You Live In What? Three People Share Their Experience Living In A Unique Home

Lauren NowackiNovember 27, 2019

When you grow up in a state surrounded by lakes, a love for water is almost ingrained. My husband and I love being on the water, so it was only a matter of time that we would begin our search for a home near the lake. As we searched, my husband jokingly sent me the link for a houseboat for sale – a type of home I had never considered. Wait, we could actually live onthe water? The more we talked about the benefits, the more we bought into the idea. No property taxes?! No yard maintenance?! Sign us up. From there stemmed an interest in learning more about living in several different kinds of unique homes. I had to learn more, so I went to the pros, the people who have actually experienced life in an unconventional living space. Here’s what they had to say about a few of my favorite unique housing options.

Unique Home #1: Recreational Vehicle

For more than 2 years now, Jessica Carter has been living in an RV with her husband Matt and daughter Phoenix and documenting life on the road through her Instagram account, Driving Serenity.

“We moved many times over the years and had friends all over the U.S. We wanted to take some time to visit everyone and see America's beauty,” she said of her family’s decision to live in an RV. “Plus, we wanted to let our daughter experience more of the world firsthand, not in a book.”

And so they started their adventure with a plan to live in the vehicle for 6 months. “But when 6 months came around,” she says, “we still had so much we wanted to see and do, that we kept going!”

Benefits Of Living In An RV

When asked about the best parts of living in an RV, Carter responded with an enthusiastic, “So many good things!” Topping her list of benefits were having different backyards to explore and new places to discover, staying in the country’s national parks and, of course, visiting with friends and family across the U.S. whom they haven’t seen in years.

Along with the benefits listed above, there are several more. For one, you can move whenever you want. You literally pick up your home and move it anywhere at any time. No need to hire a REALTOR®, go through the buying process or put the home up for sale.

Living in an RV also promotes a healthier, active lifestyle. Avid travelers will love the idea of being able to make their way across the country and still return to their own bed every night. Along with inspiring more travel, RV life also encourages you to explore the outdoors instead of sitting inside on the couch, watching TV. And all of the travel and time spent in nature will lead to some pretty great personal growth.

Drawbacks Of Living In An RV

While Carter enjoys the benefits of RV life, she also admits there are some drawbacks to consider – the biggest one being space. “We all go a little stir crazy at times in a smaller space, especially when it rains” she says, adding that not getting enough alone time is another drawback to living in this type of unique home.

Space isn’t the only issue that comes with such a structure. Since you’ll be driving your home around, you’ll likely endure stressful situations that come with such a large vehicle. It may be more difficult to find parking, change lanes on the highway and navigate narrow or one-way streets. Add all of those issues on to typical driving stressors, like traffic jams, bad drivers and road-ragers, and you’ll quickly learn having a house on wheels isn’t always ideal.

Costs Of RV Life

The finances involved in RV life can be both a benefit and a drawback. When it comes to financial benefits, there are several ways you can save money, including not paying a mortgage. Instead, you pay for a place to park.

“We are part of a camping membership, with annual dues, that allows us to bounce between member campgrounds for ‘free.’ It’s kind of like a timeshare,” says Carter. “If we stay within those campgrounds, we have no monthly rent, electric, cable, or water. We only pay for our propane gas for heating and cooking, which is about $20/month. Otherwise, it is just the usual health insurance, cell phone, groceries and gas.”

Of course, there are expenses that are unique to living in an RV. According to Carter, the biggest expenses include diesel gas and maintenance for their truck and rig.

“We put a lot of miles on our truck and trailer and we want to be safe at all times. Preventative care is much greater an expense when you re-park your house every 2 – 3 weeks, versus taking the occasional camping trip,” she says. “Additionally, remodeling the RV adds up. We do it slowly since we live it in, but we are constantly trying to add more homey touches and make it more comfortable.”

Along with maintenance and upgrades, you’ll need to prepare for repairs as well. Driving over bumps and other rough terrain will cause a mini earthquake in your home every time. This may cause items to move and things to fall and break. This kind of motion, paired with road and weather conditions, can also damage the actual structure itself.

Among the expenses you’ll incur by living in a trailer, the biggest will be purchasing the RV to live in. The amount you’ll pay will depend on the size and type of the trailer, its features and whether you purchase new or used. While some of the most expensive RVs in the world come with a price tag of up to $3 million dollars, the average price of an RV can range from $10,000 to $300,000. You won’t be able to get a mortgage on it, but you can finance it through an RV loan or personal loan.

While you can sell the RV when you’re done with life on the road, it isn’t like a home, which usually appreciates in value. You may be able to get some money back on your trailer, but you won’t build equity in it like you would in a home.

More Information On RV Life

If you’re interested in living in an RV and want to learn more, Carter advises using the internet to find resources and supportive RV communities.

“Contact other full-timers for advice. We have an amazing community of full time RV families that love to help others be successful,” she says. “Research on the internet, too. There is so much more to RVs and maintenance than you first think. YouTube videos helped us during preparing ahead of time and renovating our first RV. We also used it for advice on remodel projects and where to travel.”

Unique Home #2: Sailboat On The Water

Instead of the open road, Ariel Terbrueggen chose to live on the open seas when she decided to join her now-husband, Brian, for some sailing around the Bahamas.

“I just decided to give up my apartment and spend a few months in the Bahamas before coming home and finding a place,” she said. “We ended up getting serious in our relationship and I decided not to move back. I fell in love with the boating lifestyle, so when Brian asked me to move aboard, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.”

Benefits Of Living On A Sailboat

While you can dock a sailboat in a marina, Terbrueggen and her husband anchor their boat out, which means there are no neighbors to deal with and she has unobstructed views of the water, sun and stars.

“I think the best part of living on a sailboat is the scenery,” she says. “Being in a place with minimal light pollution and being able to see the Milky Way at night is magical. The sunrises and sunsets are pretty stellar, too.”

Just like the owners of the other unique homes we talk about, Terbrueggen appreciates the flexibility that comes with her living space. “I love than I can just pull the anchor and take my home anywhere I want,” she says

Drawbacks Of Living On A Sailboat

When it comes to the disadvantages of living on a sailboat, it’s more the inconveniences than anything else for Terbrueggen. “There’s no ‘running up to the store.’ You have to get in the dinghy, ride to shore, then get in your car and go to the store. Getting groceries out to the boat is a bit of a hassle, too.”

Since you’ll be on the water, there is also the risk of getting motion sickness. While you’ll eventually get used to the light rocking of the boat, you may never get used to being caught in the throes of a gnarly storm. And when you’re on the water, the storms can get pretty bad. As Terbrueggen warns, “Make sure you’re ready to weather any storm, because you will out there.”

Costs Of Living On A Sailboat

Since having a baby, Terbrueggen and her family haven’t lived on the sailboat full time, but when they did, they only had a few expenses. “We only paid for car insurance and health insurance. The only expense that was exclusive to living on the sailboat was paying for dockage for our dinghy, which we only had to do occasionally. We always tried to find the free public docks,” she said.

Thanks to her home setup, there are other typical living expenses she’s avoided on the boat as well. “We have solar panels that run everything on the boat. And we didn’t have any property tax or rent to pay [while we lived there.]”

Just like an RV, the price you’ll pay for a sailboat will depend on its size and length and if you purchase it new or used. If you decide to keep it at a marina instead of anchored out, you’ll also need to pay a docking fee, which can cost up to $5,000 on average, according to Improve Sailing. However, the price will depend on your boat and location. Improve Sailing also found the average price of a new sailboat to be $2,500 – $50,000 per foot. On average, a used sailboat will cost $735 – $14,300 per foot.

Unique Home #3: Houseboat On The Marina

When he was a teenager, Jon Silvestro lived on his grandparents’ houseboat while his home was being renovated after a fire. A houseboat is a boat that was designed to be used as a primary residence and often looks like a house. It is typically larger than a regular boat, with bathrooms, bedrooms and a kitchen. While some can move along the water, they are usually moored, or kept stationary, at a dock. Wondering what life in a houseboat may be like for your kids? Silvestro shared his experience me below.

Benefits Of Living On A Houseboat

“It was cool waking up on the water every day,” says Silvestro of the benefits of living on a houseboat. “And the light rocking from the waves made it easy to fall asleep.” Along with peaceful movement, his family also enjoyed peace and quiet, for the most part. “There were no noisy neighbors, except on the weekends.”

The location made it easy to enjoy time with friends who, according to Silvestro, all wanted to come hang out at his unique home. To him, one of the best parts of living on a houseboat was having to only walk 10 feet to fish.

Drawbacks Of Living On A Houseboat

Of course, it wasn’t all leisurely when it came to living on the houseboat. Silvestro remembers some of the daily challenges, too. For example, they always had to make sure the power and water were connected and he had to deal with the chore of getting the waste tank pumped out – a common complaint of other houseboat residents.

Not only did he have to give up such creature comforts as cable TV and internet – which may not be a problem now with wi-fi and smart phones – he also had to give up literal comfort. Just like on a sailboat, there was no personal space, he says, and the motion that was brought on by bad weather was a bit of an inconvenience. “Storms made the boat rock like crazy and bump up against the dock nonstop, which made it hard to sleep,” he says.

Costs Of Living On A Houseboat

Silvestro was too young to remember the expenses his family paid while living on the boat – except for the cost of bait for fishing, of course.

On average, you can expect to pay a mooring fee, which may include utility costs. You’ll also need to pay homeowners insurance, which may be more expensive than a traditional home since there is more wear and tear on a home that is literally sitting on water. Whether your house will be taxed as property will depend on the state you live in; but if it is taxed, it will just be on the structure itself, not any lot. There are also other costs associated with owing a houseboat, including maintenance, repairs, gas and heating. On average, all of the costs mentioned above, including docking, add up to around $6,000 per year. But, again, that will depend on where you live.

The cost of the boat itself will depend on how nice the boat is and where you dock it. In some areas of the U.S., you can get a good, used boat from $20,000 – $80,000. On the Pacific Coast, where houseboats are popular, you should expect to pay more.

The price of a houseboat will ultimately depend on what type of amenities you want in your unique home. Some come with stainless steel appliances, master bedrooms and even hot tubs. If you want it to be a little more house-like, with numerous rooms and features, you’ll pay much more – usually six figures.

While the price of a houseboat can be the same price for a traditional home, you’ll have a harder time finding a lender that will offer a mortgage on this type of dwelling. When you do find one, be prepared to pay higher rates than on a traditional house. Since these loans are unique, harder to find and may involve more risk, lenders tend to charge higher interest on them.

Moving Into A Unique Home

One of the things all of these unique homes have in common is that they may require downsizing due to limited space.

“Start sorting and purging ASAP,” says Carter. “The faster you can detach from excess belongings before the day arrives, the smoother the transition will be.”

“You definitely need to prioritize the things in your life,” says Terbrueggen. “There is minimal storage on a boat and every little bit counts. Make sure you’re actually going to use something before taking it aboard.”

Even then you may find you don’t need everything you thought you would. After selling a lot of their possessions through a yard sale and online listings and donating to others, Carter says her family still brought too many things on the road, and they ultimately donated and threw out even more items. For possessions they just couldn’t part with, all three families rented a storage unit to store their stuff.

As for postage, all three families used the help – and addresses – of family and friends nearby. Terbrueggen also used a P.O. Box when they were anchored in the Keys and Carter sometimes used the address of whatever campground they stayed at or the General Delivery of the nearby post office.

Homeownership Resource For Wherever You Live

Whether you decide to live in one of these unique abodes or go the more traditional route, the Rocket HomesSM blog is your resource for tips on finding a home, moving to a new place and decorating and maintaining your new dwelling – whether that’s on the road, on the water or on your own little piece of land.

As for my family’s next home, a houseboat may still be in our future – though the idea of living in an RV has also been added to the list. Whatever it will be, I know it won’t be a traditional house. What will determine our decision – and what may determine your own – is what the future holds in terms of whether we stay in Michigan and what our careers will allow us to do. Maybe a couple years from now, I’ll be writing a follow up from a national park or tiny marina in the corner of the world with limited Wi-Fi. Stay tuned.

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Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.