There’s nobody more entrenched in floating homes than Seattle realtor Courtney Cooper. She first fell in love with life on the water as a teenager in Sausalito, California, but some years later, her car broke down in Seattle and she never left. Soon after starting her career in real estate, she had an opportunity to host an open house at a floating home and knew she’d found her calling. “Every single dock is different, every single home is different, every single neighborhood is different,” she explains. “I really was interested in that challenge.”
With her business partner Molly Cartwright, Cooper went on to form two real estate outfits: Cooper Cartwright for homes on the land and Seattle Afloat for homes on the lake. She also owns and lives in her own dockside abode in Portage Bay and is vice president of the Seattle Floating Homes Association.
She loves homes on land, too, and researching historic homes in neighborhoods like Queen Anne. But when asked about what kinds of off-lake homes she likes to sell, a pattern emerges: “Waterfront! I’m just a water baby.”
When she lost her keys in the water—twice
I was locking the house up [after my first open house] and I dropped the key in the lake, and I had to call the listing agent who thought I was an idiot. And I was. I watched it bounce, bounce, bounce, and then land perfectly in the hole [in the dock]. The only other time I’ve done that is when I bought my first floating home. Years later, the day I closed, I did the exact same thing on my house, but it's only happened to me twice. I learned to get floats on my keys.
When a cat held her hostage
I went to look at this condo up in Everett early in my career. All of the sudden a cat—and I had been in there for 10 minutes—the cat just all of a sudden went psycho and started growling [and] started grabbing at me like a tiger in a zoo or something. I ended up getting on top of the kitchen table and it was trying to jump up and get me, but it was too fat to jump on the table. So I’m like, Okay, I’ve got to get the hell out of here. There was no cell service.... I couldn’t call someone to come help me. I basically took one of the chairs and I kind of toro-ed myself out of there like I was bullfighting, and that thing was trying to kill me all the way out.
When she found the perfect partner
We were at Windermere and [Molly] asked if I would mentor her and I said, No, I absolutely want to work by myself, I didn’t want to work with anyone. She asked me probably six more times and finally I said fine, because I didn’t want to do an open house one weekend. I said, “You do this open house for me. Let’s partner on this listing and see how it goes.” It went great and we’ve only “broken up” one time for six months in two decades. We’ve outlasted ex-husbands. Most of the time people think we’re married—we’re not! That’s been a good partnership. Her weaknesses are my strengths and vice versa.
When buyers realize floating-home life is not for them
Molly and I have seen naked people in close proximity in other floating homes while we were showing a floating home and those buyers decided that they did not want to live that close to their neighbors. That’s always interesting. We also get a lot of naked people out in the lake. It’s fun showing people the lifestyle, but it’s not always perfect.
What new floating homeowners discover about their furniture
With older [homes], they think the logs are what’s floating us. There’s barrels underneath the logs, and each barrel has an uplift of 450 pounds. If you bring a piano in, one corner of your house is going to be crooked.... They're always pretty surprised by that, because they just think that it’s going to stay steady. I remodeled this kitchen and I brought in a giant slab of quartzite, and I had to have the diver in the very same day to level the house because those guys stepped in and the house just went ka-kook. I’m painting my son’s room now and I had to move all his stuff out and my house was tipping just a little bit. I know I’m going to move his stuff back in, so I’m not going to call the diver, but I am sleeping with my head at the other end of my bed.
On finding secrets below decks
We pulled up the carpet once to help the seller freshen it up, and we found a booze hatch in the floor, so that was super cool. And when I was remodeling my kitchen I found 1970s Rainier box parts used as shims for my floor. So that goes along with those old stories where you hear about T-shirts being stuffed in for installation and, and there’s a lot of stuff that just kind of gets put in the walls around here.
Yep, a booze hatch
[Longtime floating home resident Jann McFarland] tells me about how they had this dance hall, and before that there was a booze boat, a secret moonshine boat that went around Lake Union and anytime they were going to get busted, they just threw everything down in the booze hatch.
Why floating home prices are skyrocketing
Seattle hasn’t really gone up and down that much. It’s slowed down at times over the last decade and the suburbs have definitely crashed, but as things were going up and down floating homes were just doing a steady incline—they’ve never gone up and down. When Covid hit people realized they wanted something different. So our prices have gone extremely up in the last couple of years—obviously all over Seattle too, but I think with floating homes in particular, just because they are so unique and you’re looking at water and water is peaceful and healing; people just really want to have that lifestyle. And so they’re paying a premium for it now.
When she moved into her own floating home
My son’s almost 15 now. [When] he was a two-year-old, I would take him around looking at [floating homes], or if I had to preview or put key boxes on I would put a life jacket on him and take him around, but I definitely did not want to live on one yet. Then he got really sick. He had the right half of his brain removed almost six years ago. At that point I wanted a healing house for us and I felt like the water was where it was at. He loves swimming, he loves inner tubes. That surgery saved his life and made him better, but this dock took care of me. Having neighbors that take care of you and watch you is really nice.