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In tight property market, some Germans turn to houseboats

Houseboats in Berlin are coming into focus as property markets tighten. Source
Houseboats in Germany are increasingly in demand as property prices rise and available apartments dwindle.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s property market is attracting lots of interest, as interest rates remain low and investors look for a safe haven from the euro-zone crisis.

  • 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 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.

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).

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.

 

Hamburg houseboats. Source: Floating Homes
Hamburg houseboats. Source: Floating Homes
Hamburg houseboats. Source: Floating Homes

 

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.”

In Hamburg, a city rich with waterways, officials have put out guidelines for houseboats and floating houses that is no fewer than 42 pages long.

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.

Ms. Gest estimates that an owner can rent a houseboat 150 days per year, generating significant rental income. Those wanting to rent a 44-square-meter houseboat in the seaport town of Ueckermünde on the Baltic coast can pay about €1,100 per week.

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.

Berlin architect Arthur Fischer found out how tricky the approval process can be.

He has wanted to build eight floating homes on the Rummelsburger Lake in Berlin since 2007. He signed a building lease contract with the federal government, which is the owner of the area of water. Although the idea for floating homes came from a company doing business with the Berlin city government, according to Fischer, officials denied the water permits with the argument that floating houses would hinder restoration of water quality in the river. Now the courts must decide.

And what is living in a houseboat on the water actually like?

“It moves a little, similar to being on a dock,”said Mr. Fischer.

Those who want it a little less shaky can opt for a home near the water, but not directly on it, such as in a boathouse on Harburg Castle Island in Hamburg. A property located there has 20 condominiums and ten integrated boat slips, from which one can directly reach the condo by elevator.

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