The Truth About Marin County’s Floating Homes

The Sausalito waterfront is thick with a peculiar varietal of home-buying prospect, the ever-whimsical and increasingly popular floating homes. Most of us have seen them, but few understand how they really work.

For one thing, more often than not outsiders refer to these piscine properties as “houseboats,” but in most cases that’s not strictly accurate. A houseboat is a vehicle that owners can navigate, but most floating homes are simply that: A house that is floating, trading a foundation on dry land for a buoyed one in the bay. Bobbing aside, most are immobile, and the only way to move them is a boat tow.

For another, while boat living is usually regarded as a highly economical option for bargain hunters, bohemians, or, uh, people just down on their luck, floating homes are often in high demand, and can get buyer in pretty deep with high asking prices: The sole seaworthy Sausalito setup for sale right now, listing just a few days ago (41 E Pier), is asking a ship-shape $1.4 million for three beds and two baths, for example.

(41 E Pier.)

There are also some infrastructural peculiarities to waterfront living: Homebuyers own the home, but of course there’s no land included in the purchase–try to follow–so you have to find a place to berth your house, which can run up to $1,500 per month depending on where you’re docked.

You may also find that homeowner’s insurance on your floating home is much higher than for an equivalent landlubber house, on account of–well, you heard the part about how it’s a house sat on a floating platform, right? Loans can also be more difficult to secure, since a floating home doesn’t technically qualify as real estate.

(Photos by Katherine Mamlok)

Despite all of these extra complications, demand for floating homes in the North Bay is usually pretty high, with listings popping (or bobbing?) up only a few times a year, and some floating home associations reporting years-long wait lists for interested would-be buyers.

Fact is, many of these homes are truly beautiful, and the culture of the docks, which encourages bohemian decor and piratical nicknames for homes like “Dragon House,” “Green Heron,” or the “Evil Eye,” generates a lot of whimsy.

And for many, the sheer novelty of such property overcomes all obstacles: After all, it’s not just a home, it’s an adventure.

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