Vancouver Float Homes: Scorching Real Estate Market Pushes Buyers To Sea

By Janet Eastman | The Oregonian

As you’re biking or driving along the river, you see a seemingly idyllic life: People on their docks in front of their quaint, quirky or quite grand floating houses.

Before you take the plunge and move everything you own to a bobbing abode, learn the real perks and pitfalls of living in a home anchored to a moorage.


Real estate agent Graham Marden of Berkshire Hathaway Northwest Real Estatehas been selling floating homes – he does not rent them – for 20 years. His clients appreciate the ever-changing scenery, sometimes even towing their house around rivers and states to a new dock.

Unlike landlocked homes, river dwellers can open up their windows, drop a fishing line and catch dinner, Marden jokes. There’s no closer view of wildlife in the water and in the air, and friends you barely knew want to spend weekends visiting you on your scenic deck.

Still interested in taking a nibble on residing in a floating house?

After sinking during the recession and housing bubble, the floating real estate market is rising again, just like homes on terra firma.

Total sales of floating houses in the Portland Metro area jumped from 45 in 2012 to 53 in 2013 and 67 in 2014, says Marden, who predicts 75 to 80 total sales this year.

“You can see good value on the river,” he says. “As the available inventory of slips diminishes, the values should continue to gain in the future.”


Floating homes aren’t for everyone. Although many people living on the water say they never want to move back to dry land, others grow weary after a few years of hauling groceries down the ramp and walking garbage back up.

Another floating house drawback is space. The floats are parked about 10 feet apart – you have to like your neighbors and their music. Most moorages do not have garages, and scarce carports and storage units have rent wait lists.

Here’s what you need to know before you decide to take the plunge into living in a floating house.

First, what’s the difference between a floating home and a houseboat?

Floating home: A home built on floats that is anchored to a semi-permanent location on the water.

House barge: A floating home with a hull that is constructed for towing or navigating the water if the owner wants to relocate. A house barge houses people directly on the water, but it does not need to comply with the construction and utility requirements applicable to floating homes. House barges are more typical in the Seattle area.

Houseboat: A live-aboard vessel that has its own motor and is free to travel the waterways, not having to be moored in a permanent location.

Rules and expenses

Second, what are some floating house requirements and expenses?

All floating homes have to be docked somewhere and moorage facilities have maintenance fees, which include electricity, water, sewer and garbage.

You can rent a slip – a water lot – or buy into a homeowners association moorage and pay taxes, insurance and real property costs such as maintaining the docks and common areas.

Each of the more than 40 moorage facilities in the Greater Portland Area has unique rules and fees. Homeowners association fees range from $200 to $600 a month. Moorage rental fees are about $500 to $750 per month.

Slip prices range from about $75,000 to $150,000, depending on the moorage, the exact location of the slip and whether a garage is included. You don’t pay taxes on the assessed value of the slip.

Before buying a floating home, hire a professional to inspect the general underwater condition of it and its foundation – which could be a raft made of tree logs; pontoon made of fiberglass, steel or aluminum; plywood
barge or scow floats made from salvaged wooden and metal hulls; box floats made of wood, metal or Styrofoam; or a cement float.

Financing and insurance

Lenders require a dive survey, which cost $600 to $1,000 to check on the condition of the logs, stringers, shims, pins, flotation and chaining to the mooring slip. Cement floats have less maintenance than a log and stringer float.

“It’s not as scary as it sounds, it’s just different,” says Marden. “Logs do eventually become ‘waterlogged’ and sink, but it’s a very slow process. The deterioration of the materials that comprise the float is the most pressing issue for floating homes on salt water. But Oregon floating homes are moored in fresh water.”

Floating homes are considered personal property and there are fewer lenders that offer loans. Interest rates are usually about 1 1/2 to 2 points higher than for real property loans and require a 20 to 25 percent down payment, with a term of 20 to 25 years.

Homeowners insurance is easy to obtain but is slightly higher than for homes
on land.

Due to the strict financing requirements, it usually takes longer to sell a floating home than a house on land. Marden says the average time is six months to 1 year compared to a land average of 100 to 180 days in the Portland area.

— Homes & Gardens of the Northwest staff

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