I spent the morning touring a friend’s newest project as we went over the things that needed to be done. Cleaning, painting, tinkering. He just sold his suburban home since he was ready to move on and this is a great time to sell property. However, it’s a terrible time to try and buy. So he’s waiting for the market to correct as it inevitably will. He has his sites on a country home. There’s no way to predict when the economy will pivot so in the meantime he’s set the bulk of his cash aside and has cobbled together a collection of temporary part time living arrangements in a very tight market.
He just bought a trawler for $40,000 cash. He ran the numbers and realized he’ll recoup that money relative to rent in the area in less than two years. $20,000 a year doesn’t get you a house or an apartment of your own. That’s your share of group accommodations anywhere near San Francisco these days, assuming you can find a vacancy. And mostly you can’t. This boat came with the right to remain in its current slip in the same marina. Rent on the dock is $340 per month which includes water, electricity, and internet. So the first asterisk is that rent is for a parking spot, not the thing he’ll live in. He did need to buy the boat up front.
There’s a full kitchen with a proper sink, fridge, stove, and microwave, as well as a dining area. There are some infrastructure constraints that we discussed. For example, the electric stove top works just fine. So does the electric oven. But both can’t be used simultaneously because the power supply can’t deliver that much juice all at once. There was talk of replacing the unit and upgrading the electrical system at great expense. My solution? Just learn to cook so that you don’t need to fry and bake at the same time. This is hardly a chore for a bachelor.
There are two bedrooms and two baths. The space is intimate, but comfortable and well organized. Nautical design has had centuries to refine the efficient use of limited space. Here’s another asterisk of course. No one is going to be moving in with their regular furniture if that’s a key requirement. My friend was brutally pragmatic. He sold his old home with all the furniture included. He filled a suitcase with clothes and a few sentimental objects and walked away. Some people can do that. Some can’t.
The top deck is an indoor/outdoor living room enclosed in canvas and clear vinyl for inclement weather. It’s rather nice for entertaining. There are views of downtown and you really can’t get any closer to the water than this.
The boat is docked directly next to the harbor master’s patrol boats which are actively occupied at all times so security is assured. My friend also happens to be in law enforcement and enjoys good relations with the authorities.
Technically this particular marina doesn’t allow permanent occupancy of boats as residences. So there’s another asterisk. But there’s some wiggle room. Here a flight attendant arrives from the airport for the night before she heads back to a few days at work. Similarly my friend works four days on and four days off and spends the majority of his evenings with a romantic interest in the city so the “full time residence” isn’t a critical constraint.
This isn’t a housing solution for most people. Even for my friend it’s a stop gap strategy. But for the right folks in the right situation it works. At least for a while. A boat is a depreciating asset like a car, truck, or mobile home. In this case the boat has already depreciated relative to the cost of a new vessel and should retain its current value long enough for it to be sold in a few years at about the same price. Meanwhile, it’s a pretty sweet deal.