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Seasick and Sleepless in Seattle!

      As a builder I have worked on houseboats, and as an inspector I have Seattle Floating Homesinspected a few.  They are an interesting Seattle phenomenon----you may remember them in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle.”  The “boat” part is a bit of a misnomer however, and “floating home” or “rafts” comes a bit closer to describing them.  Very few---if any have an actual hull like a boat---and even fewer resemble a boat.  In the early days, some of them looked like boats and probably were boats.

     They represent a very Niche Market in the Real Estate world and are typically VERY EXPEN$IVE and hard to come by under almost any market condition----most costing more than a million dollars.  Most people assume there is a moratorium on adding to the roughly 500 existing floating homes existing on Lake Union and Portage Bay.  That is only true relative to the huge hurdles to overcome in terms of getting permits to build new ones.  Having enough land to provide parking for the structures to be built is perhaps one of the biggest hurdles.

     The Seattle Times did a great article that discusses these floating homes and I won’t attempt to duplicate that information here.  For more information please check out the article: “New houseboat development on Lake Union is buoyed by demand.”  

      From an inspector’s point of view, they represent a whole world of Seattle Floating Homesdisclaimers and modifications of standard inspection protocols.  After all, what percentage of normal homes can sink (actually very difficult) or float away in the middle of the night?

      Another thing about them----especially the ones built prior to more modern standards----is that nothing is level or square, doors don’t stay open or closed, and some are only accessible to inspection underneath by scuba divers or kayak.  All Houseboat connectionsfloating homes must have flexible connections for the sewage, waterlines, gas lines and electric lines that run to them----plus the building itself must be pretty well attached to the dock structures with flexible connections to allow for movement of the building on the water as well as for changing water levels.  The picture at the right shows one of the flexible brackets that connect the structure to the dock.  Above this connection one can see the flexible electrical connection.  Beyond that connection is the flexible gas connection.  The structures on these small lakes are less vulnerable to storms than they are to the large wakes from passing boats.

     They are kind of fun to inspect being on the water---with great views of the water, boats and surroundings.

Seattle floating home view

       It is a little weird inspecting the roof and thinking about falling in water instead of on land.  On one I dropped the cap of my moisture meter and got to watch it sink to the bottom.  To know where the cap is and not be able to get it, is way worse than having no idea where you lost it.

     Originally, some of these floating structures were built on giant old growth cedar logs as much as 6 feet in diameter---most of those have been replaced----but some remain.  The modern ones are build on floating concrete structures filled with foam.  Yesterday’s post discusses one with a crawl space.  Many have no crawl space at all and are built much like a house on land that has been built on a concrete slab.  In fact, these slabs on land are often called “floating slabs.”  The ones on land are poured as monolithic reinforced concrete slabs and float on a bed of crushed stone-----a little bit different that the floating homes of Seattle.  The concept is similar though----the foam element replaces the gravel.

     So take your Dramamine and hop aboard!

 

 

Charles Buell

 

 

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Comment balloon 37 commentsCharles Buell • February 27 2009 09:06AM

Comments

This is so interesting.  I had no idea people actually lived on the water all the time.  Sounds as if these homes don't ever leave the dock? 

Posted by Barbara S. Duncan, GRI, e-PRO, Executive Broker, Searcy AR (RE/MAX Advantage) over 9 years ago

Barbara---pretty rarely---although they could be taken to drydock to do work on the undersides.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

We have a few here on Cape Cod, but they are more swimming shacks than homes.

Posted by Associate Broker Falmouth MA Cape Cod Heath Coker, Heath Coker Robert Paul Properties Falmouth MA (http://www.CapeGroup.com & http://www.REindex.com) over 9 years ago

As a boater, it is hard to call these boats!  I think of them more as a barge with a house built on them!

Posted by Robert Rauf (HomeBridge Financial Services (NJ)) over 9 years ago

Heath, I can imagine the waters would get a little rough at times on Cape Cod:)

Robert---yes----very few are actually boat-like.  If you do an MLS search for houseboats in seattle you will see some that kind of look like boats---most just look like regular (if eclectic) houses.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charles, that is very interesting. I always thought a boat house as a boat docked being use as a house and not as a floating house. Something like a mini yacht type of thing, One gets bore with the scenery, you just move it to a different location. Learned something new  today, thanks.

            ~ LIfe is Good

Posted by Roy A. Peterson, P.R.E.I. (Domicile Analysis of Texas) over 9 years ago

There is also quite a sub-culture of people that live on their actual boats in the many marinas around town.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

I think we all have a dream of living "at sea", and might consider putting up with many things we wouldn't entertain, on land.    One can dream...in fact, I think I'll hum a few bars of Dreamboat Annie.

Posted by Li Read, Caring expertise...knowledge for you! (Sea to Sky Premier Properties (Salt Spring)) over 9 years ago

Li, it is very attractive---and no lawn to mow:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charles - This has nothing to do with your blog, but I like the new pics!  Reminds me of my college years:)

Posted by Jason Sardi, Your Agent for Life (Auto & Home & Life Insurance throughout North Carolina) over 9 years ago

Did you do a lot of crawling around in crawl spaces in your college years?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

No comment.

Posted by Jason Sardi, Your Agent for Life (Auto & Home & Life Insurance throughout North Carolina) over 9 years ago

Charlie - Iam just curious about what the average cost of an average sized house boat migth be.

Posted by Carol Culkin, Overland Park (Reece & Nichols) over 9 years ago

I'm still trying to figure out how you maneuvered getting through such a tiny opening. Not that I'll ever have to concern myself with this type of inspection here in The Poconos, but I am curious. Does this type of inspection require the inspector to carry additional insurance, or is it covered under our regular E&O?

Posted by Suesan Jenifer Therriault, "Inspecting every purchase as if it were my own". (JTHIS-Professional Home Inspection Team) over 9 years ago

Carol----I would guess at around a million.

Suesan, I am not sure what you mean exactly by your question, but it is pretty much the same as any crawl space inspection.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charles, I was referring to the inspection of house boats being covered by standard E&O or did it require an other form of insurance. More a matter of curiosity than anything else. No house boats here in The Poconos and even if there were I would leave it to some one more qualified than myself.

Posted by Suesan Jenifer Therriault, "Inspecting every purchase as if it were my own". (JTHIS-Professional Home Inspection Team) over 9 years ago

Suesan---I was afraid that might be your question:)  No clue----but I would do it anyway---there is nothing "specifically" excluding them in my contract that I can find.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charlie - that really does seem to be a fascinating inspection!  At least when you fall off the roof you don't break anything...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

I don't need a houseboat.  I am my own houseboat!

 

Very kindly,

 

Croakster

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay---they are cool.  It is funny how when you are on the roof---at least for me---I think about how much I don't want to get wet way more than I think about hitting the ground on a regular roof.  Now that is pretty messed up:)  Now if it was summer, maybe it would be different.

Croakster----you go way beyond houseboat---perhaps dirigible?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

No way.  But I am in total dirigisme of my pond.

 

Very kindly,

 

Croakster

(Look THAT one up!)

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Charles, The question that always come to my mind is that of the utilities. Do the gas, water, and electric lines have breakaways and check valves? I have only shown one of the dwellings in my ten years and the utilities looked sub-standard to say the least...

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®,CRS,, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Northwest.) over 9 years ago

Croakster----some helium and a long string I could show you a really good time----and a whole different point of view:)

Paul---same here regarding the utilities.  Not an easy question to answer because of the age of some of them and grandfathering.  Certainly anything new is going to have all appropriate means of dealing with the untilities breaking away.  A recent electrical code change will require the main electrical disconnect for the houseboats be on the land---not on the floating structure itself---as it is currently allowed.  There is no way a home inspector is going to be able to provide anything but a visual opinion of what is going on.  Some connections are under water.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charlie,

I have always wondered about those houseboats in Seattle, also the Seattle underground tour. Never really seen either. I suggested that AR feature this blog post

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Steve, thanks----they really are a very cool part of Seattle that started out as----what many people considered as a "blight"----a place to create cheap housing during the depression.  Of course back then all sewage just went into the lake:)

 

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charles, Yup! That is certainly a houseboat. Can't say that we have anything like that around our neck of the woods.

I was looking at your new avatar. Is that really you or is that a mole? - LOL

Your building consultant in the Fairview, TN area ~ Michael

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Quite unique housing. I have inspected house near the water, but never on the water. Pretty cool.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 9 years ago

Charles- Very cool.  Although I know a few people that have houseboats around here that they live on for weeks or months, I never really thought about the need for a home inspector a sale.  Thanks for the info and great pics.

Posted by Erik Hitzelberger, Louisville - Middletown Real Estate (RE/MAX Alliance - Louisville REALTOR-Luxury Homes) over 9 years ago

Michael, I would have bet not:)

James, I had one that was close enough to the Lake Washington that everytime the lake rose 6 inches the lake was in the crawl space:)

Erik----are they structures similiar to the one pictured above?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Mr Charles,

Next time you do one of those, please let me know. My cousin Poppy seed and I will bring you lunch.

Nutsy at the keyboard

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Very interesting post. We have some house boats on the lakes around here, but they are really more like a trailer on a pontoon boat. I have never been asked to inspect one.

As far as E&O goes, I can't think of any reason why it would be excluded. The only limitations on my policy is the size of commercial buildings I'm covered for. It's still a house, and the SOP's should cover it. It's just a different type of construction.

 

Posted by Jack Feldmann (Clayton Inspection Service, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Nutsy---how come you bushy tailed rodents all look the same?

Jack, but you know insurance companies----they are worse than "minimum standards of practice"---tons of exlclusions.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

I was a Wharf Rat living on a boat in Bellingham many years ago.  It was a great time and a unique community of somewhat strange characters.  An ex sister-in-law (sister of an ex wife) owns one of those Lake Union houseboats.  Unfortunately it came after I did a complete gut and remodel of her, and her former husbands Bellevue home.  They got divorced, she let him keep the Bellevue place and she got a houseboat.  How cool is that?

Posted by David Helm, Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp (Helm Home Inspections) over 9 years ago

David, so have you been on her houseboat?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charlie, I may not have mentioned it, but she is an ex sister-in-law, meaning I am no longer married to her sister, so, no I have not been on this particular house boat.  It happened after her sister and I got divorced.

Posted by David Helm, Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp (Helm Home Inspections) over 9 years ago

David I am beginning to get the picture:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago
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