On a bright April afternoon, Shel Suzuki and Brooklyn the bulldog soak in the sun on the deck of their Fisherman’s Wharf float home.
A harbour taxi packed with passengers cruises by and just up the dock, tourists hold up iPads and cameras to take a piece of this scene home.
Inside Suzuki’s kitchen, a two-man work crew is in the final stages of installing the kitchen cabinets back around the hot water heater – that unexpectedly gave out earlier in the day – because today they learned that the cabinets were actually built around the tank. Just another example of how float home life, particularly life in Suzuki’s ultra compact, 347 square-foot floating “hobbit house” is just like life on land, with a twist.
“It’s like any other home,” Suzuki says. “It’s just maintenance. But you can’t find people who’ve worked on float homes before, so this is their first time working on a really small space.”
Suzuki was drawn to the close community following a 2010 visit to Victoria, when along with friends, they spotted the float home, which happened to be for sale, and posed for a photo in front of it. Suzuki was living in Winnipeg at the time and was taken by the copper-roofed float home, dubbed Ziggaratus by previous owners.
“Within two months I bought the place and moved out here – without seeing the inside at all. It was just a gut feeling. I saw the front and thought: ‘I think I could live here.’”
Suzuki’s story is a common one among the 33-home community. One Edmonton import made a deal to purchase his home from the parking lot when he learned it was up for sale during a visit to Victoria. Before Suzuki would experience the warm-weather joys that generally attract new residents to the lifestyle: kayaking off the deck and riding the water taxi downtown with Brooklyn – they had to experience a winter on the water without adequate weather-proofing.
“Because I came in January and didn’t know what the weather was like, I didn’t have a fireplace. I had single pane windows that weren’t great. I had doors that didn’t fit. It was a very cold winter – so cold I had to sleep with a pillow case on my head.”
The following month came a tsunami warning from the earthquake in Japan. The float homes were evacuated within five minutes in the middle of the night. Last February, a homeowner to the community couldn’t sleep through the sound of their wind chimes, and when he got out of bed to silence the noise, he spotted his neighbour’s home floating towards the Inner Harbour, secured by just one rope.
Eventually, the residents woke up, heeded the advice to stay inside, and with the help of several neighbours, secured the home once more.
Suzuki simply laughs at the few close calls they’ve been through and reiterates the need to check and tighten lines regularly. Maintenance costs, such as regular upkeep of the float on which the home is built, are in line with those of living on land. The cost of moorage, paid by square-footage, of the base is comparable to strata fees for condo owners.
Guy Crozier, president elect of the Victoria Real Estate Board sold float homes at Westbay Marine Village in Esquimalt when the community launched in the early 2000s.
The homes have always had a romantic appeal, the Sleepless in Seattle effect, Crozier says.
“A lot of float homes, you can park your car in a covered parking lot, walk down the dock to your float home and jump on your paddle board or in your canoe and go out right from your back door. I think that’s a pretty cool thing to have.”
Since Fisherman’s Wharf isn’t gated like Westbay, residents are in constant contact with tourists drawn to the lifestyle.
“Sometimes in the summer, we’ll leave chalk out here and people will write where they’re from. You’ll come home and see a hundred different places in the world,” Suzuki says. “Advice I give people, that if you want to live down here and it’s your gut to live down here, then you should do it.”
For prospective float home buyers
Advice from VREB president-elect Guy Crozier
Work with someone experienced – “Buyers need to do their due diligence,” Crozier says. Ensure your realtor has experience with the intricacies of float homes, and are willing to exploit that, he says.
Understand the lease – Float homes can be more expensive than a house – without the security of land – so understanding the terms of the lease, and avoiding high costs of relocation is a top consideration.
Inspect the float – Just as prospective buyers on land shouldn’t overlook a home’s foundation, a prudent shopper should investigate what lies below the waterline by contacting a floatation expert to assess the home, in addition to a standard building inspector.