Updated 27 May 2022
Life on the water could be the realisation of a long-held dream, but it’s not all plain sailing. Make sure you take a reality check before you get on board.
Have you ever pictured yourself aboard a narrowboat or Dutch barge, drifting down river wherever and whenever the mood takes you, enjoying a simpler life, connecting with nature and making new friends along the way?
If so, you’re not alone. In fact, It’s a lifestyle that’s being embraced by all sorts of people – from the recently retired and cash-rich divorcees who want a new adventure afloat, to big city young professionals seeking a less stressful life. According to the Canal & River Trust, boat numbers nationwide have increased by 6% to 34,573 since 2012 and, in London, have soared by 84% to 4,274.
These stats are borne out by Nicholas Austin, a sales consultant at Riverhomes Southwest London office. Speaking to Property Investor Today he states: ‘The demand we’ve experienced since lockdown was lifted has been unprecedented. Houseboat sales are up 880% on last year. When we ask buyers what is motivating their purchase, many cite that they’ve come to realise life is short and they want a different and better quality of life.’
However, if you’re seriously considering swapping your bricks and mortar abode for on-the-water living, it’s important to think less about the romance of it all and more about the practicalities. Floating homes come with a surprisingly long list of administrative and financial factors to consider – and more than a little hard work.
Prices vary greatly, depending on the type of craft you choose and whether it’s in pristine condition or in need of a revamp. From traditional narrowboats and converted Dutch barges (former flat-bottomed commercial vessels) to true houseboats (static dwellings with no engine, built on pontoons), any former tug, ferry or fishing vessel has the scope to be converted into a floating home.
As a guide, Riverhome’s Nicholas Austin, says: ‘The average price of a houseboat is between £250,000 and £450,000, although we have narrowboats on our books for less than £50,000 and a floating mansion that’s on the market for £3.5 million.’
Besides the actual boat itself, there are additional costs, depending on its and how you use your boat:
Yes, but not with a conventional mortgage. Traditional mortgage providers won’t lend on floating homes because they can’t be registered with the Land Registry and the owner could, quite literally, just sail off into the sunset with their investment. Instead, you’ll need a marine mortgage, available only through a specialist marine finance company or marine broker. Marine loans typically have shorter repayment terms at around 10 years, require a larger deposit – generally 30% – and have considerably higher interest rates (between 5.9% and 10.4%) than bricks and mortar mortgages.
It’s also advisable to get a boat survey before you buy, just as you would with a house, to avoid any nasty surprises. This can cost around £350 to £400, plus the cost of any repairs.
As the cost of bricks and mortar properties are outpricing many first-time buyer budgets, a houseboat is a viable option for a first home. However, just as with standard mortgages, a marine mortgage lender will have lots of affordability criteria that you’ll need to pass before you’ll be accepted and they decide how much they’ll offer you, including:
The only way to answer this question is to try before you buy. Consider booking a week’s holiday in both summer and winter to get a feel for living on a boat on gloriously sunny days and dreary rain-drenched ones too. Take time to consider if you could really feel comfortable residing in a compact space permanently, or whether it’s something that would actually work better as a holiday home.
Also think hard about all the practicalities of onboard living and whether you have the DIY skills and physical fitness to cope. While permanently moored boats can simply be connected to a direct source of water, sewage treatment and electricity, continuous cruisers need a water tank for drinking and showering and a separate sewage tank for waste, which need to be emptied manually, and require well-maintained generators for power. Also note that boats must go into a dry dock every five years and you’ll have to move out for a fortnight while the hull is scraped and repainted. If you’re fully informed, well prepared and happy to deal with all the different aspects of boat living – then it could be time to get on board.