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Floating Houses – Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why?

For many people, the movie Sleepless in Seattle was their first glimpse into life on a floating house. Along the West Coast of the US, there are floating house communities in Seattle, Sausalito,and the Portland metropolitan area. But there are many other places around the United States where floating houses can be found. Some are used as getaway floating cabins or vacation rentals. But many are used as full-time residences in and around the Portland area.

Who? People who live in floating houses are not all boat fanatics or rabid fishermen. They are a cross- section of the population just as they are on land. They do, however, tend to really love the peace and serenity that living on the water offers and it does make it much easier to get onto the water in a boat even for short periods of time. It’s pretty common to see floating house neighbors of ours paddling by in kayaks, on paddleboards, or driving by in powerboats.

What? Floating houses tend to be just like a house on land, but there is a greater mix of floating house sizes and house designs on the water than in typical subdivisions. In the same moorage, there can be a mix of 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom 700-square foot houses up to 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom 2,000-square-foot houses and even bigger. Some houses are even converted paddlewheel boats, tugboats etc.

Where? There are about 1,400 floating houses in the Portland metropolitan area, making this the biggest collection of floating houses in the US. They extend from St. Helens northwest of Portland to the edge of Gresham on the east side along NE Marine Drive. There are floating houses on Hayden Island and Jantzen Beach in the north and down to the Sellwood Bridge on the Willamette River. Elsewhere in Oregon, there are a few floating houses just east of Astoria on the John Day River and also on the Chetco River near Brookings.

In the Seattle area, there used to be as many as 2,000 floating structures into the 1980s before regulations and attrition cut into that number. According to Courtney Cooper, an agent with Keller Williams in Seattle, there currently are about 500 floating houses and about 150 or so other floating structures.

Near San Francisco, just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, there are about 400 floating houses. The slip rent for floating houses there is two to three times what it costs in the Portland area, while houses are roughly four times higher in price. There are also floating houses on lakes in other states including Louisiana, Idaho, and Alaska.

When? The majority of the floating house occupants I talk with live in their houses full-time, but there are plenty of floating houses that are used as weekend get-aways. Some people who use them as part-time residences live close by in West Linn, others live as far away as Arizona or abroad.

How? Your house floats? Yes, the float takes the place of what would be a foundation on land. There are a couple of main types of float construction. One consists of logs with either wood or steel beams called stringers oriented perpendicularly on the top, and blocks of floatation underneath. The floatation tends to be 2-foot x 2-foot x 4-foot expanded polystyrene, wrapped in vinyl. Each block has approximately 800 pounds of buoyancy. They look like a giant rectangular marshmallow. Under a typical floating house there are about 100 to 150 pieces of floatation. Another style of float is made of concrete and a steel frame, making a clean, flat surface upon which the house is built.

In some moorages you own the slip, and in some you rent the slip.  Owning the slip and being a part of a homeowners association is similar to living in a condo. You own your house and slip, but pay into a group that pays for common area maintenance. Whether you rent the slip or own it, the monthly fee you pay tends to cover bills you’d otherwise have on land, including water, sewer, garbage and recycling service.

Monthly HOA rates range from about $220 up to over $350 a month. Rental rates range from about $550 to over $750 a month. About 55% of the floating houses in and around the Portland area are on the Columbia River, about 35% are on the Multnomah Channel, and the remainder are on the Willamette River. On the whole, about half are in slips the homeowner rents from the moorage, and the other half are in moorages where the homeowner also is a member of the homeowners association and owns the slip. Why? I don’t pull weeds. This week alone I’ve seen a seaplane flying by, a bald eagle, people in boats, kayaks, paddleboards, and a someone in a scull getting their morning workout in. I fish from my deck. My views are amazing. I hear waves daily. It takes me two minutes to leave my house and be off in my boat, if that. That’s why.

John Wesley McPherson, Jr., Chartered Financial Analyst®, is a real estate broker licensed in Oregon with Premier Property Group, LLC. John spent 6 years in the Navy as a Russian linguist and intelligence analyst. He worked in finance until a one-night business trip to the Columbia River Gorge inspired a move to Oregon a few years later. He lives with his family and dogs in a floating house that he bought from Graham Marden. They joined forces at Premiere Property Group, LLC in December, 2015.


Freshwater News


August 2017

Publication Note

The Freshwater News has been the source for “all the news that floats” for three successful decades.

Purpose of Article

To give readers the FAQs about Floating Homes


John Wesley McPherson, Jr.

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