Owning a waterfront property is a dream which many people share. There are documented benefits to living on the water – from the sense of calm that comes from listening to the rippling of the waves to fulfillment of a desire to have a deeper connection to nature and the life aquatic. Many people spend tremendous hours planning for that glimpse of water life that is crammed into a few days of vacation, punctuated on each end by the stress of travel, rushed preparation, packing, fighting traffic, etc. Living in a floating home, however, offers you the joy one can experience from a day boating or kayaking with the additional benefit of doing so without having to plan ahead and then make the effort to get to the water. It really is like living on vacation every day. The best part is that it doesn’t require a millionaire’s wallet.
Living in a floating house makes it easy to get onto your boat and spend time on the water. There is also plenty to enjoy from the front deck of your floating home. Views may include mountains, the river itself, ducks, geese, beavers, and even sea lions. We’ve seen sea lions several times over the past few weeks now that the Spring salmon run is under way. Paddlers, sea planes, pirate ships, and electric boat parades round out the list of sights on the river.
I bet some of you have wondered about floating homes you cruise by. “What is it like to own a floating home? How is it different than a house on land?”
The process of buying a floating house, owning one, and selling one differ from how it is on land. There are only a couple of lenders who lend to buy floating houses. You will need a float inspection. The float, in simple terms, is basically the foundation of the house. The float has to be in good enough shape for the lenders to be willing to make a loan to buy a floating house. There are two float inspectors whose reports the lenders will accept. Contractors who work on the exteriors of floating homes should have insurance for working over a federal waterway. Finding contractors to work on floating houses is a little more challenging than it is on land. Homeowner association and moorage rules differ from moorage to moorage, typically more greatly than bylaws, rules, and regulations do for condos. Those differences might make it seem like buying and owning a floating house is somehow extremely adventurous. What I’ll say about it, as a floating home owner and someone who deals in floating houses, is that it is extremely enjoyable and, when it comes down to it, it’s basically like living in a house on land, except that the view isn’t of the neighbor’s garage, but of the bank of Sauvie Island and of mountain peaks. Oh, and I got rid of my lawnmower. I don’t pull weeds. I invest that time in such things as fishing from my deck.
As a floating home owner who has gone through the process of buying one, having the float replaced, and then embarking on a to-the-studs renovation in compliance with Title 28 (floating home building code) and the permitting process, I’ve experienced first-hand the entire spectrum of floating home ownership. As a real estate broker who specializes in helping clients buy and sell floating homes, I’ve noticed that everyone begins their quest to achieve their own dreams of owning a floating home by asking the same questions. In large part, they are like houses on land. The styles of the interiors vary as greatly as they do on land. Finishes range from high-end, custom home finishes to simple and modest, just as is the case on land. A floating home can have radiant heat flooring, spa-like master baths with jetted tubs, high-end commercial appliances, etc. Unlike in traditional neighborhoods on land, it is common for floating homes to vary in appearance quite a bit from one house to the neighboring house. For example, you might find an extremely modern floating home next to a craftsman-style floating home. You may even have a turn-of-the-century, converted paddlewheel boat next door!
Where are there floating homes? How many are there? Would I rent the slip?
From St. Helens to Gresham and from North Portland to Sellwood, there is a variety of moorages with either rented or owned slips for floating homes. If you own the slip, you are a member of the home owners’ association. In that way, it is somewhat similar to owning a townhouse or condo. About half of floating houses are in rented slips. The moorage owns the slips and rents them to homeowners. Typically, the monthly fee, whether it is an HOA fee or rent payment, covers some bills you would otherwise have on land, namely, water, sewer, and garbage services. With nearly 1,400 floating houses, there are more floating houses in and around Portland than in any other area of the world. Besides in Sausalito and Seattle, there are floating houses on some lakes in the USA and Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, and Thailand, to name a few.
How large is a floating home?
Floating houses range in size from studio or one-bedroom at about 600 square feet up to about 2,800 square feet or so for a 4-bedroom. Few are larger than that. Space planning is an essential part of floating home ownership for most people to maximize the space they have. Some moorages do offer garages and additional storage.
What if I want to build my own?
One constraint to the number of floating houses is the number of slips available. The number on the Multnomah Channel in Multnomah County has been limited by the Multnomah County land use planning department. Building a new moorage is expensive and takes a very long time, over two years, to get permitted, if it can be done at all. In total, there are approximately 20 slips still available in the area. As is the case with everything, supply and demand factor into the price of a floating house. Currently, floating house ownership is relatively inexpensive, as compared to waterfront property ownership for houses on land.
Call or write anytime. I’d be happy to talk with you about floating houses, fishing, my low skill level at sailing, or anything else about being on the water.
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 is fluent in Russian, German, and Spanish. After the Navy, John went on to earn a BS in Accountancy, BA in Economics, and a Master’s of International Management from Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, one of the top business schools in the word. He worked in Houston, Washington D.C., and Manhattan in a career in finance before memories of the views and amazing landscapes of Oregon and Washington were stuck in his head after a one-night business trip to the Columbia River Gorge. He moved to Oregon a few years later where he lives with his family and two dogs in a floating house that he bought from Graham Marden, who has been selling homes on land and water since 1994. John and Graham Marden, GRI, also licensed in Oregon, joined forces at Premiere Property Group, LLC in December, 2015.