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Floating Homes Find Favor in South Florida

Nine-foot floor to ceiling impact windows is one of the first wow factors you see after stepping aboard the Luxuria. It only gets better from there. Motorized shades and blinds control the amount of sunlight shining in, while an Internet controlled Lutron lighting system illuminates the decently-decorated interior at night. On the first floor, tell-your-friends features include a LED fireplace in the living room, Cesar stone counter tops in a kitchen outfitted with top-of-the-line shore-side-size appliances. The second floor keeps your jaw in a dropped down position. The master suite’s bathroom comes with a Roman soaking tub and there’s a handy wine refrigerator nearby. What makes this 46-foot long, 24-foot wide, 2,208-square foot mini mansion so different is that it’s a U.S. Coast Guard certified navigable vessel. Built on the foundation of a 50,000-pound steel barge at the Lauderdale Marine Center, the Luxuria is equipped with Suzuki 300 HP outboard engines for when owners want to change location and docked at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale, when they desire land-side services and amenities just steps away.

“The Luxuria is a floating home,” says Bob Rowe, president and chief executive officer of Pompano Beach, Florida-headquartered Global Boatworks LLC, who tested these waters by building and living on his first model, the Miss Leah, in Boston Harbor, before moving to South Florida and establishing the company in 2014. “It’s not a house boat. We try to get away from using the term houseboat in favor of luxury living vessel.”

Castano Bungalow
Castano Bungalow

The Luxuria is for sale at $1.5 million.

Floating homes have grown in popularity from single residences to whole communities in places such as the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Now, they are gaining in interest in Florida, a natural locale for this type of lifestyle due to year-round warm weather and miles of waterways.

One trend driving fascination for floating houses is the small home movement, says Cynthia Billings, who with husband Warren, own Floating Bungalows, in Sanford, Florida, on Lake Monroe. It’s a business the couple started after not just wanting to downsize from a larger family home up north, but to do so in a warm climate, in comfort and literally on the water. They construct two models, a one-story and two-story.

“We wanted to simplify life at our age in terms of finances, housework and quality of life, but we still wanted the luxuries like the granite countertops and a washer dryer. Plus, better than a house next to the water, our bungalows are actually vessels and they are right on the water,” says Billings, who adds that the vessels range in price from $225,000 to $250,000.

A key aspect of the Billings’ Floating Bungalows, which are 12- by 32-foot Coast Guard inspected boats built to American Boating and Yacht Council Standards with approximately 550-square feet of living space, is the hull. Instead of the more typical pontoons, the hull is constructed of thermal plastic that flexes on impact and doesn’t dent, crack or rust. Sheets of this material are welded together to make a single solid hull that is strong yet lightweight.

Another trend driving favor for floating homes, especially in Florida, is the high price and relative scarcity of waterfront real estate. Additionally, there is the factor of climate change and fact that today’s waterfront land may be tomorrow’s sea bottom.

“Livable yachts are safe when it floods and mobile so that they can be moved to different places. It’s the best of waterfront living and yachting,” says Nicolas Derouin, managing director at Miami, Florida-based ARKUP LLC, a company that introduced its concept for a fully electric, self-elevating and mobile, sustainable, and hurricane secure up to a Category 4 yacht at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat show in 2017. The company is building its first vessel, which is a 75-foot long, 32-foot wide, 4-bedroom, 4.5 bath residence with a total of 4,600-square feet of indoor and outdoor space that will sell for $3,500,000. Construction is taking place at the RMK Merrill-Stevens’ shipyard on the Miami River. It is being designed and engineered according to Coast Guard standards for navigation in partially protected waters or a maximum of 20 nautical miles off the U.S. coast. Completion is expected this summer.

Floating homes are the best of both worlds for some, but not for others.

“If you want to live on a vessel that you can take routinely over to the Bahamas or farther, this type of lifestyle isn’t for you,” says Floating Bungalows Billings. “If, however, you want to live right on the water, surrounded by wildlife and tie a small boat right up to your porch, this is for you.”

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