Our first-home is a £23k house boat – but we're saving up for a house

A COUPLE bought a £23,000 narrowboat to be able to move in together – and they now live mortgage-free while saving for a house.

Gareth O’Sullivan and Nicole Sumner, aged 23 and 25, used five months’ worth of coronavirus lockdown savings to buy their boat in October last year.

The couple had been living with their parents in separate houses and weren’t able to see each other for almost four months of lockdown and were desperate for a place of their own.

They quickly saved up £5,000 together by ditching takeaways and cutting commuting costs while working from home, in Daventry in Northamptonshire.

Gareth, who works in marketing, also ditched his Playstation subscription service, saving him £60 a year.

Plus, the duo got rid of a campervan they’d done up for previous travel adventures, making a £800 profit in the process.

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Keen to move in together but without the full deposit for a house, the couple moved into their boat before the second lockdown in England.

We caught up with Gareth and NHS worker Nicole about life on the water for our My First Home series – and what they’re planning to do next.

The series has been paused for five months due to Covid, but it's now restarting.

Tell me about your home

It’s a 35 foot narrowboat. Some people would say it’s quite a small boat, but it’s a good start in size for us.

It has two entrances, but if you enter at the front, you come into the living area where we got a sofa and TV.


There’s also a multifuel stove, so we can burn wood or coal. And then the kitchen is just to the right hand side of that.

As you proceed down the boat, you’ve got a shower on your right and the bathroom on the left.

We’ve got a portable toilet rather than a built in one, so we have to do the weekly duties of emptying the toilet at the wastage.

Near the shower, we’ve got the bedroom area with a foldable bed, which is a small double.

Why did you buy a boat instead of a flat or house?

We didn’t actually plan to buy a boat originally. We both lived with our parents and wanted to move in together.

We were looking at shared ownership properties and leaseholds, but the cons did outweigh the pros.

I really didn’t want to be stuck in a leasehold, I wanted a freehold house.

But I knew that with my deposit to get a freehold, it’d probably take a few more years to build that up.

So I ended up watching videos about narrowboats and my eyes were just glued to the screen.

That’s when I was trying to persuade Nicole to move to a boat because she wasn’t too keen at it first.

Eventually, we were sort of just looking at boats and decided to view a few of them at a marina.

The second one was Rosebud, which is the one we’re on now, and we ended up putting a deposit down for £1,000 on the same day.

Obviously, this meant we could move in together quicker.

How much did you pay for it?

We paid £21,950 for the actual boat. Then on top of that we had to pay extra fees, like having additional sockets installed.

We also paid £500 for “blacking”, which prevents the boat from corroding when it’s in the water.

It’s good housekeeping that must be done every four years.

Overall, we paid £22,650 for the boat and additional costs.

What help is out there for first-time buyers?

GETTING on the property ladder can feel like a daunting task but there are schemes out there to help first-time buyers have their own home.

Help to Buy Isa – It's a tax-free savings account where for every £200 you save, the Government will add an extra £50. But there's a maximum limit of £3,000 which is paid to your solicitor when you move. These accounts have now closed to new applicants but those who already hold one have until November 2029 to use it.

Help to Buy equity loan – The Government will lend you up to 20% of the home's value – or 40% in London – after you've put down a 5% deposit. The loan is on top of a normal mortgage but it can only be used to buy a new build property.

Lifetime Isa – This is another Government scheme that gives anyone aged 18 to 39 the chance to save tax-free and get a bonus of up to £32,000 towards their first home. You can save up to £4,000 a year and the Government will add 25% on top.

Shared ownership – Co-owning with a housing association means you can buy a part of the property and pay rent on the remaining amount. You can buy anything from 25% to 75% of the property but you're restricted to specific ones.

Mortgage guarantee scheme – The scheme opens to new 95% mortgages from April 19 2021. Applicants can buy their first home with a 5% deposit, it's eligible for homes up to £600,000.

How did you afford to buy the boat?

We had about £5,000 saved up and took out a loan of £19,000 to cover the rest.

I looked around on comparison sites to find low interest rates, and managed to get this loan at a 2.9% annual percentage rate (APR) over a five-year term, so that’s brilliant.

I’ve always been pretty good with my money, so as soon as I get paid I try to transfer £500 or more into my savings.

After we came back from a holiday in Mauritius in December 2019, we decided to put some savings away towards a home.

The first coronavirus lockdown helped as I was working from home, meaning I didn’t have to pay anything for travel.


I also stopped buying takeaways and cancelled my Playstation subscription service.

The Playstation service cost £15 for every three months so it's not much, but it added up.

We were living at home during this time, where I paid £300 a month in rent and Nicole paid around £250.

We also sold a campervan that we’d been travelling with. We bought it for £1,200 and sold it for £2,000 so those savings went straight for the boat.

Overall, it took about four to five months to save up the £5,000.

I earned about £30,000 to £35,000 a year at the time but have since been promoted, while Nicole earns around £18,000-£19,000.

What are the ongoing costs?

Our monthly repayments for the loan are now £340, so they’re quite minimal.

We’ll probably pay that off in four or five years or so, so the boat is completely ours.

We also pay £310 a month because we’re in the marina full-time – this includes our electricity and water.

Those are the main sort of bills, but then there are the odd ones, like the internet, which we pay £24 a month for and we’ve got a TV licence etcetera.

Did you have any issues with the purchase?

Yes, once we put the deposit down we were recommended to get a survey done to make sure everything was in working condition.

It took about two weeks for them to come out and do the checks, and once they did, they found seven or eight things that needed work.

The engine didn’t run, the gas wasn’t coming through and the batteries didn’t start either.



There were a lot of things that needed to be done, so the process was a bit longer than we had expected.

We were hoping it was going to be a couple of weeks before we could move in, but it probably took about a month and a half.

Obviously, this is still nothing compared to when you buy a house, so it was quick in a way.

Was it difficult to adjust living on a boat?

When I was at my parents I had a pretty big ensuite bedroom, probably bigger than the size of the boat.

So moving from that to this, it was obviously quite different because it’s a much smaller place.

But I love it and the independence, and being able to have my own space.

It’s a very close knit community here too, everyone's lovely.

Are you planning to stay there for a long time?

The overall plan is to first pay off the boat in five years, meaning we’ll have no monthly costs afterwards apart from internet bills etcetera.

We want to settle a bit here and then this year start putting some more savings away to eventually have a big enough deposit to buy a house.

If we love the boat life, we’ll probably just rent out the house. If not, we’ll rent out the boat or sell it.

Thanks to lockdown, it will probably be a lot quicker to raise a deposit because we love going out and doing things, but it could probably take another year or a year and a half.

We want to get a deposit for a house with three or four bedrooms.

It's going to feel like a mansion when we move out, if we decide to leave the boat.

The couple are sharing their first-time buyer journey on their YouTube channel Life on Rosebud.

Switching energy tariff and batch cooking helped another couple buy their three-bed first home.

Meanwhile, one family of five bought £3,55 four-bed first home with money from car boot sales and getting rid of a motor.

Plus, a single dad bought a £175,000 two-bed first home by working seven days a week and selling clutter on Facebook.

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