Unique homes: Living on a houseboat

Unique homes: Living on a houseboat

For most people, the dream of owning a home in an exclusive London postcode ends as soon as the morning alarm goes off. However, for 25-year-old Joe, it’s a reality. He has a home in Islington, Camden, Paddington and Putney – it all just depends on where he decides to sail it to.

Joe and his girlfriend Helen live on a houseboat, and have done so since May. Home ownership is a priority for nearly two thirds (61%) of young people and over a third (35%) now feel that they’ve been priced out of the property market1 - it’s no wonder millennials are turning to other avenues to have a place they can call their own.

They took out a loan to pay for the boat, and the repayments act as a kind of “rent”, just at half the cost of a home on land. This gives them the ability to truly enjoy the capital city with their spare income and gives them the ability to “put a bit of savings away for the future”. In a few years’ time, when the couple own the boat outright they will have a whole host of property options available to them.

Decisions, decisions – Mooring options

For Joe, it all started with a conversation in a pub. A friend of his had a houseboat and after getting some advice, he decided to take the plunge. He and Helen decided that the best fit for them would be to become continuous cruisers, which essentially means they have to change where they’re moored every two weeks and there are no mooring fees.

Joe says: “Some people see [this] as a negative but it really is a positive. Every two weeks are different. One week we’re sat in the middle of a crowd during the bass-heavy Notting Hill Carnival, next we’re down in the peaceful Paddington basin by the paddle boarders and water fountains. And if it rains while you’re on the go, just stick the kettle on and your hood up and keep going.”

Of course, this isn’t the only option, and you are able to pay a fee to moor. Spots can be hard to come by, though, and - especially in London and the South East – the prices can be steep. It can be a way for people who want the security of a house and the benefits of a boat to get the best of both worlds, so it should be considered when making your decision. Currently, around 16% of people who live on boats are continuous cruisers and 10% have a home mooring2.

houseboat kitchen

The ups and downs of living on a houseboat

There are freedoms on a boat that you simply can’t get in a bricks and mortar house. Joe explains that, “It’s so refreshing being able to move around on the canal and set up base pretty much whenever you like. You can explore anything from country villages and parks up near Cowley Peachey, all the way down to getting lost in side streets down near Broadway Market and Bethnal Green.”

There are a few things to get used to especially when it comes to the day-to-day running of a house boat: “We keep on top of our water and electricity, we’re conscious of how much power we use and try and make everything go a little further. We pretty much live off of solar power!”

The common belief about houseboats is that they’re too small and have problems with damp. For Joe and Helen, this was all solved with a log burner and some extra tweaks to make the place feel like home such as added storage. They’re in a position now where they can make small changes almost daily:

Cramming three years and two people’s worth of stuff into a narrowboat was a little hard at first, but now everything seems to have found its place.

It seems to be a housing solution that many more people are choosing, with houseboat ownership increasing by 9% between 2014 and 2015 according to the Canal River Trust3. Joe says: “It’s so difficult to get on the housing ladder these days and with the majority of jobs being centered in London, it’s difficult to live in the capital, progress in your career while saving for your future… We would have had to move outside of London and live at home with parents otherwise”.

It’s certainly not a stress-free lifestyle, and something that nobody should take lightly. It does hark back to a simpler time and hearing Joe talk about borrowing books and sharing cuppas with neighbouring boat-dwellers sounds a very attractive prospect. Plus, since 42% of millennials expect to make sacrifices to lead their ideal lifestyle1, perhaps we should thinking a little more laterally about how we get one foot on the property ladder.

For those who are considering, check out our tips:

Top tips for aspiring boat owners

  • Do your research. Joe says: “Even if you just head to a lock as a gongoozler (yes it’s a word) and chat to the boat owners as they pass through, you’ll learn a lot. I’m sure they’d appreciate the help with the locks and will answer any questions you might have in return.”
  • Try staying with friends on a boat, or rent one out for a holiday to get a feel for it.
  • Social networking sites and blogs for fellow houseboaters can be a handy resource.
  • Take an experienced owner or mechanic with you to viewings. They’ll know the technical side inside out and be aware of all the right questions to ask.
  • Don’t forget to factor in extra costs such as fuel, mooring (if that’s what you choose), boat insurance and repairs.

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Additional Sources

[1] Aviva Family Finance Report 2016
[2] canalrivertrust.org.uk/media/original/28617-2016-boat-owners-survey-results.pdf
[3] www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/money-saving-tips/11735888/Living-on-a-houseboat-a-cheap-housing-alternative.html

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