As specialists in all types of water properties, we can help you with Floating Homes, Houseboats, House barges or Waterfront property anywhere in the Puget Sound area. Confused about which is which? See our On Water Property Definitions. Purchasing a floating home, houseboat or barge water property can be quite different than purchasing a land based residential property. We can help you through this process. If you would like to read about floating homes, houseboats or house barge buying process, see our Houseboat Buying Guide.
On Water Property Definitions:
Waterfront, Houseboat, House barge, Floating Home, Liveaboard
Confused about the terms used to describe the various water living arrangements? Here are some definitions to help you out.
View the Department of Planning and Development’s CAM-229 (Client Assistance Memo) that describes the requirements for Floating Homes, Housebarges, and Vessels (Houseboats). Please refer to this document if you are considering buying or selling one of these properties.
This is a home, condo, floating home or houseboat that borders the water. Careful though, some waterfront properties do not have a view of the water even if they are on the water.
A floating home is a single-family dwelling constructed on a float that is moored, anchored, or otherwise secured in waters. Floating homes are required to be located in approved “floating home moorages” and have direct connections to sewer and water utilities. They do not have motors. The dock space is usually owned by the owner of the floating home and financed as a residential mortgage. Lenders will require an appraisal and a dive inspection. If the dock space is leased a lender will require the lease be the life of the loan. There may be additional design and location restrictions found at the Seattle Municipal Code SMC 23.60.196 Floating homes.
Houseboats are vessels that have a more house-like appearance. They are navigable and have the features required of an actual boat – running lights, steering, engines, etc. If you want to live on a houseboat, you will typically also pay a monthly moorage fee or will have purchased a deeded condo space; however there are exceptions to this. For all practical purposes, a houseboat is simply a live-aboard boat. The term “Houseboat” generally means that the boat was designed to be lived aboard on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. NOTE: People frequently use the term HOUSEBOAT to refer to a Floating Home, however, this is incorrect. Floating Homes are not navigable and therefore are not “boats.”
This is a technical category of an over-water residence! A house barge is a vessel that is both:
- Designed and used for navigation but lacks a means of self-propulsion and steering equipment or capability (for example, it is designed and used for navigation by towing); and
- Designed or used as a place of residence.
NOTE: These can no longer be built in Seattle. There are currently approximately 34 House barges and only those that have been occupied for residential purposes since June of 1990 are permitted on the lake per the Client Assistance Memo, CAM-229. Additionally, as a non-conforming use in Seattle, there are restrictions regarding expansion of these vessels found at the Seattle Municipal Code: Enter 23.60.090 where it says “Code Section Number” and hit “Submit Query. For example, go to subsection G, #5, which says: “House barges permitted under this section shall be regulated as a nonconforming use and shall be subject to the standards of Section 23.60.122.” Following the link to 23.60.122, subsection B. adding a deck on your house barge would be considered an expansion not subject to the exception.
Liveaboards are people that live on the water. They may live on Houseboat style vessels or other vessel shapes (permanently, or semi-permanently). Liveaboard vessels come in all shapes and sizes. Many marinas permit a limited number of liveaboards and frequently there is a waiting list for liveaboard slips. Exercise caution when purchasing a boat in a marina to use as a liveaboard. If the boat was not previously permitted as a liveaboard, you may not be able to live aboard at its current location.
If you would like more information, this Department of Planning and Development document provides regulations regarding the Residential Use of a Floating Home, House Barge or Vessel. NOTE: In 2012 you may see changes affecting regulations of houseboats vessels. Contact Kevin Bagley for current updates.
Houseboat Buying Guide
Purchasing a houseboat is quite different than purchasing a home on land.
We live aboard a dual stern paddlewheel vessel on Lake Union – The KevLin; so we have been through the process. Additionally, we have helped a large number of people dive in to this lifestyle, so we are quite familiar with the steps involved in a houseboat purchase. We, like most people who purchase a houseboat for the first time, were very surprised at what was involved.
The KevLin (Kevin & Linda) is a 1260 square foot, 2 bedroom, 2 bath home with all the necessary amenities for a busy professional PLUS no lawn to mow! The benefits of living on the lake are mostly obvious (million dollar views!), but additionally there are lifestyle improvements. Now, our time off work consists of hopping in the runabout and heading to a restaurant located on the lake for dinner, or BBQ’ing and hanging out with friends on the dock. Maybe a workout by walking, kayaking, or biking around the Burke Gillman trail, or simply enjoying a glass of wine on the deck while taking in the ever changing sites and sounds of the lake.
Okay, well there are some drawbacks too (For us, the benefits FAR outweigh the drawbacks);
- Space is usually at a premium. If you need lots of square feet, then a houseboat is probably not for you. On a boat, it is all about the square inches! You will probably need a storage space in addition to your houseboat.
- Boats move. Houses do not. You will feel motion on the lake. The amount of motion you will feel is dependent on the style, and size of houseboat, as well as your dock location.
- Maintenance – Boats require maintenance – Typically more than a house and may include more mechanical type maintenance.
- You will probably not be able to run 220 volt appliances, so some concessions are required – i.e. 110 volt washer/dryer
- Some houseboats will not have washer/dryers – shop for what you want.
- You may be using propane & will make occasional trips to fill the tanks.
- Black water is toilet waste and you must have it pumped by one of the lake pump-out services. Unlike most boats, some houseboat vessels have grey water tanks and may require additional pump-outs.
- Houseboats are like homes, they need regular maintenance and depending on the hull material you will also need to be hauled out to maintenance the hulls.
Here are some questions to ask if you are considering a buying a Houseboat, or other liveaboard:
What are the differences between Floating Homes, Houseboats, House Barge, or Vessel? Click Here for definitions.
Marinas have a limited number of live aboard rental spaces available and there can be very long waiting lists to get a space. Exercise caution when purchasing a liveaboard. You must have permission from the marina to liveaboard and will most likely pay an additional liveaboard fee.
How Do You Buy a Houseboat?
Here is our “Buying a Houseboat Guide”
Buying a Houseboat (Vessel)
Living on the lake is amazing and something that many only dream of and if you are considering here are the steps to this process:
- Financing:(Financing can be tricky for houseboats… Here are some options)
- Seller Financing; Many sellers will consider seller financing with a sufficient down payment
- Asset Financing; Your bank may allow you to finance using assets other than the houseboat as collateral
- Refinance or 2nd mortgage on existing property.
- Cash – This always works!
- October 2012 SMCU lending was terminated do to concemntration limits being reached. (Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union or email email@example.com or phone 206-398-5888)
Things you need know about buying a Houseboat Vessel:
- Typically, Buyers pay sales tax for houseboat vessels at 9.5%. Check with you CPA; it may be a large tax deduction.
- Houseboats pay an annual June 1st re-licensing fee, same as any other vessel/boat. This cost varies depending on the size and value of the houseboat. This may also be a tax deduction, see your CPA.
- Houseboats have Black water pumped out. How often depends on usage and costs vary from service to service. There are 3 pump-out services on the lake and all charge approximately $25.00 per pump. Pump-me-out.com offers a discount on regular maintenance.
- Houseboat owners do not pay property tax, however they pay dock rental fees. In turn, the marinas pay property taxes. Dock rental fees vary by marina from $8.50 per foot to $14.00 per foot.
- Houseboat owners usually pay an additional Liveaboard fee if registered as a full time liveaboard, ranging from $55.00 to $150.00 per month.
- Marina’s may turn off dock water if freezing weather. You should have an appropriately sized fresh water tank aboard your vessel.
- Request a specification sheet, so you know what is in the boat.
This is the Life!!!
If you have additional questions please email or call:
Linda M. Bagley: (206) 419-0065 or Kevin Bagley: (206) 915-3766
2401 N. Northlake Way #2, Seattle WA 98103
Office: (206) 419-0065 Fax: (425) 650-6907
Houseboat/Barge & Floating Home Purchasing FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
As of October 2012 Houseboat/barge lending is currently suspended. Floating homes have financing through multiple lenders, contact us for a list of lender contacts (when houseboat/barge lending reinstated; See Below).
What is the average interest rate for a Houseboat/Floating Home loan?
Interest rates are typically higher than a mortgage loan and vary depending on the lender, down payment and credit scores. So it is highly recommended that you get quotes from several lenders. Also, rates vary by lender, and are affected by the economy.
How much down payment is required?
Typically lenders require 20% to 35%, depending on lender, credit and other factors.
What will the lender require?
- Good credit.
- Appraisals and dive inspections for floating homes. We recommend a good home inspector in addition to dive inspection.
- A Marine Survey for barges and vessels, although if you are financing they now require an Appraisal through SMCU.
- Owner Occupied (may be 2nd home or primary residence)
- Standard Income, Asset, and Employment documentation
- Proof of insurance
- Each lender may have different or additional requirements
What is the standard loan term?
Floating homes vary similarly to residential mortgages. Houseboats/Barge options are either 20 year amortization or 30 year amortization with 10 year cash out.
What is the inspection / appraisal process?
Floating homes have appraisals and dive inspections. Most lenders have their own approved surveyors and divers.
Vessels and barges require a Marine Survey (includes the inspection and the appraisal to determine value). The Survey will be used by the lender and the insurance company. Buyer pays for the survey; price depends on the size of houseboat and must be hauled out to survey the hull and price varies significantly by Surveyor. The haul-out is an expense to the buyer and can cost approximately $14.00 per foot and up depending on the size and service used. A lender may require a sea trial.
Who pays the sales tax at close and how much is it?
Floating home sellers pay excise tax to sell both on the slip and on the floating home.
Vessels have sales tax and buyer pays the sales tax, which in Seattle is 9.5%. House barges may be exempt from sales tax – please check with your title company regarding this. The sales tax may or may not be rolled into the loan, so check with your lender. If Sales Tax cannot be rolled in to the loan, you must plan for this to be in addition to the down payment and the survey costs.
Is there Excise Tax? (Paid by seller)
Floating homes (deeded property) – yes
House Barges – yes
Houseboat Vessels – no; only the deeded dock space, such as condo type docks (Gasworks Marina for example).
Are there property taxes?
Floating homes (deeded property) – yes
House Barges – yes
Houseboat Vessels do not have property taxes, only the deeded dock spaces.
Can an owner deduct interest paid when filing taxes?
Yes, you can typically deduct the interest you pay on the loan as these may be considered primary or secondary residences. Check with your CPA.
Who insures houseboats?
Vessel insurance companies will typically insure houseboats and the cost varies, so you need to check around. Contact me for a list and recommendations.
How much is the insurance for a house boat?
It will depend on the size of the houseboat, however the cost can be much higher than you expect, so be prepared. Do not be surprised to see insurance rates of $1,100 to $2500 or more per year on larger houseboats, usually payable in quarterly payments. It really pays to shop around for the insurance before you close.
What will the insurance company require?
- Insurance requires a copy of the Survey , or dive inspection report.
- Most insurance companies require boating experience if you are insuring a Vessel
Who closes the sale transactions?
- Floating homes – Residential title/escrow
- Vessel – Marine Title Companies.
- Barge – Contact me for closer recommendation
What is the difference in the Marina versus owned dock and co-op owned docks, and how does this impact the loan?
- Marina’s are typically month to month rental slips and must be approved for each owner. You must be approved by the marina before you buy, because there are no guarantees that you will be approved for the slip once you close on the deal.
- Rental cost determined by the length of the boat or the slip, whichever is greater.
- Liveaboards usually have an additional fee both in owned condo slips and in rental marinas.
- Deeded docks are similar to condo’s, with member associations and HOD’s.
- HOD’s vary depending on the locations.
Other things you need to know:
- THE 2013 SHORELINE MANAGEMENT PROPOSED PLAN HAS PROPOSED NO NEW HOUSEBOATS PERMITTED IN THE CITY OF SEATTLE SMP AREAS.
- The lake will vary in elevation about 2 to 3 feet, so you will need to adjust mooring lines on fixed docks, and you also may need a removable step stool to board. Watch out if you are looking at a slip by the shore. Typically heavier two story houseboats hit bottom in the summer months when the lake is down.
- Dock water may turned off in the marinas when it is freezing to prevent exposed pipes from freezing and boats from sinking. It is helpful to have a water storage tank.
- Some marina’s have restrooms and showers.
- Marina’s are limited to a certain percentage of liveaboards, therefore there can be a long waiting list to get into a liveaboard space if you decide to move to a new location, or if you buy a houseboat not already located in a slip.
- In most all the marinas, all vessel grey water (showers, dishwashers, sinks, clothes washers) goes into the lake. You must take care of the lake and use eco friendly products to protect the lake environment.
- Houseboat vessels / barges use pump-out services for sewage (black water) are available on the lake and will pick up on a regular schedule, or on call. They get busy in the summer, so pays to have a regular servicing scheduled. Know your tank size and schedule regular service accordingly.
- Electrical is from a plug in on the dock, typically limited to 110 volts for houseboat vessels/barges.
- Water is from a water hose dock connection for housevoat vessels / barges.
What contingencies need to be in the offer should you choose to purchase a vessel, barge or floating home?
The following are minimal contingencies that should be in any offer you make on a Floating Home, Houseboat, or other liveaboard:
- Allow additional time for closing in the purchase and sale agreements.
- Ability to obtain Financing
- Ability to obtain Insurance
- Satisfactory Inspection (appraisal, dive or survey)
- Ability to live aboard
- Ability to continue marina slip rental.
Writing the offer
- Never write an offer for a houseboat without an inspection of the hull and all interior and exterior. If the houseboat or barge has not had a hull inspection within the past year, you may not get insurance or financing. If it has a Marine Plywood, Fiberglass Overlay hull get it hauled out and inspected. If it has an aluminum or steel hull you may be able to have a dive inspection. Contact us for diver referrals.
- Offer should be written on Marine P & S forms for lender financing and these are not available on the NWMLS. Your agent can either use Special Agents Realty marine houseboat specific forms, reviewed by our Office Attorney – Michael Spence, or have your own attorney write up an offer. Contact K@SpecialAgents.net for offer forms.
- Offer should be contingent on Survey (inspection & valuation). Allow lots of time for this to occur (15 to 20 days). The lender and insurance will require a full Survey be completed. The survey consists of a haul-out inspection of the hull and interior. It is critical to use an experienced houseboat vessel Surveyor. Check with Linda@SpecialAgents.net for referrals.
- Buyer pays for the Survey and Lift. A lift is the lift out of the water to inspect the hull.
- It is important to understand the difference in a lift and haul-out and block. Blocking costs more and the only reason to block a houseboat is if you are planning to work on it while dry-docked. Once the houseboat is put on blocks the cost to repair and blocking should be at the expense of the seller.
- Seller is responsible for getting the houseboat to a shipyard for the hull inspection. There are two types of shipyards, closed and open.
- A closed shipyard does not allow outside contractors to do work orders if called out in the inspection. The on site shipyard workers will do the work, so the selection of the shipyard will be up to the seller, because they will be responsible for the work.
- An open shipyard allows seller to bring in contractors or do the work on site.
- Buyer pays for the Survey and Lift. A lift is the lift out of the water to inspect the hull.
- Offer should be contingent on insurance.Other houseboats insurance companies:
- Balcos Insurance Agency, Tracy Lake, firstname.lastname@example.org (206) 783-1986
- Anchor Marine Underwriters, Inc, Sam Landback, email@example.com (206) 273-6996
- Allison Agencies, Charlie Woods, firstname.lastname@example.org, (206) 634-0600
- Offer should be contingent on continuation of slip rental/lease. Once you have Mutual Acceptance on the offer get Marina approval before you spend money on a Survey.
** It is strongly recommended that you use an experienced vessel, barge or floating home agent when buying or selling. If you have questions, or just want to come visit to see what liveaboard living is like, call Linda (206) 419-0065 or Kevin (206) 915-3766 for a personal tour. If the weather is nice, we will take the runabout out on the lake and tour the lake living, sites and marina locations. Allow a minimum of two hours for the tour.