In London, a Houseboat Used to Be the Affordable Option. Not Anymore.

When you walk along the towpaths lining London’s 100-mile network of canals, a life on the water can appear idyllic. The boats dotting the winding banks look impossibly charming, romantic, colorful. Even better, they’re cheap to acquire compared with buying a conventional land-based house or apartment in the city.

“It’s so peaceful here,” said David Ros, a freelance sound designer who has been living on the London waterways for 15 years. “I wake up in the morning and open the side door looking out over the river, and the ducks are waiting for me to feed them. It’s just a really nice way to live.”

David Ros relaxes on his houseboat, which sits in the Grand Union Canal in Brentford, a London suburb. He bought the boat about six years ago and renovated it himself.Credit…Jeremie Souteyrat for The New York Times

Mr. Ros, 62, took to the water all those years ago after his marriage broke up and his mother fell ill with cancer. “At the end of that, I didn’t really have much money as I hadn’t been able to work for quite a while,” he said. “I just had enough to buy a boat, so I got one.”

As he spoke, a kingfisher flew by and the sun cascaded through the windows of his 43-foot-long Dutch barge. He bought his current houseboat about six years ago for £30,000 ($38,000). It was a “complete wreck,” he said, so he did extensive renovations. Dating from 1940, the barge has an open kitchen/saloon in the bow, a bathroom with a shower and toilet, and a double bedroom in the stern. It’s a nice setup, if a bit cramped. “The headroom is one of the main disadvantages,” he said.

Mr. Ros says he’ll never to live on dry land again, as he prefers being “surrounded by nature.” But the reality is, he probably couldn’t afford a place he wanted, anyway. Home prices remain out of reach for many in London, with an average sale price of about 508,000 British pounds ($636,000), a 50 percent increase over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, a two-bedroom Dutch barge houseboat in the area will now run you around £190,000 ($238,000).

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