Executive Summary: In a market where younger households are competing for increasingly expensive housing, houseboats offer an appealing economic alternative. As a result, the demand for houseboats is growing across Europe, providing the first step on the property ladder for many young families.

Houseboats and demographics

The market for houseboats is growing rapidly in the UK, Scandinavia, Germany, and across Europe. This is the result of long-running demographic trends, analysts from Handelsblatt say.

In the UK, 10,000 people now live on the water in houseboats in and around London. Handelsblatt reports a similar development across the major German cities, as well as in Amsterdam. In Copenhagen, small houseboats are replacing small apartments for a growing number of young people. The trend is spreading across Europe – even in Paris, more young people are taking to the water, according to the Novel Obs.

A major driver of this new market is cost. All across Europe, even a tiny apartment in a poor neighbourhood now takes more than 40 per cent of a young couple’s income.

Ian Bright, a senior economist at ING commented: "Across Europe, expectations that house prices will rise has hit a plateau, but people are still finding that the house prices where they live are expensive. It’s worrying that this is increasingly leading them to delay important life decisions, such as postponing retirement, changing jobs or having more children."

The conclusion that more and more younger consumers are arriving at is that houseboats cost less than buying a similar home on land in the same neighbourhood. “Just do the math,” as one housing expert remarks.

Estate Agent Opportunity

Estate agents have an opportunity to profit from this new and expanding market, but they have to get to know it a bit, experts at Boatshed point out.

How does it work in practice? A couple can share a houseboat in Hackney for about £700 pound (803 euros) per month in mortgage payments. A similar two-room flat in the neighbourhood would cost much more.

Similarly, young people in Copenhagen can own a small houseboat and moor it in the city centre for as little as 10,000 euros, making the commute to work short. Otherwise, they’d have to find a place way out in the suburbs to get a place they could afford.

But it’s not only the cheaper end of the market that makes houseboats attractive. Boaters can pay £1.85 million (2.12 million euros) for a five-bedroom barge on Taggs Island, a private residence near Hampton Court surrounded by a cluster of 65 luxury floating homes. That is far less than they’d pay for a posh home in this neighbourhood. And many high-net-worth families can see the appeal of living on the water – it has a charm that a lot of people appreciate.

Clearly, commissions on houseboats have the potential to be lucrative. An estate agent charged with an area that has waterfront exposure can propose houseboats to clients who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in the neighbourhoods. Or, the agent can offer luxury houseboats as an alternative with cachet to families looking for a high-end home.

The estate agent has to learn a bit about different kinds of houseboats, and the technical side of living on the water – there are some legal issues involving mooring and maintenance that the agent should take in. Working with a specialised company like Boatshed would help estate agents to get to know the area.

An estate agent may find it odd, at first, to offer houseboats to consumers who come looking for a house. But as they become accustomed to the value proposition – that they can offer clients a lot more for a lower price – they should become adept at selling houseboats as well as homes.

Estate agents who work with Boatshed can take advantage of Boatshed’s cutting-edge technology to find buyers, while earning substantial commissions. Boatshed sells boats faster than other boat brokers, and those skills work just as well with homes on the water. Contact Boatshed here if you’d like to learn more.