Venice might be sinking, but you can still live happily on the water. Because, for the first time, shares are being offered in a floating home in the city of islands and canals.
What's more, not only can you stay in the luxuriously kitted-out two-bedroom craft — and sunbathe on deck when weather permits — but you can also pilot it yourself around the Unesco World Heritage Site.
'The controls are in the lounge area so it's perfectly easy to have breakfast while lazily navigating your way around the lagoon, which looks magical on a foggy morning,' says British-born Nikki di Girolamo, who's buying into the boat.
You sign up for 25 years and the price depends on how often you plan to use the craft.
One week a year costs £18,000, a month £63,000 and three is £181,000 (or shares can be sold on). Contact Richard Alden (00356 99899500, mapdestinations.co.uk).
Owners in the 10 x 4.5m, e 500,000 aluminium boat — custom-made in Malta — can also trade weeks for time in other holiday properties in The Registry Collection's 160-strong portfolio of products worldwide (020 8762 6681, theregistrycollection.com).
'The houseboat is unique in Venice — there are no others because the bureaucracy's so dense (it took three years to get permission) and it offers so much more freedom than an apartment in the city,' says di Girolamo.
Nikki, 45, who married an Italian and lives in the Abruzzo region, says: 'You could rent a pretty glitzy property for a week for the cost of a share, yet you wouldn't be able to roam the atmospheric lagoon, with its 118 islands — one with a nature reserve.
The only downside is that you are not allowed to go right into the centro storico (historical centre) — only public transport craft such as the vaporetti (water taxis and gondolas) are permitted — but you still wake up to great skylines of domes and campaniles, and will be peacefully lulled to sleep by the lagoon's tides.'
It's the feeling of escape, combined with the ever-changing views, that appeal to houseboat dwellers. More than 15,000 people in Britain own a houseboat, either on a permanent mooring or traditional narrowboats cruising up and down canals.
However, few of us own one abroad, says international marine broker, David Greenaway, of The Houseboat Centre (020 3287 2977, houseboatcentre.co.uk). 'It's easier to find a mooring abroad, you can get your boat serviced more cheaply and there's a much bigger market in Europe with all its commercial waterways,' he says.
'But buyers must beware that, as in the UK, debts accompany the boat, not the owner, so act with due diligence on a potential purchase.' And the boats on Greenaway's site are pretty swanky.
One, the Fantasy, has an octagonal bar, ice-maker, spa with retractable TV screen and hydraulic swim deck as well as four bedrooms within its 100x20ft hull. And it's all yours for £330,000 — plus £30,000 to import it from Georgia, US.
In the US — the home of fractional ownership — you can buy shares in recreational houseboats, just like yachts and land-based homes, and the benefits (namely lack of maintenance hassles and costs) are just the same.
While houseboats generally depreciate with age — fractional ownership is more about lifestyle than investment — whole-owned craft can generate an income from holiday rentals, especially those in the Netherlands.
Holidaylettings.co.uk says its three Amsterdam houseboats are more popular than its UK-based models, attracting ten enquiries a month and at betewen £509 and £1,270 a week.
Floating homes are also popular in Paris and Bruges as well as in Denmark, Germany and Hollland.