Hope Floats


We've all read about the sucky state of the current real estate market, with median sale prices down 12 percent versus January '07 according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Which made me study this Lake Union houseboat featured in The New York Times' "What You Get For..." column with interest. This week's price figure is $300,000, and the other two properties compared for that number are essentially vacation homes--an upstate New York ski cabin and a cottage in the forest outside Santa Barbara. But the homely houseboat pictured above is quite literally in the center of Seattle. $300K sounds like a nice price, right? A bargain hunter's delight? Well, wait until we calculate the price per square foot on this baby....

Here's the listing from Coldwell Banker Bain. The Times makes the place sound quite nice:

"This houseboat is moored in Gas Works Park Marina, a privately owned marina on Lake Union. Across the street from the marina parking lot is an entrance to the Burke-Gilman Trail, a paved path for cyclists and runners. The marina is at the southern tip of Wallingford, a residential area whose northwestern end gives way to Woodland Park, which has a zoo and a rose garden. The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is 30 minutes away."
Sounds charming! But then do the math. $300K at $797 per square foot (per the Times) which yields 375 square feet. Which the broker curiously omits. In New York, the first thing a home buyer asks for, after the price, is the square footage. Then you demand the floor plan. It's incredible to me still, after living in Manhattan and Seattle, how rarely or with what difficulty that basic information can be obtained. (Memo to developers marketing new condos during this inopportune moment: Spare us the picturs of the lobby! Give us the footage and plan!)

Already CBB has knocked the price down on this property to $275K. But if you skim the slide show on the link above, the price may still be unreasonable. Location aside, even if you're willing to live in such a small space, that boat is ugly. Even seagulls wouldn't shit on it.

Then consider the recent phenomenon, or at least a design scheme being discussed by architects, of converting old shipping containers into housing--kind of a pre-fab approach. You'd get about the same size as the houseboat above from three 8 x 20 foot containers (that's the standard-size unit), and you can find them on eBay for about $2,000 each. Or under $20 a square foot. On sites like Treehuger.com and elsewhere, people talk of stacking and arranging the old cubes in a variety of residential configurations.

If you could get the dock space, I'm sure they'd fit on a houseboat float. Of course, then you'd have to wire and plumb and heat your new home, cut windows with a blow torch, and hope the DPD didn't discover your, ahem, zoning irregularities. And later--who knows?--you might get the place featured in The New York Times.
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