House Floating on Water?!?   Learn More About Floating Homes Here

You saw a floating house for sale and now you are curious…

Yes, you saw a house floating on water.  You saw several houses on water.  After you suspend disbelief, you realize that you just cruised by a floating home marina, commonly referred to as a moorage, on your boat, car, or bike and are intrigued by the curious and idyllic lifestyle of true waterfront living in a floating house.  You imagine the ease of walking out your door and boarding your boat with friends, paddle boarding with your dog, or fishing for king salmon from your deck.  You see a floating house for sale and you begin to wonder…what does it take to buy a floating house?

What is a floating house?

Floating houses are like those built on land, except that instead of being on a typical foundation, the floating house is on a float.  A float allows the home to rise and fall with the tide.  A float comprises large diameter douglas fir logs with pressure treated wood or steel beams, called stringers, which run perpendicularly across the tops of the logs and are fastened to the logs with steel pins, and, pieces of floatation under the logs for additional buoyancy.  The more belongings you put into the house, such as furniture or exercise equipment, the more the float begins to settle further down into the water, which is common.  With that being said, you would have to move a lot of heavy items into the house before you would possibly have to have more floatation added.  To help level out the float (nothing is ever perfectly level in a floating house), or bring it back to an acceptable level above the water, you can have more pieces of floatation placed under the house.  Floatation is expanded polysterene wrapped in vinyl.  They are about 2 feet x 2 feet x 4 feet and each offer about 850 pounds of buoyancy.  The homes are connected to services, including water, sewer, and electricity at the dock.

Some floating houses also have attached boat wells (attached garages for boats) but the key distinguishing feature of a floating home is that its primary purpose is as a residence.

So, that floating house for sale, a house floating on water that you passed by really is a house.  It’s one of over 1,000 houses on water here in the Portland area.  It is different to see a house that floats on water, but besides having a float instead of a more typical foundation, floating houses are not that different from regular houses.

Other Types of Floating Structures

In addition to floating homes, the Oregon State Marina Board also has defined 2 other categories of floating structures which are similar to floating houses and can be bought and sold through a real estate broker – a “boathouse” and a “combination.”

What is a Boathouse?

A boathouse is a covered structure used primarily for the storage and protection of a vessel.  It’s basically a floating boat garage.  Boathouses do not have finished living spaces and are not used as residences.

What is a Combination or Combo?

A “combo” (short for combination boathouse and floating home) is a subcategory of floating home where part of the area of the building is a boat well, basically an attached boat garage, dedicated to its primary purpose – the storage and protection of a boat.  Having an attached garage is nice in a house on land.  Imagine having your boat parked in an attached garage in a house floating on water!  Keep in mind that to get a boat in and out of the attached boat well, the house has to be oriented in a way that allows that to happen.  In a floating house that is on the river side of the dock, if it is a combo then the side facing the river will also have the door of the boat well, which makes sense but it also reduces the views available from the rest of the house and the outdoor space that otherwise could be facing the river.  Combos are a great solution for weekenders and boaters, or homeowners looking for a waterfront living experience at a reduced cost.

house boat vs boat house

Boathouse, on the left

floating boat house

Combo with rooftop deck, on the right


What is a Houseboat?

A houseboat is a boat that people can live on. A houseboat is not a floating home, even though houseboats can be used as residences.  The key distinguishing features of a houseboat are its motor and its hull or pontoons.  Floating homes do not have motors and don’t have any means of propulsion.  Many people do not know this and use the terms houseboat and floating home interchangeably.

What is a Moorage or Marina?

A mooring refers to any permanent structure to which a vessel or floating home may be secured.  A marina or moorage (terms which can be used interchangeably in the realm of floating houses) is used to refer to the facilities where floating homes and vessels are moored.  Pile Moorings (or Pilings) are tall steel poles that are driven deep into the bottom of the waterway and their tops protrude high above water so that you can secure docks to them and then vessels or floating homes to the docks (see image on the bottom right).

Moorages have a single owner, whether it is a person, firm, partnership, corporation, organization, or association, who contracts with individual floating homeowners for use of the moorage.  A moorage owner will provide slips, utility hookups, services and common areas to floating home owners.  In some cases, a floating home owner rents the slip from the owner of the moorage.  In other cases, the floating home owner is a member of the entity that owns the uplands and has the right to use the waterway (also known as a submersible lands lease) for the purpose of mooring their floating home.  This arrangement is referred to as “owning the slip” in which their home is moored.

House Floating on Water
Homes that float on water

Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are The Top Things to Consider before Beginning the Search for Your Dream Floating Home:

While floating homes are similar to homes on land except with much better waterfront views, there are several key things to be aware of before taking the plunge.

  1. Approximately 10%-30% of the floating homes listed for sale can be bought only with cash, not with a loan.  If the home is listed under $150,000, it very likely could be the case that it does not have a float that would be in good enough shape for the house to qualify for financing in its current condition.
  2. All floating home loans will require a cash down payment of 20% of the purchase price.  You cannot use an FHA or VA loan.  Check out our Guide to Floating Home Financing which will help you determine if financing a floating home is a possibility for you.
  3. Once you purchase your floating home, you will be responsible for additional monthly payments of about $190-1000+ to the HOA or to the rental moorage, depending on whether you own or rent the slip.  This payment is separate and in addition to your monthly floating home loan payment.
  4. Regardless of whether you rent or purchase your own slip, in most cases you will be required to apply for tenancy at the moorage and pass a background check as part of your application screening process prior to being able to purchase the floating home.  If you have a shady past or an extremely poor credit history, you may be denied tenancy.
  5. True waterfront living is amazing, but there are some lifestyle considerations that are very different from buying a home on land.  Much like condos, some moorages have no pet or no sub-lease policies. Be certain that your lifestyle and plans fit within the rules of the moorage before you buy.  Most moorages do not allow short-term rentals such as AirBnB, for example. For help in understanding moorage rule, check out our Guide to Choosing a Moorage.
  6. Building a floating home is a great option, however, slip space to move a new floating home into is costly and extremely limited and may-well become non-existent within the next 6-12 months.  There aren’t very many slips available currently.  With few experienced builders out there who understand floating home building codes, be prepared to be patient (it could take 6-12 months to wait for a builder to be available) and maintain flexibility as you work with marina owners or HOAs to ensure your in-coming design is acceptable to the destination marina’s standards.
  7. You can save upfront costs on your new construction floating home by renting instead of buying your slip, however, the cost savings will quickly catch up with you in a rental situation due to required move-in fees – some rental moorages charge a fee to move a house into the moorage.  Fees charged in 2017, for example, were around $35,000 to $55,000, depending on the slip.  In moorages where slips are rented, the monthly slip rent tends to be about $300 to $750 higher than monthly HOA payments for owned slips.
  8. When you buy a floating home in a rental moorage, you enter into a landlord-tenant relationship and can be evicted if you do not follow the moorage rules or break certain laws.
  9. The moorage owner can raise slip rental rates.
  10. Floating homes can be purchased and relocated to a different moorage.  This is rarely done, however, due to the cost of buying a slip and the low number of slips available.
  11. All or nearly all marinas have rules that children under 12 must wear a life jacket at all times when walking on the docks.  This is a very important rule and is typically enforced by all the residents.  If your guests have children under 12, you must meet them at the parking area and provide them with life jackets before they step onto the docks. Similarly, we don’t often see babies and small children at the marinas because it is a big responsibility to watch after them.  Unfortunately, there are no shortages of news stories where small children have drowned in a backyard pool.  Small children living in floating homes are an even riskier situation – consider now, the entire home is surrounded by “a giant swimming pool with a swift current and cold water.”  Everyone considering purchasing a floating home must take into account their family and their own exposure to that risk.
  12. Floating homes tend to take longer to sell than traditional homes on land.  Think it through if you are anticipating a job relocation in the near future.
  13. Buying and selling floating homes have some nuances and details that are not present with houses on land.  Only use a real estate broker with demonstrated floating home expertise who has helped a significant number of buyers or sellers of floating homes.  We have seen this mistake cost home buyers and sellers over $100,000.

Still sounds like it’s the dream lifestyle for you?  Great!  We do, too!

Now you have a good idea about how the floating home lifestyle differs from living on land and what it takes to purchase a floating home. We have compiled answers to the most frequent questions we get about floating home financing and answered them for you in our GUIDE: Floating Home Financing.

Do you have cash to purchase your floating home and want to skip learning about financing so that you can fast-track to picking your new neighborhood?  Check out our GUIDE: Choosing a Moorage.

Contact us today!