PROPERTY OF THE MONTH Living in a houseboat
Living on a houseboat sounds like a hippy dream, and it’s true to say that setting up home on the water took off in the UK in the 1960s and 70s, spearheaded by artistic and idealistic individuals in search of an alternative way of life. The late Beatle, George Harrison, learned to play the sitar on a houseboat in Kashmir, northern India, and Richard Branson rents out a sleek one in Little Venice, west London, with all-white painted walls and pale wooden floors.
Although the romantic reputation of houseboats – or ‘liveaboards’ as they’re known – captures the imagination, the individual histories of some of the estimated 2,800 floating homes in England and Wales are even more fascinating and many have had a working life. At Premier Houseboats in Rochester, Kent, for instance, there’s a former lightship and a 1950s Dutch cargo barge for sale alongside purpose-built houseboats, which are becoming increasingly luxurious. Companies including Riverpod make bespoke models, with ecofriendly features such as recycled insulation, from £66,000.
A houseboat is a permanently moored craft, constructed on a floating barge or specially designed platform. In certain areas, especially London, permanent moorings can be difficult to secure. ‘Houseboat living has been popular for decades in London, and now we have the increased migration of barges and floating homes from Europe,’ says estate agent Henry Day at riverhomes.co.uk. ‘These boats have been brought over and placed in some of the UK’s most desirable destinations such as Chichester, Windsor and Maidenhead. Many have been refurbished to the same standard as a swanky London townhouse or Cotswold country cottage.’
The majority of houseboat communities are centred around London and the South East (including on the Thames in Surrey, below), the Fens and Bristol, and the Living on Water movement is encouraging more people to take the plunge in Scotland. Before you drop anchor, there are certain costs to consider. Mooring fees can be up to £12,000 a year in the capital. All houseboat owners must also purchase an annual boat licence from the
Canal & River Trust, and take out boat and contents insurance. Depending on the type of vessel and your residency conditions, you may also be liable for council tax.