In Amsterdam’s Canals, The 1% Are Increasingly Living Aboard Houseboats

Tiny-home fervor is driving up slip prices in the Dutch capital

Amsterdam Floating Homes
By Tanner Garrity / November 6, 2019 5:50 am

Amsterdam has 165 canals that combine for a length of 60 miles. It’s hard to imagine, cycling over the city’s brick bridges today, a time that the iconic red-painted houseboats were reserved for the city’s struggling artistic types. But that transformation, as recently explored by The New York Times, only took place over the last 20 years.

Companies like UrbanShips, which build bespoke, sustainable houseboats, have taken off, and brought a  fervor to the city’s expansive canal berths akin to the tiny-home movement in the States. There are now around 2,500 lived-in houseboats in Amsterdam (10,000 total in The Netherlands), and many are gorgeous, with impressive living rooms, personal offices and even baby grand pianos. These “ships” have no intention of going anywhere — they don’t have engines — and they’re fast becoming a valuable piece of real estate in Amsterdam.

Prices have increased 30-40% in the last five years, and that’s mainly centered around the canal berth, or the stretch of water where the houseboat is moored. That little parcel of real estate can now cost up to $500,000; because the single Dutch bank that finances these sorts of things will only fund the houseboat (more in the $20,000 range) and not the space itself, owners are slowly becoming an exclusive club. If you do have the means to buy a canal berth, you buy the deed to the boat already docked, and can bring in a new boat if you so desire — thus transferring the deed.

It’s a fascinating system, and a fascinating way to live. Though the dwellings are increasingly becoming a rich man’s game, the Dutch at least seem intent on living in a sustainable way. Many owners heat their houseboats using heat pumps or solar panels, bike as their primary mode of transportation, and take pains to keep the surrounding canal clean. After all, they swim in it when the weather’s nice.

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