Going Swimmingly

Germany's House Boat Boom

Hamburg houseboats. Source: Floating Homes
Hamburg houseboats.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    New concepts of property, such as houseboats, are fundamentally changing Germany’s property market and calling for new legal regulations.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Coffee and consumer goods retailer Tchibo is sailing into the houseboat market.
    • Houseboats in Germany can offer significant rental income to investors.
    • Some models have over 200 square meters of space and cost nearly €1 million.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The houseboat trend in Germany comes from other European cities in Europe, namely Copenhagen, London, and Amsterdam. Europe’s biggest economy is still at the very beginning of developing this market. But the number of providers is constantly growing. Everyone in the business wants to cash in on a new sense of “holiday” and a completely new living concept.

The idea of living on the water used to be for people seeking freedom and adventure outside conventional society. But these days, houseboats aren’t just for renegade captains scorning the capitalist order and living on rickety, poorly heated, converted barges. Many investors are seeing an opportunity to do good business with the sale of house boats in Germany.

Even the staid German coffee and consumer goods retailer Tchibo has discovered the appeal of houseboats. The company, in partnership with houseboat producer Nautilus, has been selling three different houseboats at its stores since mid-August. The smallest is only 16 square meters (172 square feet) and costs €88,000 ($117,000).

The comfort of such houseboats is comparable to residences on dry land.

Others cost significantly more. For example, four floating houseboats are planned for an island in the middle of one of Berlin’s many lakes. “They are not planned to be vacation houses, but rather very special homes,” said the architect, Werner Baumhauer.

Mr. Baumhauer designed the houseboats under contract with the Düsseldorf developer Martrade Immobilien. With three stories, a living space of 219 square meters and spacious terraces, the houseboats offer luxurious living on unsteady floors.

And life on the water has its price: €900,000.

While these Berlin floating mansions are scheduled to be ready in 2016, the northern port city of Hamburg already has two families living in floating homes on its Victoriakai bank.

Seven homes are planned, said Tanja Kürten, who is marketing the aquatic dwellings for Floating Homes. With prices between €569,000 and €589,000 for houses offering 115 square meters of living space, floor heating, heated water pipes and a 58-square-meter rooftop terrace, the houses are not much like Tchibo’s bargain boats.

A boat is not a traditional property but a mobile entity. Many banks are therefore reluctant to provide investment.

The comfort of such houseboats is comparable to residences on dry land.

Marie Gest, marketing head of Floating House in Berlin, knows that the feeling of freedom and adventure is easy to sell to high earners.

“Living on the water offers an extremely special sense of living,” Ms. Gest said. “Because it is tied to the greatest of all desires, the desire for freedom.”

And buyers can also earn money from their investments because the Berlin company is specializing in building floating houses that can also be rented as vacation homes, for example, at the Baltic Sea and soon also on the Goitzsche Lake in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

According to Ms. Gest, these homes appeal to wealthy buyers between 40 and 60 years old who plan to use the floating homes several weeks a year. The entry-level model is 44 square meters and costs €200,000.

Floating House is asking €350,000 for the 50-square-meter houseboat.

But for those interested in the more affordable Tchibo deal, it is not so easy to make your permanent residence on a houseboat. “A water permit is required for floating houses,” said the architect, Werner Baumhauer. In Hamburg, a city rich with waterways, officials have put out guidelines for houseboats and floating houses that is 42 pages long.

A boat is not a traditional property but a mobile entity. Many banks are therefore reluctant in providing investment. It is very difficult to get low-interest credits. The financing of such undertakings is more akin to that of luxury yachts. There are still too few cases of house boats in Germany and banks lack experience in the sector. Insurances too have their reservations with the new living concepts.

Legally, the situation is still unclear. It is difficult for buyers of house boats to determine what tax category they fall into.  Are they sport boats or a holiday home? One buyer has registered his house boat as a sport boat but is wary of the fact that his house boat can’t be driven across waters, but only be dragged along.

The plans of German houseboat owners are romantic compared to those made by their European neighbors. In London there are more than 4,000 houseboats and in Amsterdam, a whole city center with around 100 houses was established on water. And plans being made in the Netherlands are still unrivaled across Europe: people there want to build a whole city, swimming on water.

 

Christian Hunziker is a freelance journalist for Handelsblatt. Christian Wermke also contributed reporting to this story. 

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