Buying a home that floats

August 2011 News June Fletcher -

Q. I cannot afford to buy a waterfront home. However, I saw an ad recently for a houseboat that I can afford. The idea of living in one intrigues me. Am I crazy to consider it?

--Portland, Ore.

A. You're not crazy-plenty of people live on houseboats (which have motors and can move) or floating homes (which have no means of propulsion and are permanently moored). But they're not for everyone. You'll probably enjoy one best if you're adventurous; mechanically inclined; not afraid to brave waves and weather; and don't need a yard and basement storage.

Before you make an offer, ask the owner to show you the boat's title, and also to certify in writing that the boat has no liens against it and that it has never either sunk nor collided with another vessel. Find out why the owner is selling and how long the boat has been for sale. Ask to see maintenance records, and inquire about fuel costs, operating expenses and taxes.

Also, ask about slip fees and whether or not dock space can be purchased. Leasing fees average several hundred dollars a month, and are determined by both the length of the boat and whether it's an inside slip or an outside one with the best views and easiest access to the water. Buying a slip might cost you six figures, with added association fees for garbage, sewer, security gates, utilities and water. Find out if the association provides access to any community amenities, like a clubhouse or pool, and what its policies are in terms of pet ownership and parking.

Then, if the home is motorized, take it out for a spin. Test everything from its horn to its bilge pump. Make sure it has all the equipment that it needs to be seaworthy, including enough lifejackets for everyone on the boat, a fire extinguisher, grappling hooks and an anchor. Make note of which accessories convey, like fish finders, barbecue grills and televisions.

You'll want to get a home inspection, of course. But you probably won't be able to get a loan to buy the home or insurance unless you get a float inspection as well, where trained divers check out the vessel's platform (which in Portland may be old logs) to see if there is dry rot or other issues, and if it is level in the water.


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