This page will point you in the direction of the information you may need when buying a canalside property. If you live abroad and you’re thinking of buying a property in the UK you may also find this page (on this website) useful.
How can I find a canalside home?
There is no single central portal for sourcing canalside homes. Here are the best seven places to look:
- Conduct geographic or keyword searches on Rightmove or Zoopla.
- Without doubt the best place to find them is right here! Click 'Lists' in the menu to see my up-to-date lists of canalside properties, for sale by any agent in the West Midlands and sometimes beyond. You can subscribe to have all my new posts sent straight to your inbox!
- There are very few estate agencies which specialise in canal and riverside properties. As far as I'm aware, I was the only estate agent specialising in selling canalside homes, but my agency is now closed.
- Waterside Properties is a website by the Waterside Network, a group of traditional estate agents with knowledge and expertise of waterfront homes in their areas. The network also publish a glossy magazine called Waterside Life.
- Waterside Estate Agents is a local, independent estate agency that specialises in the sale of property on or near the water, throughout the Norfolk Broads area.
- Water Side Residential specialise in the sale and rental of riverside, island and floating homes on the Thames and its tributaries from Kew to Windsor.
- Would you consider static holiday caravans, lodges or residential park homes? Check out my canalside park homes page.
Things to watch out for
When house hunting for a canalside house, there are several specific issues to watch out for:
- no road access or awkward road access (this can affect mortgageability with some lenders)
- flooding (see below)
- damp (see below)
- noise and nuisance (see below)
- nearby roads and railways (especially motorways and HS2)
- workshops and factories (narrowboat marinas can have some very noisy processes such as welding and shot blasting).
- navigation constraints - your cruising options around your home will be affected by the width, length, and draft of your boat.
- mooring constraints (see my End of Garden Moorings page).
Canals and Rivers
Canals are man-made watercourses. Rivers are natural watercourses. Here is a great information sheet by the Canal & River Trust explaining the difference to children. You will also come across canals which are ‘tamed’ rivers – these can usually be recognised easily by the gentle flow of the water, the type of weeds in the water, the clarity of the water, and the presence of weirs. When you look at Google maps you will often see the name of a river, where in fact you are looking at a navigable ‘canalised’ river, for example the eastern part of the Kennet and Avon Canal is labelled as the River Kennet. This often leads estate agents to misdescribe the waterway on their details.
Every canal and river is administered by a waterway authority, which may be a government department, a business, or a charitable orgaisation. There is a very good list of waterway authorities on the Inland Waterways Association website, or you can check the members’ list on the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities website. Most canals – over 2000 miles of them – are administered by the Canal & River Trust. They have a very good interactive map on their website where you can see routes, information about an area, and nearby facilities on and by the water. Many rivers are administered by the Environment Agency.
One of the first things you need to check when buying a canalside property is the flood risk. Canals are man-made channels with carefully managed water levels and generally they do not flood. However, you will find that many of them are fed by natural water courses, and therefore lie near or alongside streams and rivers which can present a flood risk.
You can check the flood risk of an area by entering the postcode in the Government’s Long Term Flood Risk interactive map. This includes both surface water (from flash flooding) and flood risk from rising river and sea levels. Make sure that you check both types.
Occasionally canals are built above the surrounding ground level using large embankments. Thankfully breaches in the structure of a canal are very rare, and if they occur it is usually possible to close off a section of canal with locks or stop gates to contain the affected area before any severe damage is done. The risk, such as it is, can be covered by insurance.
Damp in a canalside property has much in common with any other property, although there are some special cases. There are many buildings along the canal with their ‘feet in the water’, and yet they show no sign of rising damp. That’s because it probably doesn’t exist! Take a look at this article from Heritage House. Some properties are built directly into a canal embankment, with their basement set below water level. In these properties you may find some dampness. As is usual with any basement, they may benefit from tanking membranes.
Noise and Nuisance
I recommend visiting the property at different times of day and at weekends. Are there many passers by? Is there a bridge nearby which rumbles or clangs as cars and lorries go over it? Lockside properties can be especially noisy. Leaky lock gates suffer from the sound of rushing water sound all day long, but brand new gates are silent. Lock gates are generally replaced every 20 to 25 years, with interim repairs as required. How noisy are the paddles? Most cruising is done during the day, but sometimes a boat will pass through a lock at night, when clanking lock gear can seem very noisy indeed! How do you feel about people knocking on your door for assistance? Or peering into your windows? Is the towpath busy with cyclists and fishermen? Or with troublesome drinkers and graffiti artists!