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To seriously consider buying a houseboat rather than a house?

(50 Posts)
GinAndIt Tue 18-Feb-14 22:47:46

Has anyone got any experience of living long term on a houseboat/Dutch barge?

I have always loved the idea of living on water, and have a couple of acquaintances who've owned houseboats (one loved it, one left after a couple of years due to the cold!)

I would never be able to afford even a flat in the south east, but a houseboat might be a possibility. I know mortgages are harder to get, and of course there are mooring fees etc, but... I guess what I'm asking is, is it a pie in the sky idea, or potentially do-able?

livelablove Tue 18-Feb-14 23:09:49

My mum had a small houseboat as a holiday home. What I would say is you have to be practical. I think you need to be able to work on it yourself, at least the simple jobs. You need to be confident to sail it about when necessary. Also don't forget the inconveniences of living in a boat in winter etc. But on the plus side it is lovely and very romantic.

Quinteszilla Tue 18-Feb-14 23:11:45

Not if you have aspirations of having a library.


elastamum Tue 18-Feb-14 23:12:01

I have a friend who lives on a canal boat in London mon-Fri. He loves it, but it is seriously cold in winter and he uses the gym for hot showers and the pub to keep warm in the evening grin

BrianTheMole Tue 18-Feb-14 23:16:05

Completely doable. My friend got a marine mortgage for hers. She's learnt to do running repairs as she goes, and of course the other barge owners are willing to lend a hand / give advice. She rents a mooring spot with a field, theres a few of them there, and she's got a veggie plot on the field. She doesn't move it round that much, just to get the toilet emptied and the bottom of the boat blacked every few years. Its pretty cosy as she's got a woodburning stove. I'd go for it.

FoxesRevenge Tue 18-Feb-14 23:19:09

Not a bad idea in light of the recent floods. Maybe a few residents in Somerset and Gloucester might be thinking the very same thing! I'd definitely have a crack at it.

tethersend Tue 18-Feb-14 23:24:28

Not sure if it's still the case, but I did hear that the value of houseboats goes down over time, whereas a flat is more likely to go up in value.

I'd think twice about sinking that much money into something which will be worth a lot less in a few years' time.

I'd do some thorough research on resale value before deciding.

margaretofsavoy Tue 18-Feb-14 23:27:08

Was thinking the same as tethersend - property tends to go up in value, whereas I think a houseboat would go down in value. You could potentially lose a lot of money.

Doyouthinktheysaurus Tue 18-Feb-14 23:32:15

There are some house boat moorings near us in Shoreham by Sea, one of them was up for sale for £300 000!

It was a decent size but that's a whole load of money, even for Shoreham!

Nice way to live though, it appeals to my inner hippy, the dses and dh don't feel the same way sadly.

kippersmum Tue 18-Feb-14 23:32:16

I have some friends who used to live on a Dutch Barge. We visited quite a few times & stayed over. It is COLD. They had a woodburning stove in the living area but the bedroom bit was icy. It is a very small living space, no storage space at all really. If you like minimalism than great, otherwise you may have a problem. It is a lovely lifestyle, & in summer it must be amazing but having done some winter trips to stay i have to say it is not for me.

TheRaniOfYawn Tue 18-Feb-14 23:35:23

A family at my children's school lived in a houseboat with their 3 children. It was nicer than my house. It looked lovely but they have moved out and bought a house now.

catbus Tue 18-Feb-14 23:37:31

Very do able grin
We lived on a narrowboat and our first DC was born on it, nearly fifteen years ago.
I loved the slower pace of life and at the time, the community. I have never lived anywhere as warm, actually..used to get a little fed up with 'bet you get cold in there' etc- erm, nope! We had a wood burner with a back boiler to fire radiators. The only tip I would give is make sure stuff is stored above the water line, like books and clothes.
The only reason we came off is that we couldn't afford a widebeam had too many children ;we lived on the canal and I really didn't relish living on the river.
There are obvious running costs like dry docking for hull repairs etc, keeping the bilge pump in order etc. We always avoided mooring fees by keeping moving every 48 hours, sometimes just round the corner..
Things are a little tighter these days on that front, I believe, but it depends on whether you buy or rent a permanent mooring. HTH

hellymelly Tue 18-Feb-14 23:46:51

Well a houseboat is actually a floating house, not a boat, but pedantry aside, I lived for a decade and a half on a narrowboat, until fairly recently, and have friends on all sorts of craft, Dutch barges etc, so can probably answer any questions you have.
You will love it or it won't work for you at all, one of the boats on our mooring was rented and we would take bets on how long people would last. Was usually easy to tell who would have their romantic notions quickly dashed. The loo was always the breaking point, in every case, rather than the cold.
It is much harder work than a house. Maintenance is neverending and the day to day running of a boat is hard work, you need to chop wood, make a fire every day, fill up water tanks, possibly run and maintain the engine, empty the loo regularly- this means pouring out a large vat of your erm...waste into a sluice, it will splash, you will sometimes get covered in poo. It will be when you are wearing white. The alternative is a pump out loo. They get emptied electronically when the tank is full, but I think you can always smell a boat with a pump out loo somehow. You will sometimes come home late in the Winter and the fire won't draw as its still and damp and you have run out of firelighters and you will cry.
Boats are expensive. Marine mortgages are expensive, and mooring fees are shocking if you are thinking of a city (I was in Central London). You also have insurance and a licence to buy. The licence is a lot of money each month, and fuel costs are quite high too. Adding it all up, it isn't the cheap option that people often imagine. Storage is a problem, and clothes in particular as everything below the waterline gets damp. Shoes go mouldy, that sort of thing. Metal boats can get horribly hot in the Summer and are chillier in Winter. Wooden boats are a money pit and prone to sinking when weather changes and/or bilge pumps fail.
All this sounds very negative but I loved my time afloat. However most people on the mooring only lasted a shortish time as they found it too hard. You do really need to be a practical person, who doesn't mind getting dirty, and you need to be outdoorsy as you are outside a lot. It also really helps if you are friendly and community minded as boat owners are part of a tight little community, and it doesn't work well if someone isn't able to deal with that. Be really prepared for all the extra work and if you can cope with that even when you are tired or ill.
Any other questions you can post here or pm me, I'm happy to help.

cafecito Tue 18-Feb-14 23:47:16

I lived on a yacht for some time, not the same at all I know, but word of warning would be in winter, it is ICY and treacherous getting on and off. Also with children it's dangerous and mooring is a nightmare

Other than that, it is doable for sure, but also remember it will be a depreciating asset with quite large overheads whereas a flat or house will go up in value and be a certain return in theory

Bogeyface Tue 18-Feb-14 23:53:03

This thread reminded me of....

Cliff Richard on a Houseboat in Brum H his boat bore no relation to what HellyMelly describes grin

RandomMess Tue 18-Feb-14 23:56:54

I lived in the Netherlands for a while. Never forget when it was extremely cold one winter and they spent the weekend breaking up the ice around their boat!!!!

fivefourtime Wed 19-Feb-14 04:09:05

For narrowboats...


* generally great communities to live in - you will know a lot of your neighbours
* absurdly cosy, when the heat is working
* utilities generally cheap (well, we found that, anyway)
* you get to say you live on a boat. It IS cool


* constant maintenance issues that you will have to get friends to sort or sort yourself (dodgy plumbing, cracked stove, the boat plumber we asked to look at ours was a cock who messed us about, and could do so with impunity because boat plumbers are rare commodities: that said, on every mooring there's generally one very handy person who can spare time to help you out)
* not for the faint-hearted toiletwise, unless you're lucky enough to have a local poo boat doing the rounds with a big tank for your cartridge loos
* not for people who don't like getting their hands dirty or talking to other people
* narrowboats deprecate like cars... they don't increase in value massively over time like houses.
* driving the bloody things, especially in bloody reverse
* residential moorings are rare and expensive (in London) and if you don't have one of those the continuous cruise regulations are frankly bewildering
* uninhabitable in very cold weather if the heat's not working
* it's a metal box, so you will bake in summer
* self-righteous tosspots asking you about council tax (that's what a mooring fee is, fucko)

fivefourtime Wed 19-Feb-14 04:11:57

basically everything hellymelly said, actually.

SaggyOldClothCatPuss Wed 19-Feb-14 06:48:35

No experience myself but I did once have along conversation with a boat dweller who reckoned that dry dock, bottom scraping, rust proofing and repainting was very expensive and needed to be done more often than you think.

CaptainCunt Wed 19-Feb-14 07:35:49

Yabu because I would be extremely jealous hmm

Now looking at boats on rightmove.

GinAndIt Wed 19-Feb-14 07:46:37

Wow, thank you for the response. Really useful stuff. At the moment it's only an idea (obviously) but dp and I both really want to do it. We would probably wait until ds has left school as we are nowhere near a river where we live atm!

We are both pretty practical, outdoorsy and I think would be ok with getting our hands dirty (dp does a lot of wild camping, for example, I'm slightly more comfort oriented but do own a camper van so don't mind small spaces grin). Our rented flat is damp with no storage space anyway so used to to that!

Re the value depreciating - that's a good point. But tbh I'm 40 now and have rented all my adult life - I've 'thrown away' so much money paying off someone else's mortgage and will never be able to afford to buy my own home, at least not in the SE. So I've already kind of made my peace with the fact that owning property and gaining equity through that is never going to happen for me anyway. Whether I could live on a houseboat as an arthritic 80 year old is another matter, I suppose!

Can I ask whether people have views on narrow boats vs widebeams (apart from the space)?

MoreBeta Wed 19-Feb-14 08:01:19

I was talking to a someone yesterday who lived on a canal boat as a young single man and with is now wife. They moved to a house when they had children. Him and his wife would love to go back on a boat but not until children leave.

I know a much older man. In his 60s who had his own boat yard and lives on a boat in the UK and has a boat in France as well. He also rents out and manages boats for holidays as well.

The first man does house repairs as a job and the other obviously knows how to look after boats. For them I think the practical skills and lifestyle makes it a great choice.

if you just want to live somewhere and don't have the skills or experience it could be a shock.

Renting and living on a boat for a year might be a good start. It takes a certain sort of person for sure. We have a quite large community of people living in a specially built canal basin in our city. Its got very good facilities, close to city centre and the boats are all very modern and well cared for. People have an allocated car park space nearby and there are restaurants, shops, repair services and a bus route a short walk away. It is in the middle of a waterside housing development and hence really integrated and very much like living in one of the nearby flats.

I think living on a canal remote from a town and having to walk along a towpath would be very different and almost back to nature lifestyle compared to living in a house.

GinAndIt Wed 19-Feb-14 08:19:46

Thanks morebeta - I hadn't thought about renting first but it sounds very sensible. Not sure I would really fancy the modern canal basin set-up you describe tbh but can see it would work for some. Dp definitely wouldn't go for it! I know that probably makes us sound as if we just like the old-fashioned romance aspect but I'm always of the opinion that if you're going to make a change, make a big one!

Off to look at more boats online wink

MoreBeta Wed 19-Feb-14 08:44:49

GinAndIt - I was going to say that the canal basin area is very much in the 'urban lifestyle' mode of living. The people on the boats pretty much contract out all the services they need and go off to work in their car and come back and its all been done for them by the service repair shop on site.

I guess that's not really what you are after but on the other hand there is another community of what I would call 'river boat' people who live on the main river. These boats are really large and I could almost imagine living on one myself. They are proper boats - not house boats. Mainly they seem to be redundant river cruise boats that have been gutted and coverted into a home. We have a large and very angry river though and in the last few weeks I can't imagine it would have been very pleasant. These 'river boats' are quite isolated, its not like living in a community.

I also used to live in Oxford very near the canal and there were definite distinct groups there of people who lived on boats. There the 'urban lifestyle' crowd combined with rented holiday boats in the canal basin, the students who lived on 'college barges' like house boats that never moved and then a sort of itinerant squatter community of quasi illegally moored boats far out along the canal with their own veg patches and storage huts.

I think there is quiet a variety of lifestyles. Some people like solitude and almost breaking away from conventional life and others who really are just living in a flat that sits on water. Some people move from place to place and others never move. In fact I met someone once who lived on a narrow boat and moved around the country working in different places for a few months then moving and mooring his boat as he went from job to job. I think he was an IT consultant. Again that suited him well.

ConfusedPixie Wed 19-Feb-14 08:46:41

YANBU. DP and I were seriously considering it, or a caravan. The only problem for us was commuting to work/uni, but now I work in the countryside he'll only need to get to uni, so it's back on the cards again smile

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