Break Free of Bricks and Mortar - Try Life on the Open Water
Cavaglieri, Chiara, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Even in what is a stagnant summer property market, house prices in many parts of the UK are still at or near all-time highs.
Big deposits, growing job uncertainty, strict lending criteria and just the hassle of home ownership are enough to put many people off the notion of bricks and mortar.
But there is a cheaper alternative, which, with the rejuvenation of Britain's waterways, is growing in popularity - buying a houseboat. If you dream of an idyllic life, floating up and down the UK's rivers, canals and estuaries, buying a houseboat could be for you. But what do you need to know?
First, you need to decide what type of boat you want to buy. Strictly speaking, a houseboat is a static home built on a floating pontoon, while a narrow boat is designed to navigate canal locks and is usually only 7ft wide but anything up to 70ft long.
Barges, usually Dutch or English, come in various lengths and widths. Lighters, which were originally built to transport cargo, are wider than barges and up to 75ft long. The term "cruiser" is used to describe any boat, such as a ferry, trawler or lifeboat, which has been converted into a home.
"Owning a narrow boat can allow you to live in a prime central location for a fraction of the cost of owning a traditional property in the same postcode," says Rob Villalobos at London agent Fyfe Mcdade. "Owning a boat is also incredibly unrestricted - you can travel across the country making the most of all the beautiful waterways the UK has to offer,"
You can commission a new boat to your specifications, but otherwise you can buy one from dedicated boat websites such as Apollo Duck and Boats & Outboards, or trade magazines. You can also visit boat shows and boat yards to talk to brokers about what you are looking for.
The price will be determined by the size of the vessel, its condition, location and mooring. Premier Houseboats, for example, features an 87ft designer houseboat which sold for 75,000 in Kent, complete with three cabins (including one en-suite double), a small study and a garden area. There are also narrow boats in need of more than a little TLC but ready to be converted and on offer for as little as 10,000.
"Residential boat prices, without a residential mooring, compare with leisure boat prices and can vary depending on the condition and size of the boat, like a car, from a few hundred pounds to many thousands," says Julia Jacks from the Residential Boat Owners' Association (RBOA). "Whereas, permanently moored houseboat prices, on their moorings, reflect local property values and that of the mooring, whether leased or owned."
Buying and selling a houseboat is relatively straightforward; once you've found the right vessel you sign a contract, put down a 10 per cent deposit and typically complete the purchase within 10 days. There are still some vital steps to take though, starting with checking that the seller is the true owner.
If you buy a second-hand houseboat, the broker should supply you with all the relevant documentation regarding its usage, maintenance history and surveys, including a recent Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) Certificate. You should still get your own independent survey completed, which costs around 2,000, to ensure everything is in working order.
Raising the money is where the hard work starts. Mortgages are difficult to come by and cost more than standard loans as mainstream lenders see houseboats and the associated lifestyle as high risk. There are specialist boat finance companies such as Collidge and Partners, Barclays Marine Finance and RoyScot Larch, but you can expect to put up a minimum 25 per cent deposit, paid back over 10 to 15 years. …