Are they are a financial reality?

I spent quite a bit of time in and around Seattle's Lake Union. If you aren't familiar with the area, it's full of house boats, one of the biggest communities of the dwellings in the entire world. From the outside, the houses are adorable--many come with wrap-around wood porches complete with potted plants, others have kayaks docked to what are essentially their front yards. I always had a pipe dream of owning a house boat someday, but had dreams of the 1958 Sophia Loren movie, Houseboat, with its leaky ceilings and sprawling unseemliness. Worst of all, I thought that trendy houseboats must cost more money than a house.

I was wrong on one of the counts. Houseboats do require a lot of maintenance--sea water is corrosive to the boat's hull, but they also don't require the same kinds of maintenance required for homeowners. For example, houseboat owners don't have to worry about landscaping upkeep or costs.

There are other benefits to living afloat. Boat owners get mortgages that generally require 20% of the cost upfront and last for 10 to 15 years. That means if you buy a $50,000 houseboat with $10,000 down and a 15-year mortgage, you'll only be paying $370 per months--significantly less than rent on an apartment. Plus, you'll get the same tax deductible interest you'd have on a home mortgage. You also won't have to pay school or property taxes required of a homeowner.

The most realistic way to live aboard a houseboat is to live in an inland lake, like Lake Union. A boat like this can run anywhere from $300 to $1,500 a month, plus additional costs for electricity, heat and air-conditioning.

Costs for sewage pump-out and insurance on the boats is where the expenses start to add up. The bill for sewage pump-out, as estimated by the EPA, is the most exorbitant--with costs at about $550 per week. Insurance for that same $50,000 boat will run around $700 a year, with a $750 initial fee to have the boat inspected. Plus, most boat experts estimate that boat maintenance will run about 10% of the original cost of the boat each year. For our $50,000 boat, that's about $5,000 in maintenance each year--and that doesn't even begin to consider what you'll while your house is out of commission.

Houseboats are certainly attractive, but still uncharted, territory for most potential property owners.