Lunenburg, we spied a cool looking Timber Framing company right in the downtown core. Tyler reached out to them by email and, long story short, was hired soon after. With jobs close to the property and no issues with the land, we looked forward to moving to the property in just a few short weeks.
Thanks for following us on our journey off grid! My next post will be covering how we cleared some land and built a quick and dirty pad for our camper so we could start preparing for a winter off-grid. Subscribe to our updates in our journey off-grid by signing up for our newsletter below.