Having searched the Net before we came to Canada, we had, as you do, built up in our minds what type of property we’d like to purchase as our perfect bolt hole. This would be a log cabin on a sizeable piece of land, not too far away from civilisation, with a large workshop, water frontage, trees, facing south with a spectacular view. This we actually found, on 15 acres, near Bear River with everything to spec. and all for £75,000. As soon as we hit the town, we made a bee-line for this red cabin and yes, it was everything we had imagined, including the old touch of stuffed animals, musket over the fireplace, bear skin rugs and log burners. Just two problems: the price, which had been configured for the UK market (double what a Canadian would pay); and the volume of bugs in the surrounding woods that eat you alive.
We returned again for a second look and this time took along a local friend, who gave us the Canadian perspective. Whilst it was a beautiful property, it wasn’t within walking distance of town for winter supplies and also seemed to be geared as a summer residence, rather than an all year round home. Many Nova Scotians have, or have access to, a country lodge where they move out to for the summer for a change of scenery, or because it is cooler. This was one of those. So, wisely, we decided to stand back for a while and look around.
For a Brit this is the real paradise. Compared with the UK, houses are so cheap. Granted, the majority of properties are made of wood rather than brick or block, and therefore need painting more often, but you can pick up some absolute bargains.
We considered investing in a building on 2.5 acres that was split into five apartments, four one-bedroom and one two-bedroom. The price asked was £37,000 (at today’s rate) and they would, at a guess, have accepted about £32,000.
Another place, this time out in the sticks on eight acres, was a four-bedroom Victorian house for £11,500 but we reckoned worth £4,000 or less. Admittedly this needed gutting, but when finished it would be a superb hideaway, for less than twenty five grand. Nova Scotia has loads of these, and plenty of abandoned farms and homes, just begging to be renovated or replaced with a brand new building (prefabricated ones start from £8,000 pounds).
An ex motel-cum-rental accommodation repossessed by the bank on the main highway 101 was considered. It was now converted into four self-contained flats, but required a bit more work than just a make-over. The sellers wanted £22,000 but we reckon they’d have willingly taken £17,000.
If you are a competent handyman, your hands can turn wood into gold. Up until 1986 you could build whatever you liked on your own land. Now, not unreasonably, you submit plans to obtain a permit to build and then the work in progress is inspected by local officials. Having said that, if it’s in rural areas and not within town limits, you will not have the bureaucratic hassle you get in the UK. The main areas for their concern are your water supply, your septic tank distribution field and the structural soundness of the building. The officials are pragmatic and not here to hinder you, but help. It’s unbelievable after the subjugation by the public servants in Britain, as to what this new found freedom feels like.
A note of caution. When purchasing a property, have it properly inspected. We used a British guy who has been over here for thirty years and knows his stuff. For a thorough job it costs around £200 for which you receive an on-site briefing plus a written report.
Watch out for houses with plastic sidings. It’s a sheathing that’s nailed over wooden sidings to save having to paint them and makes them look real smart. The jury is still out on the system, but I believe it stops the wooden walls from breathing and could cause rot. Not only that, you have no idea what problems it is masking. Your building inspector can’t remove it all just to check the house’s real state of health. So tread carefully.
Solicitors here are very quick and proficient, and fairly priced. They don’t rush, but everything is done at a very rapid rate, far faster than the UK, and no one gets phased. We purchased our vacation home within eight days, from viewing to taking hold of the key.
Since arriving, we’ve been touring around the westerly part of Nova Scotia and able to view hundreds of homes as we drove past. The one fact that jumps out at you, as a Brit, is that no matter where you go, most of the houses look the same, say one of seven basic styles. There are the odd one or two shows of architectural inspiration, but in the main, it’s sameness. Having said that, different colours, sidings, roof tiles, and the way the basements are sometimes part revealed, enables some character to be configured into the houses. The winning element is the landscaping. You can have two identical homes but one looks far more impressive than the other, purely because of the forethought and imaginative planning. Guaranteed, you will crave for the sight of real bricks (they do have stick-on ones here)! Another small item will arrest your eye – roof tiles. At a passing glance these will look like the ones back home – but they are not. In fact close examination reveals them to be made of asphalt. These can last from 5 to 25 years depending on the manufacture chosen. As nearly all Nova Scotian buildings outside the towns are timber-framed and these flex, the asphalt moves with them. Also there isn’t the heavy weight of tiles to add to the burden of thick snow when it arrives. The snow can also fall off the roofs more easily with the flat asphalt.
Another striking image that you will not find in Britain, and that is that there’s no social class or structure here. You will find big elaborate homes and gardens kept really pristine, bang next door to a family living in shipping containers welded together. No one minds or thinks less of his neighbour if he doesn’t display any wealth. Everyone is equal and all get on quietly with their lives. Here you can build paradise or hell, whatever you like, that’s up to you.
Home based business
There are lots of people who run businesses from home, usually from their basements. We are talking bridal wear, mini-supermarkets, quilt making, cafes, hairdressing, building renovation, tool hire, TV repairs… you name it. All that seems needed is a hand painted sign stuck in the garden and off you go. On a smaller scale you have yard sales. Every now and again the Scotian will decide to have a clear out of his barn and attic and assemble unwanted items on trestles in the front garden. Felt-tipped signs are then strapped to lamp posts advertising this event, or posted anywhere and everywhere, miles from the seller’s home giving just the briefest information. You can be in the real outback and come across groups of people sorting through the goods on offer. How it happens, I have no idea. Another level down from this, is where the good folks just put large items on their front lawns with a price and that’s it. Mainly it’s sit-on grass cutter tyres and wheels – why, again I don’t know, but they must sell as they quickly vanish. You will see small huts by the highway containing produce – apples, soft fruits, potatoes, tomatoes etc and an honesty box. You simply pull in, select your goods, put your dollars and cents in the slot and go. This reflects the kind nature of the people. Could you imagine that in the UK? Not only would the goods and money be gone, but the shed as well!
© 2002 Klondike Pete