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My Story: Home Is Where Your Houseboat Is

According to Washington, D.C.'s Julianne Waesche, life as a "live-aboard" has its challenges, but it works for those who crave something different. And it can be cheap.

Why do you live on a houseboat? I'm from Seattle. We had a summer home on Bainbridge Island, and many people there live on houseboats. I always thought I'd like to do that, too. About seven and a half years ago, I went down to Gangplank Marina, where 95 people live on houseboats, and bought this one.

What attracted you to the boat? It’s a 45-foot houseboat with two nonworking engines, so it doesn't go anywhere. When I first saw it, it looked like a floating trailer, with plywood floors and hollow-core doors hanging off the hinges inside. It was just horrible. But I liked it for the slip location. It's on the end of the very last dock, so it’s private.

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How much did it cost? I paid $30,000 for the boat plus "live-aboard status," meaning I can live on it full-time. It's hard to get that status now because spots are very limited. I had my contractor put in an additional $15,000 of work, including laying down wood floors over the plywood. And it’s beautiful, just beautiful.

How is the boat outfitted? It’s about 14 feet wide, with a forward deck, an aft deck and two decks above. I have a stateroom with a platform bed and a built-in desk. The boat also has a bathroom, a galley kitchen and salon, and a full-size inflatable bed for guests. The living space is about 450 square feet.

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What are your expenses? My electric bill averages $100 a month. We all pay $35 a month for group cable, and we pay a "slip fee" based on the boat length—$11.50 per foot per month—plus a $150 monthly fee for live-aboard status. I also pay about $1,600 a year for boat insurance.

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How do you handle bad weather? You definitely become hardy in the winters. But when a big storm, such as a hurricane, is predicted, I secure the boat and leave for my vacation home in West Virginia.

What are your neighbors like? Besides the live-aboards, there are recreational boaters, many of whom come from different parts of the world. For example, we had a couple anchored out in the channel from the Netherlands. They sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to get here.

Who should own a houseboat? If you want to drive into your garage and walk into your kitchen, a houseboat is not for you. If you want to drop your kayak off the side of your boat and paddle off, then it's great.

Do you need to be handy? It takes more determination than skill. We live-aboards are resourceful and flexible people. You have to be that way.

This article first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more help with your personal finances and investments, please subscribe to the magazine. It might be the best investment you ever make.

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