Where the road meets the water – that’s where you will find it.
Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an incredible view and rent as low as $250 per month. Affordable housing in California can be found on a boat, but the waterfront lifestyle is not all smooth sailing.
Houseboat dock fees can cut average Sacramento rents of about $1,300 in half, but willingness to downsize and forgo some landlubber luxuries are part of the bargain.
Many marinas on the Delta offer what’s called ‘live aboard’ rates, which vary in accordance with marina quality and location. Rhonda Hurles and Matt Lipisko moved onto a 1978 Blue Water Yacht at Village West Marina in Stockton last year. The 46-foot boat has two bathrooms, an upper patio and private sleeping quarters.
“To save money, we did a lot of the upgrades ourselves,” Hurles said. The couple picked up the used yacht for about the cost of a luxury car.
“If you had anywhere from $30,000-$60,000… you can buy a boat. That’s not including repairs,” Lipisko said. Boat life costs the couple about $1,000 per month including dock fees. The lower price tag called for downsizing their possessions, but the minimalist lifestyle suits the couple, whose jobs include travel: Lipisko is an actor and Hurles is a dance teacher.
“We have a lot of freedom on a boat,” Hurles said. “You’d be surprised how little you actually need to live.”
Hurles and Lipisko live at a higher-end marina near Stockton, but marinas with fewer amenities offer lower rents. Brannan Island, at the edge of Sacramento County near the San Joaquin Delta, offers dock fees as low as $250. Howard Ellis moved his 1973 Fair Oak Yacht here a few years ago.
“Divorce! That’s what brought me here,” Ellis said. “It’s a lot cheaper than what I was paying for rent.”
Ellis picked up his two-bedroom, two-bath boat for a few thousand dollars. He too made a lot of the improvements himself.
“I am a single guy – I keep it simple,” he said. “This is a lower-end marina but it’s not the bottom.” His boat is equipped with a washer and dryer. Besides electricity, water, and sewage, his housing costs are less than $450 per month.
Living on a boat can help cut expenses, but the vessel has to meet certain standards. Pacific Boat Service in Stockton specializes in boat restoration. Many of proprietor Ramon Mata’s customers have come to him with buyer’s remorse.
"If they don't get a survey before they buy, it's too late,” Mata said. “They find out the boat needs more work than it’s worth."
Most marinas require up-to-date survey or inspection for entry. There are a lot of cheap boats on the market, but many of them need specialized repairs.
“The only way to inspect or fix the bottom of a boat is pull it out of the water,” Mata said. Most insurance companies require a survey, and the costs for a professional survey can run about $1,000 if the boat must be dry-docked.
“That’s a lot cheaper than buying the boat and being stuck with the repairs,” Mata said.
The average houseboat dock fee on the Delta is $350 to $450 per month, but the stripped-down rent comes with a stripped-down lifestyle: no Internet or cable hookups, water comes from a garden hose and the responsibility for dealing with your own sewage. Expect higher electricity costs to heat and cool a boat with thin walls. To get all the luxuries of dry-land can cost an extra $400-$500 on top of dock feels.
But the good news is, if you find a cheaper dock, it’s easy to move.