Should I buy a houseboat?
August 19, 2006 8:12 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know before I think about buying a houseboat instead of a regular house?

My husband and I are currently trying to buy our first house. We've a fairly limited budget and are likely to end up with a smallish one-bed house or flat if we want to live in any kind of decent area. We've come across a large permanently moored houseboat for sale - way under our budget, 3 bedrooms, very very spacious, and we're going to view it next week. Neither of us have any objections to living on a boat, especially as it's about four times the size of anything we could afford on dry land. What I want to know is: what's the catch? It can't just be cheap because people don't want to live on boats, right? What kind of maintenance will it need? What if it leaks? Will it have any resale value? I'm led to understand that it might be quite difficult to get a mortgage to buy a boat. Basically anything you can tell me about houseboat ownership would be great. Thanks!
posted by corvine to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I wintered over, one winter in the early 80's, on a slip in the Mystic River, near Boston, in an old Gloucester rigged schooner (not my boat), converted as a motorized trawler, while lawyers debated my marital fate, and I chipped ice and hoped a bilge pump could keep my fishy smelling new/old home afloat. It was usually cold, and sometimes wet, and always smelly, and I had no visitors of social standing, and many of maritime reknown.

Living on the water is not for everyone. We're creatures of land and legs, and want earth beneath us, in our most primal dreams. To live on water is to defy the earth, to hope for special dispensation from whatever gods rule the waves, and to think, constantly, and always.

You fail to think, you go down. Water won't wait for Saturday, coming. You listen, every hour, and know your pumps, and know what lives in your bilge. You keep a weather eye, and watch tides, and feel, somehow, more alive for noticing, finally, what others can afford to miss, even before it would something they could decide to ignore.

You learn, eventually, but sooner than you thought you might, what a neap tide feels like, from your bunk. And you become partner to tides, and bed fellow of noises in the night, moreso than any terrestrial house owner.

Do you love the rocking of waves enough to endure their anger? Do you feel the closeness of a full moon, not only above you, but in the rocking of water pulled under you by old gravity?

Are you patient and prepared for long battles?

You want to wrest a berth from water, you need a long view, and no fear of work or strife. Water accepts no argument, is held off by no excuses. And yet, it wants a willing heart, and loves the person that loves it back.

Nothing better than the stink of water, under the smell of grilled fish, as you watch rays from the sun that have touched no land light your eyes in a dawn or a dusk over water, of your very own.

I envy you, and I pity you, if you take the houseboat.

But mostly, I envy you.
posted by paulsc at 8:59 PM on August 19, 2006 [51 favorites]

I'm guessing you'd run into a lot of the same territory you'd get with a mobile home/trailor plus the added fun of water. The value would surely depriciate rather than appriciate over time. Looks like you're in England so severe weather won't be a problem. Heating and cooling can be an issue due to poor insulation, but being on water might help with the cooling/hurt with the heating. I'm not sure this is much of a factor in Kent.

That said, I kinda like the idea. Is it a barge or does it have its own means of getting around? I know it's permenantly moored, but how literal is the permenance?
posted by jaysus chris at 9:02 PM on August 19, 2006

I have not owned a boat, but I do know that maintenance can be both constant and unexpected. Some friends of mine are attempting to live on their houseboat full time (with two kids, even), but issues like a broken shower meant they had to retreat to their home 30 minutes away daily.

Another friend of mine lived this way in Los Angeles, and he rather enjoyed the experience.

There is certainly a resale value to a boat, but appreciation is highly unlikely, as stated previously. Try to ask other houseboat owners in the area about resale, and get an idea of how much it might depreciate over the next few years. You could look at that plus maintenance as rent, basically.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:31 PM on August 19, 2006

My brother lived his post-divorce bachelor life on a houseboat in the DC area. He loved it, except that heating was a major issue. He also had alot of trouble selling it when he had to move to another city, which might explain why the one you're after is so cheap. Plus, you have a completely different set of mechanical, structural, etc. issues than with a normal house. Try and find someone (an inspector?) who would be able to point out possible problems.
posted by cabingirl at 9:35 PM on August 19, 2006

I don't think all of paulsc's concerns apply to a flat-bottomed houseboat moored on a river. The water might not even be deep enoguh for the whole thing to go underwater.
posted by smackfu at 9:38 PM on August 19, 2006

My main worry would be where you will park this thing, in my local, far from yours, marina space is at a premium. An expensive premium. You don't want to lose your berth and be left holding a boat that needs to be moved (goes back to reading paulscs poetry)
posted by Iron Rat at 9:43 PM on August 19, 2006

Paulsc....your comment was beautiful
posted by meeshell at 1:38 AM on August 20, 2006

Response by poster: Beautiful, paulsc. Thank you. The water is a big draw for me. I need to live near water, my dream is a house on its own rocky beach. No chance of that on current budget, though. Part of me is willing to trade the hard work and the

jaysus chris, I'm pretty sure it doesn't have an engine. The boat's been renovated throughout and has a gas central heating system powered by bottled gas, not sure how good the insualtion is though.

good rent+maintenance perspective on it, shinynewnick. I think if we had the chance to rent this place we'd leap at it, but buying... I don't know.

Iron Rat, I live on the North Kent coast, and there are three marinas at least within a few minutes' drive - I don't know how much mooring costs are, but there's a decent amount of space available, I think.

My heart says 'do it! do it!' but my head says 'don't be so bloody silly...' I have some small experience of large moored boats having worked in a bar on one, and my overwhelming memory of that is the flies, the smell and the way it was tilted on a weird angle.

Thanks for the comments so far, everyone.
posted by corvine at 4:28 AM on August 20, 2006

Best answer: I have a friend who lives on a boat here in Maryland and some of the things she dealt with were suprising -

Damp is always a problem. My friend kept all dry food items (cereal, oatmeal, flour etc) in airtight containers. Same with laundry powder, baby powder, some make up & other stuff. She also kept her tampons in ziplock baggies because they'd get damp and swell if left in their original box. (she also couldn't flush her tampons because of the chemical toilet) Disposable diapers had the same issues.

Mildew can also be a problem - she used to get mildew in her stored linens, clothing and books. She bought a lot of airtight plastic containers & ziplock bags.

Decorating - she lived on a tiny boat with a lot of built ins so this might not apply but when the cat clawed up the sofa? Couldn't just go out and buy a new one; she had to call a specialist to reupholster it with the right fabric. New paint? Had to buy the super expensive marine grade.

On the plus side, my friend and her partner loved living on the boat even in the winter & wouldn't consider land living.

you might find these helpful -
liveaboards yahoo groups
living aboard forum

You should also check out the Residential Boat Owner's Association
posted by jaimystery at 6:09 AM on August 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

The novel Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald, is set on a barge in the Thames, and is based on her experiences as a girl, living aboard such a one. Yes, it's just a novel, and I have no experiences with barges or living afloat, but I thought it gave a definite sense of what the life would be like–good and bad.
posted by bricoleur at 8:54 AM on August 20, 2006

If you're going to have kids, is the boat in a location that they'll be able to play with other children and get to school easily? Are there parks nearby?
posted by Dasein at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2006

Best answer: Note that one key factor in the difference in price between the houseboat and the house is the real estate -- the actual land that the house sits on. That's at the core of what gives a house resale value and an appreciating value -- even if the house is destroyed, a desireable location is still worth something (and is likely to increase in value).
posted by winston at 10:32 AM on August 20, 2006

You'd be on the Channel, not on a river? I live in Maine, USA, Northeast coast, and it gets freezing here, requiring a serious commitment to living on a boat.

I would do it. It might be a huge headache, but it will be an adventure. Talk to other houseboat owners where it's moored to get an idea of what to expect.

Paul, with writing like that, you should update your blog.
posted by theora55 at 11:34 AM on August 20, 2006

Best answer: I asked my brother, "would you ever buy a houseboat?" and he said:

"No, because you've got all the problems of living on a boat, but you don't get the freedoms. Living on a houseboat is not like living on a boat, it's like living on a waterbed."

Now, he has lived on boats for about 10 years. He also builds boats, repairs boats, races boats. He likes boats. YMMV.

My landlord has a houseboat. When he told me he had one, I said, "wow!", and he said, "I shouldn't have bought it," and told me that the maintenance was terrible, that it was like maintaining a house and a boat at the same time. I didn't ask if it was just that his houseboat was in bad shape, or if this was representative of all houseboats. YMMV.

But I know that there are some things my brother can't have on board his boat, because they'll get ruined by the moisture and whatnot. If something comes in a "weatherized" or "marinized" edition, he pretty much has to buy that, and pay a huge premium, or else accept a shorter lifespan.

I wonder if that's something you could somewhat reduce in a houseboat with a dehumidifier or something, but I don't actually know.

Despite what I report above, if it was me, assuming an inspector checked everything out first, I'd probably buy the houseboat.
posted by Hildago at 12:22 PM on August 20, 2006

I'm jealous!

Try as I might, I was unable to convince my wife that this is the way to go, but I guess her having been raised in a "conventional" house had something to do with it.

Here off SC is fine, but you may have weather problems further north.

Happy sailing and good luck!
posted by BillyG at 1:00 PM on August 20, 2006

Response by poster: To continue my comment earlier which I just realised I broke off in the middle of a sentence: Part of me (the idealist) is willing to trade the hard work and the smell and the hassle just for the sheer romance and life experience and adventure. The sensible part screams no, no, run away....

No kids on the cards for a long time yet if ever, so that's not an issue. Hadn't thought about the damp (doh), that's a good point. Thanks for the links, jaimystery.

Food for thought here. I guess we'll go and see it, and go from there...
posted by corvine at 1:47 PM on August 20, 2006

Let us know what you decide - I'm fascinated by the idea... Thanks.
posted by blag at 1:44 PM on August 21, 2006

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