If you’ve always dreamed of living on a boat, whether “living aboard” for only the summer or even year-round, a houseboat could be just what you need. Houseboats come in all sizes, from small boats that can accommodate one or two people to two-story water mansions.
However, diving into a houseboat purchase without doing your research first can be a costly mistake. Ian Morton, author of “How to Choose and Buy the Perfect Houseboat and Not Get Screwed,” has heard all the horror stories from people who contact him at his All About Houseboats website.
“Many have told me that they bought the wrong boat, or they paid way more than they should have, or worse yet, didn’t realize how quickly the cost of repairs would add up,” Morton writes in his book.
According to Morton, a person buying a houseboat needs to set emotions aside and focus on the logical side of this major purchase. Here are 9 things to know about buying a houseboat and costs to expect once you find a marina to call home.
1. Know How You Plan to Use the Boat Before You Buy.
If you want to use your houseboat only on weekends and holidays, you’ll need a different type of boat than if you plan to live on it full-time or go on long cruises. The same goes for the boat a single person or a couple might need as opposed to someone who wants to host occasional parties on the water for family and friends.
Questions to ask yourself include:
- Do you plan on short jaunts around the lake, occasional overnight anchorings or long-distance cruises?
- Do you want a fast or slow boat?
- Do you want a stationary boat to live on full-time?
- Do you prefer a pontoon style or a full-hull houseboat?
- How much living space do you require?
2. Are You a New or Used Boat Person?
If you or others using the boat are mechanically inclined and have the necessary tools, you may be able to swing upgrading and repairing a used houseboat as needed. However, if you don’t have the tools, experience or time and will need to pay for repairs, you’re probably better off buying a houseboat that is “almost turnkey ready,” says Morton.
3. Are You Comfortable Driving a Boat?
Also remember that a houseboat is a type of watercraft. While some houseboats are permanent, you should still be comfortable with piloting your watercraft from dock to dock if need be, and know the rules and etiquette involved with sharing the nation’s waterways. That means yielding the right of way when boating, as well as watching out for swimmers and water-skiers.
Many houseboaters employ the use of a personal watercraft, like a Jet Ski or kayak to get around on the water so they don’t always have to leave their boat slip or dock on a regular basis.
4. Repairs Are Expensive
You may be able to handle necessary maintenance like oil changes, or changing belts and hoses yourself but some tasks must be performed by a marine mechanic or service department, says Morton. Those rates run from $65 to $90 an hour.
Don’t forget that you will most likely need to have working electrical system to power appliances, and to have a well-maintained heating and air conditioning system. You might find an old houseboat for sale that is seaworthy, but chances are you will have to splurge to repair those systems.
5. Calculate Your Houseboat Budget
Morton recommends budgeting 5% to 10% of the vessel’s value annually for maintenance, insurance, dockage or mooring fees, and insurance. For example, if you buy a used houseboat for $100,000, your annual houseboat budget should be around $10,000.
6. Consider Financing Your Houseboat
“You can generally finance a newer, used houseboat for a maximum of up to 20 years,” says Morton. “On houseboat loans below $100,000, you can go up to 15 years, and up to 20 years on boat loans of $100,000 and up.”
You’ll need to put down a minimum of 20 percent or more, he says. Buying a new houseboat? You may be able to get financing terms of up to 25 years, says Morton.
7. Houseboat Loan Interest May Be Tax-Deductible
If you meet IRS rules for living full-time on your houseboat, you might be able to deduct loan interest, just like you would deduct mortgage interest on a land-based home.
8. Transport Costs are Expensive
If you buy a houseboat from another state, and it needs to be moved to where you are, you’ll have to dig deep to pay for transport. “Moving a large houseboat across the country can easily cost $10,000, $20,000 or even $30,000, says Morton.
9. Where Will You Dock?
Houseboating is a certain lifestyle that often revolves around community, with most houseboaters mooring primarily in a single location. There are many houseboat communities around the country including Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, Lake Powell in Arizona and Lake Travis in Texas.