Sales of houseboats and floating homes in Seattle were surprisingly brisk in 2009, after a dismal year of sales in 2008. While the first half of the year was slow, bank-owned floating homes and bargain prices on houseboats drove sales back up to 2006 levels by the end of the year, while median prices took a bit of a dip.
Houseboats and floating homes are a particularly difficult sale in tough years like 2008, as they are true luxury purchases. Not only are the homeowners buying waterfront real estate, they also have the added cost of maintenance that comes with being moored on the water. Financing can be tricky, up-front costs and down payments are sometimes prohibitive, and the lifestyle is quite different from what most people are used to. Buyers of houseboats and floating homes are buying a lifestyle along with the actual residence.
Statistically, it's hard to get a perfect picture of the houseboat market, as the total sample of sales is a relatively small percentage of the waterfront homes sold in Seattle. The sales total for 2009 was 21 homes, which was up from a paltry eight homes sold in 2008, and a very similar 22 homes in 2007 and 21 homes in 2006.
Seattle Houseboat and Floating Home Sales, 2006-2009
As was seen in the overall waterfront market, lower-priced houseboats are leading the recovery, with over half of last year's sales being under $500,000. Compared to the previous few years, 2009 had a larger percentage of lower-priced homes, possibly influenced by first-time buyer tax credits from the government. The least expensive sale was a houseboat that sold under $50,000, while the highest-priced floating home sold for $2.1 Million. Floating homes with great moorage and city views can easily reach this price range, and many more of these higher-end homes sell in a hotter real estate market.
During 2009, a handful of floating homes went through foreclosure and sold at bargain prices, pushing the median sale price down. This small group of homes were designed by a very talented builder with high-end finishes, modern design, and top-notch appliances and materials. There were a few lucky buyers who moved into these homes last year that will be very happy with their investment 5 to 10 years down the road. The homes really stand out in the traditional floating home communities.
As prices have shifted downward, it looks like we're seeing a comeback from the ground up. Affordable houseboats are the majority of sales for now, but they're creating a base for move-up buyers and investors to get back into the market. This trend matches the overall Seattle waterfront real estate market, and is a positive sign for sales moving forward.
Source: Individually compiled NWMLS statistics. The NWMLS database and statistics do not include many new construction pre-sale units, private sales or auction sales. These statistics were not compiled or published by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.