Houseboat Buying Tips

At The Helm

Published in the January 2019 Issue December 2018 Feature By Brady L. Kay

With the calendar officially changing, it’s time to do more than just celebrate another trip around the sun as we welcome in 2019. For a lot of people, this year could mark the beginning of a new lifestyle with the purchase of a houseboat. For others who have owned multiple boats, the new year may signal the best time to upgrade to your next houseboat. Either way it’s important to understand that buying a houseboat is not an easy process, often prompting buyers to use the services of a broker, especially if it’s a first-time purchase. Success really boils down to one thing and that’s a commitment from both parties based on accurate information. It’s really as simple as that.  

Over the years I’ve talked with both first-time and experienced houseboaters and it is essential to pinpoint plans for using the boat to be purchased before you get started. Will it only leave the dock occasionally or are you planning regular weekend trips? Will those trips will be short cruises or long passages such as The Great Loop or more? 

Another important consideration is size. The wrong size will reduce usage. How about planning for onboard guests? You want to be inviting to all, but keep in mind the cost does increase as the size of the houseboat grows.

This brings to mind a gentleman I talked with who was interested in buying a 50-foot houseboat. He was most definitely a “newbie” to boating and refused the suggestion of attending some hands-on training classes and didn’t like the idea of renting first to get some experience before buying a boat. He said because he handled a 40-foot motor home it made him sufficiently qualified to buy a big houseboat, and that was the conclusion of that discussion. His overconfidence was surprising, but I’m guessing he’s not the first newbie to think like this.

Another question: is it best to buy a new custom houseboat or a used one? There are benefits to each, but they must fit your anticipated use and realistic budget. And that brings up the fact that buying a houseboat is more than just the cost of the boat. You must consider fuel, mooring or slip rental, insurance, maintenance and annual expenses – all part of ownership.

It is possible to “try it before you buy it” by renting a houseboat and in my opinion that’s money well spent! There are marinas all around the country that rent houseboats of all sizes so I would check for one close to you or look for a marina that rents a vessel similar to the one you want to purchase.

If you decide to enlist the services of a broker (again highly recommended) or go at it alone, planned use, size of boat, available budget, new versus used and ongoing costs are vital to the process of locating the right boat. Missing or wrong information in any category could turn into a “deal breaker” and more importantly a “money waster!” 

If you work with a broker understand that his or her commitment to you will be reflected in a substantial amount of time locating potential houseboats and working with you through the purchase process, negotiations and survey. 

There’s nothing more frustrating to a broker than to have spent countless hours to live up to his or her side of the commitment and then receive an email or call saying that the buyer “found a boat locally and put in an offer.”

I guess it all boils down to a truth that applies to any successful relationship, whether short or long. Without a commitment, it just won’t work.

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