Should You Buy a Houseboat?

As Canada’s hot real estate markets continue to heat up – even in the face of new mortgage regulations – alternative forms of housing are becoming more common. In the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of several nontraditional forms of housing including tiny homes, joint home purchases with relatives, income properties and now houseboats.

Houseboats, which are homes on the water, have been rising in popularity in cities close to major waterways, such as Toronto and Vancouver. These homes were once considered an oddity but have quickly distinguished themselves as a very real alternative to condo living. Houseboat converts even say they are a better option than condo living.

But should you buy a houseboat? Before you take the plunge, read through this list of considerations we’ve put together to determine if a houseboat is a right choice for your family.

Float Homes versus Houseboats

There are two different types of homes on the water, and before you commit to a marine lifestyle, you’ll need to know the difference between the two.

First, there is a float home. A float home is very similar to a regular home. They can be large – some are as large as 1,500 square feet. They are often two stories and have standard ceiling heights, heating, plumbing, full-sized kitchens and are designed for all season living. They are not meant to move very often and do not have a propulsion system; instead, other boats pull them to their destination. They are moored in float home communities like the nearby Scarborough Bluffs community.

Second, there are houseboats. Houseboats are usually smaller and are more like a boat. They have propulsion systems similar to a boat, and many them don’t have enough insulation for winter living. They are built with lighter materials so they can be moved more easily than a float home and can go from marina to marina.

Both float homes and houseboats have pros and cons, so you should consider which is best for you before you begin houseboat hunting.

Houseboat and Float Home Maintenance

You can expect to spend the same amount of time maintaining a float home as you would a regular home. The foundation of a float home is built on a floating concrete barge and only needs minor maintenance – some even have basements! There is no mechanical or propeller system to maintain, and remarkably little corrosion.

There are, however, a few small differences between a float home and a conventional home. For example, there is no grass to cut, and you need to empty the sewage tank every two months.

Houseboats, on the other hand, are similar to a traditional boat and require more maintenance. You will need to maintain the propulsion system and the generator, and the hull of the houseboat will require regular maintenance. If you are mechanically oriented or handy, you should be able to get up to speed on the maintenance requirements of a houseboat fairly quickly.

Property Taxes, Municipal Services, and Mooring Fees

When you buy a houseboat or float home, you have to moor it at a marina. Since you don’t own land, you don’t have to pay property taxes, but you do have to pay a portion of the marina’s property taxes, about $700 per year. These property taxes ensure you will have access to certain municipal services like fire, ambulance, and police.

Your property tax payments wouldn’t provide services like garbage removal, recycling collection, sewer, or water services. The marina supplies these services, and you pay for them through mooring fees, which are similar to condo fees. You can expect to pay around $720 per month in mooring fees, and budget for electricity, the internet, and cable on top of that.

The Marine Lifestyle

Living in a float home or houseboat is a way of life. In fact, according to some float home enthusiasts, residing in a float home is the best lifestyle choice they’ve ever made!

“If you love water, or you love doing activities on the water, then there is no better option than a houseboat or a float home,” says Paul Peic of

Unlike condo living, living in a float home or houseboat community gives you the opportunity to get to know your neighbours. The communities in marinas tend to be very tight-knit and secure, with residents often keeping an eye out for one another.

You’ll also have the opportunity to reconnect with nature if you choose to purchase a houseboat or float home. Most marinas are close to walking trails, beaches and of course the water, so becoming more in tune with the natural world is a pleasant byproduct of this lifestyle choice.

What You Can Expect to Pay for a Houseboat

Like most Toronto real estate, the price of a float home or houseboat is highly variable. For example, a two bedroom, two-bathroom float home in the Scarborough Bluffs community in Toronto can be purchased for $589,000, whereas you can buy a smaller, less luxurious houseboat for much less. Keep in mind though that you get what you pay for, and lower priced houseboats may not have all of the amenities of a float home.

Return on Investment

Toronto houseboats and float homes have doubled in value in the past six years, mostly due to the increased demand as more and more homebuyers look outside of the traditional housing for their new home. Float homes are very popular with downsizers, mostly due to their attractive price point and lifestyle. You can expect to pay around the same amount as a condo, but you’ll enjoy an entirely different living experience.

All signs point to this unique market segment increasing in both value and popularity, and Peic foresees a rise in the trend of higher-end houseboats with more amenities and living space to meet the rising need for accommodations in the Greater Toronto Area. “It’s a completely untapped resource,” he says of the underused waterfront.

So, should you buy a houseboat?

If you fancy living a slightly alternative lifestyle in a close-knit community that is close to nature, then a float home or houseboat might be the right choice for you.

About Jordann Brown

Jordann Brown is a freelance content marketer and owner of the popular personal finance blog My Alternate Life. She has been featured in major publications and by news outlets including CTV News, the Globe and Mail, Moneysense and the Huffington Post. You can follow Jordann on Twitter at @myalternateblog.

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