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They moved into floating homes and houseboats — and discovered a world of adventure and hidden expenses

Amanda Goh   

They moved into floating homes and houseboats — and discovered a world of adventure and hidden expenses
  • Forget buying a home on land — some people are heading for rivers and lakes instead.
  • They're investing in floating houses, houseboats, and narrowboats.

Moving into their 360-square-foot floating home a year ago was a dream come true for Sarah Spiro and Brandon Jones.

The house, located on Fontana Lake in North Carolina, has loft-style interiors with high ceilings and windows all around.

"I just love that no matter what you're doing, you can look out the window and have this super peaceful view — even if you're just doing dishes," Spiro, 27, told Business Insider.

Spiro and Jones spent $90,000 building their floating home and say it would have been difficult to buy a house on land for that price. They pay a $5,000 annual mooring fee for their floating home.

Now, they can't imagine returning to life on land.

"I guess it depends on the person, but for us, we would never go back," she said. "It beats living on land."

Embracing life on the water

Living on water is big on social media, where it's spawned popular hashtags like #houseboat and #narrowboatlife, and helped push creators like Adam Lind of @adam.floatinghome to extreme visibility.

It's also a part of the alternate living movement that sees people choosing to stay in tiny houses, homes on wheels, or other forms of housing over traditional brick-and-mortar homes.

National data on the number of people who live in floating homes, houseboats, and narrowboats is hard to come by as there isn't a single authority responsible for tracking all these housing forms across the US.

However, regional data suggests the lifestyle is still quite niche.

In 2023, there were 70 floating home sales reported on the Regional Multiple Listing Service, or RMLS, which covers the Portland area and a significant part of northwest Oregon, Portland Floating Homes real-estate broker John McPherson told BI.

In the case of houseboats, US inventory is highest in the cities of Portland and Seattle, with an average of 47 and 23 monthly listings in 2023 respectively, per data provided by

The cities with the next highest houseboat listings are Scappoose, Oregon, Sausalito, California, and Johns Island, South Carolina — each had between five and 10 houseboat listings per month in 2023, per data from

Comprehensive data on the trend abroad is similarly hard to find.

The Canal & River Trust, which looks after 2,000 miles of canals and rivers across England & Wales, told BI there are about 34,760 boats along its waterways. Of those, 21% describe themselves as "liveaboard."

A punishing housing market is driving people to alternatives

Elizabeth Earle lives in a narrowboat that she bought for £35,000, or about $44,000, in 2022. She previously told BI's Jordan Pandy that the lifestyle was the least expensive way for her to buy a home in the UK.

"The price for a house in England is a bit ridiculous at the moment," Earle, 34, said. "Even if you're able to save £200 a month, how on earth are you going to save £20,000 towards a mortgage? It feels so unattainable compared to how our parents did it."

Earle's comments echo true across much of her generation around the world.

Millennials are saddled with debt, struggling to build up their net worths, and getting priced out of cities. Some are moving in with their parents because they can't afford to live on their own.

Houses are also getting more expensive. In the US, most major forecasts predict that home prices could rise between 1.4% and 4.1% in 2024.

And while millennials might be suffering the most in the real-estate market, people of all ages are among those seeking out a life on the water.

"What I have observed is that a lot of buyers seem to be in their 40s, 50s, or 60s. Some are in their 70s," McPherson said.

It's often people who are downsizing and want to do something specifically for themselves now that they're older — which is enjoy the river, the views, and boating, he added.

"Housing has become increasingly unaffordable for many Americans because of historic high prices coupled with mortgage rates approaching 8%," Daryl Fairweather, Redfin's chief economist, told BI. "This is mainly due to the intense housing supply shortage in the US — we're short millions of homes, which is driving up costs."

A recent survey by also found that more than half of potential home buyers were second-guessing their plans to buy a home, Hannah Jones, a senior economic research analyst at, told BI.

"The relatively high barrier to homeownership may push would-be buyers towards renting for longer or seeking out alternative living arrangements to save money for a home purchase," Jones said.

Hidden costs

But if slashing expenses is the goal, life on the water might not be the answer.

"I wouldn't say that owning a floating house is much cheaper than owning a typical house on land, but it is a much lower-priced alternative to owning waterfront property in Portland," McPherson said.

Home insurance for a floating house tends to be about double what it is for a regular house on land, McPherson said. Most floating-home owners also have to pay a monthly fee to either rent or maintain the slip their house is in.

Additionally, the float — the part of the floating house that's equivalent to a foundation — deteriorates over time, McPherson said.

"Depending on what needs to be done, maintenance could cost around $10,000 or so," McPherson said. If a float is too old, it needs to be replaced — and it's not a do-it-yourself kind of job.

"Currently, to replace a float it could cost approximately $80,000 to $130,000 — or even more, depending on the size of the house and what exactly needs to be done," he said.

Laura Woodley, 35, took out a loan to buy a narrowboat in the UK in 2020. Her repayments cost about £650, or $810, a month.

"Many people think that I'm living on a boat to save money, but I actually spend more than I did when I was renting, although I now live alone instead of with roommates," Woodley previously told BI.

A boat license, heating expenses, and maintenance costs add up to roughly another £425 a month — and that's without emergency payments.

"A couple of winters ago, half of my chimney fell off, and my heating broke, and I had to pay £700 to fix it," Woodley said. "Living on a narrowboat is not as simple as having a set of fixed monthly expenses like you would if you lived in a house."

Value in the lifestyle and the community

Money aside, the lifestyle has perks.

"It's a very serene and calm way of life compared to downtown," Kate Fincham, 35, told BI. Her houseboat is moored in Bluffers Park Marina, about 30 minutes from downtown Toronto.

"There are lots of woodlands and trails by the water, and two beaches as well," Fincham added. She spends her summer mornings kayaking on the lake.

Lily Rose, 32, lives on a houseboat on Lake Union in Seattle with her husband Dylan.

"Having ducklings and goslings pay us visits in the late spring and early summer months has been a big highlight of our time on the houseboat," Rose said.

"We enjoy taking our paddleboards out for a quick lunch break during the week or cruising down to the south end of Lake Union in our little 11-foot Boston Whaler to watch the Duck Dodge sailboat races in the summer," Rose added.

For Fincham, there's value in the community and freedom she's found through the houseboat lifestyle.

"I think it's always kind of inspiring for people to think, 'Oh, I don't have to save up to buy a condo,' or whatever. There are alternate avenues and ways to live, too," Fincham said.

Houseboat life has helped her bond with her neighbors.

"The neighbors, we're all very close, and there are always activities and game nights, movie nights, or people going for dinner together," she said. When she lived in a house downtown, she barely knew the people who lived around her.

"You need to be able to roll with the punches," Fincham said. "Sometimes it's not the easiest way of life, but I always think, for me, it's the best way of life."