TALKING HOMES AFLOAT; IS A HOUSE ON A BARGE PRACTICAL? (Published 1983) (2023)

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TALKING HOMES AFLOAT; IS A HOUSE ON A BARGE PRACTICAL? (Published 1983) (1)

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May 1, 1983

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AVIEW of the New York area's beautiful harbors and coastline is a h ighly prized feature of any house or apartment. But moving right o nto the water, given the area's blustery winters, is a way of life m ost people dismiss as too difficult.

Now, however, some manufacturers are making floating homes that they claim are comfortable even in the winter, and they say the day is not far off when such homes will be clustered in permanent floating communities.

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The manufacturers are promoting floating homes as low-maintenance, stable units that can give the middle-income buyer the kind of access to the waterfront that now can be afforded only by the affluent. So far, such homes have escaped taxation as real estate.

The concept that ordinary people can be happy living on the water in the Northeast, however, still is not widely accepted. As a result, people who might be tempted to buy this form of housing should keep in mind that the resale value of floating homes has not been established.

Furthermore, even in the case of houseboats - which, unlike, floating homes have their own motors and hulls - finding an attractive place to dock, or a dock in a particular community, may be difficult.

Nevertheless, some people say living on the water is like being on a perpetual vacation. They point out that there are no lawns to mow and the dawns and sunsets are spectacularly beautiful.

Heretofore, living aboard a boat in this region usually has been a life style chosen in the midst of marital distress or financial crisis or as the result of idiosyncratic taste. Joseph Fitzpatrick, who handles public relations for the New York City Council, has been living on a houseboat in the 79th Street Boat Basin on the Hudson River for more than 10 years.

For a time, he remembers, many of the people living there were divorced male journalists. ''I remember once sitting with four other men who were living there, and we had 11 ex-wives among us,'' he recalled. Motor cruisers and sailboats never intended for full-time living have become permanent homes, and their inhabitants tell shivery tales of chipping ice away from the hulls, carrying water in buckets when water lines freeze, and perpetually wearing hats and jackets during cold snaps.

But the modern floating home, to begin with, has no hull. It is, literally, a house on a barge that can be towed to a dock by a tug. It can look like a chalet, a ranch, a colonial, or virtually any other style. It can be purchased with optional air-conditioning, bay windows or hot tub. On-board sewage treatment systems handle waste.

Builders of the current generation of floating homes maintain that cold weather is not a problem. Heating usually is electric and is metered by the host marina. But E. Richard Gilmartin, who said he expects to begin construction of floating homes shortly in Stratford, Conn., heats his prototype home with a combination of propane, coal and passive solar energy.

Robert Ciano, owner of Harbour View Homes, a manufacturer of floating homes in Patchogue, L.I., said the walls of his homes had an insulating value of R-27. That is more than double the requirement in New York State of R-12.5 for newly built homes.

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In the case of houseboats, however, winter living can be hard. According to Jack Byquist of Holiday Mansion in Salina, Kan., one of the largest houseboat builders in the country, the boats are not recommended for temperatures below 20 degrees.

Most houseboat owners, according to R.E. Perkins, president of the Houseboat Association of America, use them only during warmer months. Prices for floating homes range from a low of about $35,000, for about 600 square feet of living space, to nearly $100,000 with 4 bedrooms and lots of amenities. Houseboats fall roughly in the same price range, but require costly maintenance.

Some banks will grant mortgages on floating homes of as long as 30 years, but a 15-year term is more common. Mr. Gilmartin, whose company, Floating Homes of New England, expects to begin production soon, says his total monthly cost for living in a three-bedroom home, with $40,000 financed for 15 years, is $870. BECAUSE floating homes are still considered boats, no municipality i n the New York metropolitan area has yet moved to assess them as r eal estate for tax purposes. However, with their increasing p opularity, some communities have at least discussed the question. M r. Perkins, for one, said he believed that, should substantial n umbers of people begin to live on the water, taxation would be i mposed quickly.

The resale market for floating homes remains an open question, Mr. Gilmartin said. ''It's true that no one has been building floating homes in this part of the country for very long, but houseboats hold their value very well,'' he said. ''And if those do, these should as well.''

Jack Maier, vice president of Wright Marine, a Long Island boat broker, confirmed that houseboats do hold their value. Mr. Perkins noted, however, that while values have kept up with inflation they have not built up beyond that, as has the value of conventional housing in many areas.

Mr. Ciano is so convinced that the floating-home lifestyle will prove popular, he said, that he is planning to build two floatinghome parks, one with space for 260 homes and another with 60. He would not disclose their locations. If his plans materialize, the parks would solve one of the problems associated with both houseboat and floating-home living: where to locate.

Most marinas on the North Shore of Long Island, for example, have so much business that they either have no room for live-aboards, or consider them a bother they can do without. In New York City, according to Jon Benguiat, assistant commissioner for waterfront development in the Department of Ports and Terminals, live-aboard homes must conform with city housing, zoning and fire codes. That means, he said, that floating homes or houseboats can not be made of wood or ordinary fiberglass.

The 100 floating homes and houseboats at the 79th Street Boat Basin, and the dozen at the World's Fair Marina in Queens, may, therefore, violate the fire code. But city officials, realilzing that these communities grew spontaneously, are now concentrating on correcting fire hazards such as the absence of proper alarm systems that are the responsibility of concessionaires who run the marinas.

Space at 79th Street, which costs less than $200 a month on an annual basis for a 35-foot boat, is so desirable that the operator there will not even accept names for a waiting list. A few slips are available at the World's Fair Marina, at similar prices.

Slips can also be found on the South Shore of Long Island, in Westchester County, southern Connecticut and along the New Jersey shore. Most also cost about $200 a month. But one Long Island Marina said it charges about $80 a month on an annual basis for a 36-foot slip.

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