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Early spring land tours reveal more than just flood risks. 

Break up has arrived in the northern interior of the province, and Right Now! is one of the best times to head north and strap on pair of snowshoes or a pair of rubber boots and go make trails around the properties you are interested in possibly owning. 

Walking property during the transition between winter and spring will give you valuable insight into how the geography changes with winter snow accumulation, and more importantly how well the geography deals with snow melt and runoff water. Characteristics you need to know about before you invest in or plan the location of driveways, dwellings, gardens, and outbuildings.

You will learn what the property and dwellings look like with a winter’s worth of accumulated snow, ice build-up, and repeated freeze and melt. And, it will give you a better idea of how well-built structures are to handle the annual seasonal changes, and how much wonderful white precipitation you can expect when you are the owner, especially if you are planning to live there on a year-round basis.

Excessive snowfall years do happen, as we have just witnessed the almost unbelievable images of houses in the sierra mountains of California buried under 50 ft of snow!

Most importantly, an early spring property tour can show you the path that run-off water takes as it melts, and if there are areas that show flooding risks. The ground is still frozen when the melt begins and water is always seeking a downhill path before it can be soaked up by the thawing ground.

You will want to examine the land around and downhill from streams, creeks, rivers, and springs. Take note of any low-lying areas that will pool water. Even though you may want to build close to the edge of a waterfront feature, one above-average snowfall winter followed by a rainy wet spring can drastically change a lake level or tributary path causing a flood that will erode soil and trees. Waterfront property owners have land rights to the high water or high bank mark, but mother nature knows no boundaries and the most unsuspecting trickle of a creek in mid-summer can become a raging torrent during spring runoff.

Start your observations on your drive there, gauge the height of the snowbanks along the roadway, and take good stock of the condition of the road itself. If you are planning to drive it on a daily basis after you move, your new commute may require you to rethink the type of vehicle that you drive and your allotted commute time. An all-wheel drive SUV can handle most winter roads, but if the property is remote and the road is narrow, will become icy, or muddy with inclines and deep ditches you may want to have a four-wheel drive pick-up or equivalent with a winch, a chainsaw, and even your own truck mounted plow. Snow removal and access are a big part of living in rural and remote settings. Self-sufficient remote residents don’t depend on municipal plow trucks or graders that can take days to get to your location every time it snows or a tree falls across the road.

When you are considering a rural or remote location you can confirm if the road to the property line is plowed in winter by contacting the local Ministry of Transportation Municipal Works Yard. The last time I called for this information, I was referred directly to the grader operator who plowed that road, and he was able to relay that no, he only plowed just past the neighbouring ranch and there was no winter access to the address I was inquiring about.

If you plan to create a full-time residence beyond where the hydro ends currently, you can request to have the road plowed to your address through the local regional district, in some circumstances they can accommodate, if not, owners must have their own equipment to clear the road to meet the municipal plow boundary. Currently, the 3A Group has a beautiful remote 145-acre off-grid waterfront listing at Donna Lake, and this property is being sold with its own 5-ton plow/sand truck to clear the kilometers of private road.

Once you arrive at your destination take note of the driveway onto the property, if there is one. Does it have adequate width for turning with a trailer or large vehicle? Check the ditch depth and culvert to make sure it’s not eroded and overgrown or rusted out. Examine the driveway, is it narrowed by snow banks? is it muddy and rutted? does it wind through trees? is it on a steep grade slope up or down? A long steep driveway on an incline can create safety challenges over winter when packed snow turns to compact ice with use.

Driveways should be wide enough to allow for snowbanks and graded and graveled to allow water to run off without eroding it. You can tell by the condition of the driveway in early to mid-March what type of machinery you will need onsite to keep it passable and safe year-round.

When inspecting dwellings take note of the pitch of the roof, roof pitch, and slope direction will let you know what side of the building snow is shed onto. Metal roofs at steeper pitches will shed snow that will turn to hard ice by spring, while asphalt shingle roofs will accumulate snow and may have to be cleared by hand several times in winter depending on the age and structure of the dwelling.

Check for frozen gutters and downspouts or any ice damns at the edge of the roof adjoining them, they can be an indicator of unseen water damage. Roof run-off water must be directed far enough away from a dwelling especially if there is an inground foundation. Inspect for pooling water, saturated soil, or muddy areas around the end of downspouts or anywhere around a structure’s foundation or immediate vicinity.

In addition, you will be able to determine if a dwelling has a southern exposure, or in the case of raw land, you will be able to determine if the land has a nice build site with one. A Southern exposure increases sunlight received by south-facing land, walls, windows, and other relevant entities in the Northern Hemisphere. It is important to know where the low winter sun shines and where dark cold shadows linger during the afternoon from large trees, forested areas, or mountains.

Sun hours and exposures are increasingly important for the use of solar power, but they have been used for generations in residential planning and for gardens and crop placement. Homesteaders and ranchers would seek out east-west valleys with a large southern exposure that gave the most sunshine hours and the best low winter sun angle. They would also use the natural process of gravity-fed spring runoff water to their advantage using ponds or swales for continued watering of forage and cropland.

Long-term weather patterns are cyclical just like the real estate market, and even though there hasn’t been a recent flood in the neighbourhood or area you are viewing, doesn’t mean that historically one has never happened in that location. It is advised to check the historical floodplain maps available on the Province of BC website.

Furthermore, there are online resources for land owners and buyers at the River Forecast Centre which reports snow survey and water supply bulletins that tell you what percentage the snowpack is at in your region and if any rivers or streams are flagged with a high flow advisory. 

So what are you waiting for? The sun is shining and the snow is melting, the time is now to ensure you get to see all that you should in order to make an informed decision about and be truly happy for years to come with your interior property purchase. You won’t know, unless you go.

Freddy & Linda Marks, 3A®Group RE/MAX Nyda Realty

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