The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Waterfront? How About Just Water?

Looking for waterfront property but finding it way out of your league? Consider a houseboat.

Floating homes were popular back in the 1960s, but then floated away, so to speak. They’re back now, though -- bigger and better than ever.

If you live in one full time as your principal residence, it qualifies as real estate for federal tax purposes. And there may not be any property taxes, depending on where the vessel is moored.

According to the folks at YachtWorld.com, interest in houseboats -- especially high-end ones -- is gaining traction wherever there’s water.

According to statistics provided by Boats Group -- the Miami-based parent company of YachtWorld, BoatTrader.com and boats.com, which together have over 200,000 listings -- the number of people open to the live-aboard lifestyle is on the rise. The group reports a 40% increase in inquiries about houseboats in 2020.

The number of boat builders introducing more spacious, innovative designs has also grown. Boats Group’s Ryan McVinney says that houseboats are “more houselike and luxurious than ever before.”

Views of houseboat listings are “up dramatically,” McVinney reports. In fact, across some of the top boating states in the country, houseboat views were up more than 170% in the final quarter of 2020, suggesting strong, sustained demand will continue long into 2021.

There are numerous reasons for the resurgence: Nostalgia is one. People familiar with yesteryear’s models have fond memories of their experiences and want to recapture those moments with their own families. Folks also like the mobile lifestyle, and the fact that the latest models can accommodate the work-from-home movement.

There’s certainly a lot to look at. Consider, if you will, the Arkup 75 “house yacht,” a 75-foot floating villa. It has 2,700 square feet of indoor space and 4,350 square feet overall, including two decks and five terraces. The Arkup literally plants itself almost anywhere close to a marina or beach, lifting itself above the waterline on 40-foot steel hydraulic spuds. Once lifted, the vessel is completely stable in up to 25 feet of water and is able to withstand most storm surges.

It also features floor-to-ceiling high-impact windows, which offer protection against hurricane-force winds, plus panoramic views. A 2,400-square-foot array of rooftop solar panels generates enough power for all onboard electrical systems and propels the boat at a consistent 2 knots -- as long as the sun is shining. The vessel has four bedroom suites, a laundry room and a system that harvests and purifies rainwater, then stores it in a 4,000-gallon tank.

The vessel was most recently listed on YachtWorld at $5.5 million, fully furnished and decorated, but you can customize your own model starting at about half that.

Looking for something a little less expensive? How about a 2008 Harbor Home 58 Upper Deck, listed at $209,000? Moored at Maryland’s Kent Island, this 58-footer features two bedrooms, a Jack-and-Jill bathroom -- oops, I mean “head” -- and a large living area. The kitchen features custom cabinets, granite counters and full-sized appliances. There’s also a four-season sunroom, a rooftop deck and a new HVAC system.

Need something in between those options? There’s a 2017 Sumerset 70 currently tied up near Chestertown, Maryland, listed at $699,000. It has four staterooms, three heads, a lounge and a formal dining area. But my favorite is the futuristic Bravada V-Series, selling for $799,000. Floating now on Lake Mead, Nevada, this fully customizable vessel features 9-foot ceilings, a waterslide, a hot tub, a theater room and Jet Ski ramps.

But that’s enough free advertising. The question is, how do you know if boat life is for you?

Living on the water can be a little more complicated than living beside it. Says McVinney: “Living on a boat is a specific type of lifestyle.”

There’s a pretty good overview here: boattrader.com/resources/houseboats-guide-to-float-houses. But here are a few pointers:

-- After you’ve explored the houseboat market, rent one to see if you like it. “Spend some time onboard,” McVinney advises. “Often sellers will lease their houseboats for a month at a time.”

-- You need not be an expert navigator. But if you plan to leave port, do yourself and your family a favor and take a Coast Guard course on boating and boat safety.

-- If you do intend to motor off somewhere, make sure you know your vessel’s draft, beam (width) and height in case you have to go under bridges. If your trip involves large bodies of water, make sure the vessel is seaworthy.

-- Onboard living means close quarters in all but the fanciest models. Be sure there’s enough space for everyone.

-- If you intend to tie up at a marina, you’ll have shore power and water. But if you have to anchor somewhere, your houseboat needs to be self-sustainable and able to hold wastewater and trash.