Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published May 21st 2011
A couple of years ago I fell in love. Her name was Esmeralda and she resided right on the canal in Maida Vale. I met her one brisk late January day and fell in love instantly, but sadly it was not meant to be, and she ended up belonging to someone else. Esmeralda was a houseboat, a canal boat and a little beauty.
I first saw her on gumtree, though I worked nearby, and after it didn't work out between us I cruised the canals looking for her replacement, but sadly never found one. Her small bedroom with the built in double bed, long combined kitchen/ diner/ sitting room, and compact, yet well designed bathroom were just what I was looking for and the location was better than I could have hoped for.
When I went to meet her owner I learned that, of course, she could be a lot of work. You have to regularly refill her water tank, and empty her waste tanks. You have to keep the outside of her scrubbed as well as the inside and you have to pay for her power at the mains rather than just be billed for it later. But she was well and truly worth it to my mind – as would have been the regular upheavals required by the need for her hull to be painted and checked out, and the cold, rainy evenings when I might have worried I was going to be flooded. Ah 'tis.
Once I'd realised by intense desire to take to the canals (even if not in a travelling sense), I expanded my search from just looking for 'For Rent' and 'For Sale' signs along the railings beside the river to cruising online. I found Apollo Duck who are one of the biggest sites for London houseboats, both to rent and to buy. Who can also help out with other London houseboat requirements - you need all sorts of insurance etc. and this is a good place to find out about it.
As well as having a 'For Sale' section, Apollo Duck also have a 'Wanted' section, which goes somewhere towards suggesting how popular this corner of the housing market is. In addition to London houseboats, this site also features boats from around the country – but don't think it's as easy as buying elsewhere and barging it down the river. One of the key things about houseboats is that without a mooring that comes with the purchase price a houseboat can become very expensive very quickly – like parking your caravan in the airport carpark for an indefinite period of time.
The other thing I quickly learned is that while houseboats have a reputation for being a relatively inexpensive way onto the London property ladder, they also have their challenges. The first hurdle is getting a mortgage and insurance. Which is why houseboats are a popular option for people who don't need to borrow too much – artists, or other creative types who might have capital now but an irregular income.
Prices start from about £100,000 - though you can spend less if you're willing to put some work in yourself – and don't peter out until past a million pounds. My little canal boat was worth about £30k, but I think her mooring would have taken her up to £100k, and while you can get a mortgage on the boat you can't get a mortgage on the mooring – which is why buyers need such a wedge of cash. As well as size, you're also paying for the quality of the conversion and the location – there are moorings along the Embankment at Chelsea, remember.
If you're really serious about boat-board living then you're going to need to be patient, trust me on this one. There are hundreds of people angling after the water gypsy way of life and it may take a while for you to find the right boat to buy or rent. But the waiting will help you decide if this is really for you, and if you continue to dream of summer evenings spent sitting on your own deck with a drink and a barbecue going then take a barging holiday around the UK, France or The Netherlands to get your hand in and keep up the search, sailor.