Seller’s not sleepless over this sale

Marketplace Staff May 6, 2008
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Seller’s not sleepless over this sale

Marketplace Staff May 6, 2008
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BOB MOON: Here’s yet another casualty from the softening credit market: Word that General Electric’s consumer-finance division will no longer provide loans to buyers of recreational vehicles and most watercraft.GE Money has notified manufacturers it’ll stop offering boat and RV loans as of August 1st. It’s apparently not making enough of a return on those loans.

There are some less-troubled waters: The market for houseboats seems to be, shall we say, floating right along. And it just so happens that one of the most-famous houseboats in the world is up for sale. From KPLU in Seattle, Chana Joffe-Walt takes us on a tour:


Chana Joffe-Walt: At the end of a long, skinny wooden dock, under whirling seaplanes and a cloudless sky, there sits a realtor who has been waiting a decade-and-a-half to say these words:

RICK MINER: We’re aboard “Sleepless in Seattle” we call it — the real thing. This was in the movie 15 years ago.

And now it is Rick Miner’s to sell. The Sleepless in Seattle Houseboat, the very one from the 1990s Tom Hanks romantic comedy. It is the holy grail of floating real estate.

Miner specializes in houseboats. He shows me around the 2,000 square-feet, in and out of four bedrooms, and into the living room:

MINER: Here you can see in the living room there’s just open windows and a sailboat over on one side. And there’s open water everywhere. And you step out onto the deck, and you just have this grand view. You can’t get any further out on the lake without swimming or being in a boat.

OK, in case you missed the “Sleepless” thing, a quick summary:

Tom Hanks is a widower in a houseboat — this houseboat. He talks loneliness with a radio show host. Meg Ryan hears it. And then the two fall in love on the top of the Empire State Building.

And then houseboats become a national romantic fantasy:

CONRAD WOUTERS: It really helped. It really did.

Conrad Wouters is CEO of Federal Mortgage in Seattle. He’s been financing houseboats for 25 years. It’s his love. But he does land too. And Wouters says Seattle real estate has remained much stronger than the rest of the country but it has been slowing down recently.

Except for houseboats. Houseboats are their own breed. It doesn’t matter what happens in the rest of the country. They exist on a different plane — on floating logs actually. Houseboats may bob with the cool water but not with the land market:

WOUTERS: No, it doesn’t go up and down. It just goes up. It just constantly goes up.

That’s mostly because they’re popular — Thank you, Tom Hanks — and there aren’t a lot of them. Add a little star value to that and . . .

WOUTERS: The house is listed for $2.5 million.

But realtor Rick Miner prefers not to focus on the price but the product. With hand on shoulder he leads me back out to the deck.

MINER: It’s quiet out here, isn’t it? It’s really quiet. And where else would you want to be in Seattle then out here on Sleepless in Seattle?

JOFFE-WALT: Did Tom Hanks touch this?

MINER: Did he touch this? Yeah, they shot the entire, let’s go back into the living room here . . .

This tour could go on forever. All the things Tom Hanks did or might have touched, and the view speaks for itself. It’s what makes this one of the most expensive houseboats in America.

Rick Miner hasn’t gotten any offers. Yet. But he says the independent houseboat market always pulls through.

In Seattle, I’m Chana Joffe-Walt for Marketplace.

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