Houseboat vs. Floating Home

Which is better?  A houseboat, or a floating home?  For that matter, what’s the difference?

Houseboats: Can be moved, are typically not connected to sewer, usually has a means of navigation. Sales tax at closing.

This houseboat is an example of a contemporary design, with sleek modern lines, urban finishes, and quality construction. This houseboat is equipped with two 50 hp outboard engines, features 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, large office space, onboard washer/dryer, two large decks, high end appliances and comes fully furnished for only $249,000. Compared to Floating homes, houseboats are almost always less cost per square foot.

Most houseboats are moored in rented spaces, however, some are located in owned slips. Generally, all houseboats will have some means of self-propulsion. They will also typically have holding tanks for septic which are pumped out by one of the number of mobile pumpout services.


Floating Homes: Permanently attached to a dock, connected to sewer, does not have means of propulsion. Excise tax at sale.

Here is a rather famous example of a floating home located on Lake Union in Seattle, Washington. This home is famous as the “Sleepless In Seattle” floating home used in the movie. Floating homes are generally priced significantly higher than houseboats but also hold there value very well. Higher priced floating homes often sell very quickly here in Seattle.

There are hundreds of floating homes on Lake Union and 13 floating homes were sold in 2010 with prices ranging from $350,000 to $2,080,000.  The average time on the market for these floating homes was 38 days. Impressive for a tough economy.

The styles and ages of these houseboats vary greatly. You can find sleek, modern, Mediterranean, old, and of course, eclectic style houseboats, all of which have their own appeal. When asked what they like most about living in a floating home, the most common theme that owners responded with is “The Life Style.”

So which is better?

Now, depending on who you talk to, a houseboat owner, or a floating home owner, you are likely to get two opinions of which is the best. I doubt that this question can ever be answered conclusively, but each option has its advantages and disadvantages.


With a Houseboat, you have the freedom of moving if you don’t like your setting (or your neighbors). Your location is usually rented, but not always. There are houseboats moored in owned slips although these are more rare than rented slips. You pay moorage fees as part of your living expenses, and you pay more to be “pumped out” than the cost of a sewer fee. There are no homeowner dues often found with Floating Homes. Maintaining the mechanics of a “drive-able” houseboat is an additional expense and can be intimidating to some, but on the other hand, the ability to “Take Her Out” may be worth it. There is definitely something magical about having dinner cruise out on the lake.

Houseboats are less expensive. The cost per square foot of a houseboat is definitely less than the cost of a floating home and significantly so. A very nice 1000 sq foot houseboat can be purchased for less than $300,000, while a similarly sized floating home will likely be more that double that.

Houseboats have sales tax and houseboats are licensed. The up front sales tax is a big hit at the time of purchase, although some of that tax may be negotiated with the seller.

Houseboats are typically in rented moorage. This can be construed as both an advantage and a disadvantage.  A common misconception is that living in rented moorage is unstable and that you are likely to be kicked out of the marina or subjected to frequent rental increases. This is simply not the case. Many houseboat owners have lived in the same spot for over 20 years.  While moorage rent increases do occur, there is competition amongst the marina which tends to keep rental rates stable.

Floating Homes

With a Floating Home, you have a sense of stability. Most floating home communities have been around for a long time and are likely (though not guaranteed) to be around for a long time to come.

Floating Homes are in demand. As an iconic Seattle tradition and a uniqueness that exudes charm, it is likely that floating homes will remain in demand.  As there will be no more floating home spots allowed in the Seattle area, these homes are likely to hold their value, perhaps even exceeding the overall real estate market.

Floating homes can have  more square feet. In contrast to Houseboats, Floating Homes are often larger, although that size comes at a premium in terms of purchase price. The sticker shock of $700 per square foot (or more) can be daunting to most buyers.

Floating homes don’t move as much. Some people are bothered by the rocking motion that occurs on houseboats, and floating homes tend to be a larger footprint and therefore not as subject to the movement caused by wind and waves.

Houseboats   vs.   Floating Homes

Copyright 2011 by Special Agents Realty

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