Buyer’s Guide: Houseboats

Ever considered living on water? Here’s our advice on purchasing your very own houseboat
by Build It
31st July 2013

As house prices continue to rise and plots of land become more and more scarce, houseboats are becoming an increasingly popular alternative place to live. British Waterways estimates that approximately 15,000 people live in floating homes in Great Britain.

As a result, they need to create 11,000 new moorings for canal boats in the next decade to keep pace with demand, which has doubled over the last six years in line with the property boom.

How much do houseboats cost?

Living on the water has long been associated with a laid-back hippy lifestyle or a back-to-nature existence, but with average house prices standing at more than £230,000, according to the latest Land Registry figures, more buyers are choosing to live on water.

In general terms, a house will cost more than a boat, but it’s not always the case with some super-swanky floating homes in London going for over a million pounds.

Given the same careful thought and planning that you would expect to put into building a home on land, mapping out a life on the water should be far from traumatic.

Finding a houseboat mooring

When thinking about either buying a boat that has been converted to a home, a purpose-built houseboat or even building your own floating home, the very first thing that you should consider is finding a mooring.

Much like finding a piece of land to build on, in certain areas of the UK this is no easy task. Location is everything. Should you wish to live on a houseboat in London, finding a mooring is going to be much more difficult than it would if you wanted to live in Medway in Kent.

The cost of buying a boat or building your own is relatively small when you compare it to what you would pay for a home on land. But much like buying bricks and mortar, location will affect the price enormously.

Russell Day of www.riverhomes.co.uk, who specialises in waterside properties and houseboats on the Thames, explains how the process works.

“Buying a boat is much like buying a car, but we concentrate on the buying and selling of homes. The wrong way to approach living on the water in London is to buy a boat and then look for a mooring.

“We sell boats that already have a mooring, and the price of these homes is dependent on the location of the mooring, the length of the mooring lease and the size of the boat or houseboat.”

Build your own houseboat

If you look further afield than the capital’s waterways, buying a floating home can be approached in a different way.

If time is on your side and it isn’t a matter of urgency that you move into your home straight away, building your own houseboat from scratch is quite a viable option. Once you have plans for your boat you can contact the British Waterways to enquire about a suitable mooring.

One huge advantage that houseboat-building has over building on land is that you are not going to be held back by archaic planning restrictions and Building Regulations. You will – within reason – be free to build a home of your own design.

However, potential neighbours must also be taken into consideration. Building a huge boat that looks unsightly and out of proportion with the rest of the boats in a mooring may hinder you from being welcomed with open arms into the community.

Differences between living on land and water

Check out your local waterways, boating magazines and website blogs for as much information as you can find, and chat with houseboat owners about their lifestyle.

Boat life is likely to involve more limited space than you may be accustomed to and the onboard services differ from those in regular homes. It is essential that you get used to filling water tanks, master the changing of gas bottles and learn to accept pumping out your toilet.

It is therefore advisable that you rent a boat for a good few months before you make the final decision to invest your time, emotion and money in building a floating home. If renting for a long period of time isn’t an option, take some holidays on a boat.

If you are looking to take a holiday in England, then visit www.houseboathotels.com, which has boats in the heart of Sheffield available for leisure stays.

Or consider a weekend away spending fun time on Houseboat Riverine on Tagg Island, Hampton in the middle of the River Thames.

Malcolm Walker will make you feel more than welcome on his B&B houseboat and it is only a short ride from all the attractions that central London has to offer. Go to www.feedtheducks.com to check out the website and for further information.

If you can afford to take a holiday overseas, Amsterdam, known as ‘the Venice of the North’ is the capital of European houseboats. A short-term houseboat rental along one of the many canals around the city may give you valuable insight into the lifestyle – visit www.amsterdam-houseboat.com for rental opportunities.

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