Just bling on the house­boat style

Sal­combe’s new­est, glitzi­est ad­dress is on the wa­ter, says Andrew Eames

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Look&earn -

It is one of the most ex­pen­sive re­gions in the coun­try, with sec­ond homes lin­ing the shores of one of Devon’s loveli­est nat­u­ral harbours. Sal­combe’s pop­u­la­tion swells from 1,500 in the win­ter to 20,000 in the sum­mer, but its pri­mary school has barely enough sub­scribers to sur­vive.

Ev­ery year thou­sands of hol­i­day­mak­ers squeeze through its nar­row, bou­tique­lined streets; bare­foot lads in wet­suits, mini-skirted teenage girls and yummy mum­mies in search of a skinny latte.

And the new­est ad­dress in town is a pair of float­ing pent­houses fresh in from Amer­ica, bling­ing with plasma screens. Tra­di­tional Sal­combe tars think th­ese par­venus are ugly duck­lings, but H2O Re­sorts, which owns the two boats — Oceanus and Prometheus — see the pair as a so­lu­tion to a peren­nial prob­lem: how can more peo­ple get a slice of su­per­sat­u­rated Sal­combe in the sum­mer­time?

Cus­tom-built house­boats like th­ese are big busi­ness in the United States, but have not yet caught on in Bri­tain. Here, house­boats are usu­ally ‘‘char­ac­ter­ful’’ con­ver­sions of ex­ist­ing craft which pro­vide refuge for im­pov­er­ished writ­ers or di­vorced men who can no longer af­ford the price of brick.

A pro­to­type sin­gle-bed­room pen­t­house launched with great fan­fare at the Boat Show a cou­ple of years ago has re­mained just that and is now sit­ting in Lon­don Dock­lands, priced at £250,000 and await­ing a buyer. The prob­lem, says David Greenaway, the agent with the pro­to­type on his books (www. house­boat­cen­tre.co.uk), is not so much find­ing a mar­ket as find­ing a moor­ing.

Find­ing a moor­ing is what led one of the first co-own­ers to take a share in one of Sal­combe’s shiny new mi­grants. Chris­tian Brown, an Ep­som-based con­trac­tor, has four sporty chil­dren aged from nine to 17, and Sal­combe has long been on the fam­ily radar as a very de­sir­able place to spend the sum­mer hol­i­days. For the Brown fam­ily, the ques­tion was one of how to get a foothold with­out spend­ing an arm and a leg.

“You can only re­ally en­joy Sal­combe if you’ve got ac­cess to the wa­ter,” says Mr Brown. “But buy­ing any­where near the wa­ter­side is ab­surd. It’s out­side my reach; I haven’t got a mil­lion.” The Browns had al­ready in­vested in a boat — a rib for wa­ter-ski­ing and cov­ehop­ping — but they en­coun­tered a fur­ther prob­lem in where to tie it up, given that there’s a five to 10year wait­ing list for a moor­ing.

It was that quest for an ac­ces­si­ble home for his boat that led him to H2O. The house­boat solves both prob­lems — moor­ing and ac­com­mo­da­tion — in one go.

And the spec­i­fi­ca­tions are im­pres­sive. Air-con­di­tioned, 55ft x 16ft, th­ese beasts have four dou­ble bed­rooms, a sa­loon with a plasma-screen home theatre and fore and aft re­lax­ation decks. Up­stairs is a sun lounge area, a bar and a six-per­son Jacuzzi. Down in the depths are silent gen­er­a­tors and a self-di­gest­ing toi­let sys­tem, which al­low in­de­pen­dence of shore­side fa­cil­i­ties.

How­ever, the over­all look is not to ev­ery­body’s taste. “I’ve had two phone calls of crit­i­cism,” says Coun­cil­lor Jeff Beer, the chair­man of the har­bour board which granted per­mis­sion for a fleet of up to seven. “But I’ve also had lots of sup­port. They’re a big im­prove­ment on the tatty old boats which they’ve re­placed, but there are al­ways go­ing to be peo­ple who don’t like the idea of house­boats.”

Chris­tian Brown ac­knowl­edges that some pass­ing yachties re­gard his in­vest­ment with dis­ap­proval, but from his per­spec­tive the aes­thet­ics are won­der­ful. “I have a 360 de­gree panorama. The kids love the hot tub, es­pe­cially un­der the stars, and I can tum­ble out of bed straight into the boat and take them wa­ter-ski­ing. Ev­ery­thing looks bet­ter from the wa­ter.”

The house­boats are be­ing mar­keted un­der a coown­er­ship scheme that H2O Re­sorts is keen to dis­tin­guish from time­share. In a time­share the pur­chasers only buy the right to oc­cupy hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion, but H2O own­ers have a share in a named boat and will re­ceive a pro­por­tion­ate share in sale pro­ceeds, as well as a pro­por­tion (it can be as much as 50 per cent) of any rental in­come should they de­cline to use their al­lo­cated time them­selves. With high sea­son rental prices of about £3,000 per week, this could amount to handy rev­enue.

The ba­sic deal starts at £25,000 for one low-sea­son week for the next 30 years, ris­ing to £40,000 for a high­sea­son week, with an ad­di­tional £480 an­nual main­te­nance fee. And weeks at Sal­combe can be ex­changed for weeks at H2O re­sorts “else­where”. In prac­tice this cur­rently means only the US, al­though the com­pany has plans to open up Euro­pean lo­ca­tions.

Mr Brown is not too both­ered by talk of world dom­i­na­tion. He was in­ter­ested in gain­ing a foothold in Sal­combe, and that’s what buy­ing into Oceanus has al­lowed him to do. Now that his older chil­dren are turn­ing into adults, he hopes that the boat will re­main a safe berth for fam­ily hol­i­days — with or with­out the par­ents — for years to come.

H2O Re­sorts: 0845 202 0820; www.h2ore­sorts.co.uk

Big berther: this pair of four-bed­room über­house­boats, above, moored in Sal­combe es­tu­ary, come with daily maid ser­vice, a per­sonal launch and a state-of-theart sa­loon

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