Floating Homes: The SF Housing Trend That Never Got Its Due

Don’t call them houseboats; the marine properties you see dotting the docks in Bay Area locales like Sausalito and Mission Creek aren’t boats at all, they’re floating homes.

And while many are among the most idyllic and beautiful Bay Area properties, they remain something of an oddity, the sort of thing only a very particular buyer is really prepared to invest in.

Let us explain a little about the ins and outs of life on the high seas.

What’s the difference? A houseboat is just that: A boat, with a motor and additional structures that make it easier and more comfortable to live in, but nevertheless a vehicle when push comes to shove.

A floating home has no motor and is not mobile on its own. Instead, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: a house, albeit one that just happens to be built not on foundation on dry land but instead on a floating platform in a body of water.

The key difference is that a floating home, with a handful of rare exceptions, can’t just move itself, any more than your landlocked home can; it must be towed if you want to relocate it.

Well, that and the fact that a floating home is listed as a house and not a vehicle in your assets, which makes a huge different come tax time.

Why do these exist? In the Bay Area at least, floating homes are commonly associated with 20th century counterculture communities as the abodes of bohemians, beats, “hippies,” and other oddballs.

While this is a stereotype, there was some degree of truth to it–and there still is. Floating home communities in the North Bay in particular still pride themselves on their, shall we say, singular community aesthetic.

Because floating homes remain a novelty and are often situated in out-of-the-way places, they were once a cheaper alternative to soaring rents and home prices, and sometimes they still are, although many floating homes are themselves prized properties in this day and age.

What’s the appeal? We’ll let you in on a secret: These are actually some of the most beautiful homes in all of the Bay Area.

It varies, of course, and beauty as always remains in the eye of the beholder. But go stroll the docks at Richardson Bay or Barnhill Marina and you’ll discover daring uses of color and geometry that would just plain never appear on land in these same cities.

Floating homes inspire an atmosphere of winsome adventure that’s frankly sorely missing from dry-land architecture in the region–and floating home owners often love to play up this image, often conferring piratical nicknames on their watery abodes like the “Green Heron” and the “Evil Eye.”

By rights, these properties should be one of the most popular regional design trends. But they just plain never caught on with most of the public because, well, they’re houses on the water, and that’s just never going to be normal.

What’s the demand? Floating homes don’t come on the market very often, but there are always a few to be had each year. Currently there is a beautiful 2 bed, 1 bath houseboat for sale in Sausilito asking $1.475M, with one of the best interior layouts we’ve seen in quite awhile.

In Sausalito, for example, over a five-year period between 2016 and 2021, 60 floating homes traded hands, for a median price of just under $948,000.

For comparison, the median price for solid-ground homes during that same period was just over $1 million.

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