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July 2021

Lured by on-water living?

July 7, 2021

Calling them Seattle's quirkiest type of home, journalist Sarah Anne Lloyd wrote an "explainer" report on "aquatic residences" for Seattle Metropolitan magazine.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service brokers know them as "style code 24 - floating home/on-water residences." Currently the NWMLS database features only 14 such listings, with current inventory ranging from 162 to 4,850 square feet and asking prices of $147,500 to $3,950,000.

Of course, the area's most famous houseboat is thanks to Sam Baldwin, Tom Hanks's character in the 1993 romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle. (It is unknown if the actual owners of that iconic home received any cut of the $227 million the still-popular film grossed!)

In her "primer," Lloyd traces some of the colorful history of the area's houseboat, which Washington law defines as including "house boats, house barges, or any floating structures that serve primarily as a residence and do not qualify as a vessel. . ."  She notes these sought-after dwellings once served as "affordable housing for laborers, struggling families, and off-grid types, especially during the Great Depression."

The Seattle Met report explains differences between houseboats, floating homes, house barges and VDUs (vessels with dwelling units). Lloyd also lists some of the drawbacks or downsides would-be owners should consider before deciding to hop aboard.

While they seem charming to sightseers and will be featured a special floating homes tour presented by the Seattle Floating Homes Association on September 11, houseboats may not be offered as short-term rentals, according to Seattle's shoreline code.

"Sleepless in Seattle" may have created the impression that this city is a mecca for people who want a funky home that bobs in the water, this housing type is much more prevalent in other metro areas such as Amsterdam, London, and Victoria, B.C. Portland claims the largest enclave of liveaboards in the country, with more than 1,400 floating homes situated along the Columbia and Willamette rivers. New York City and Sausalito, California are other U.S. metros with large houseboat communities.