Sanford couple builds ‘floating bungalows’ for residents who want to live on the water

in Sanford News & Events

SOURCE: Orlando Sentinel

Cynthia and Warren Billings had long dreamed of living in a lakefront home after they retired.

But when they saw that waterfront real-estate prices in Sanford were beyond their reach, they opted to build a luxury dream house. Then they dropped it in the water at a Sanford marina.

Their floating bungalow ended up drawing so much attention — with photos receiving more than 47,000 hits on Facebook and appearances on television home-improvement shows — that the couple soon realized there was a market for tiny houses on water.

That’s when they launched their Sanford-based company, Floating Bungalows, which builds luxury homes that float — think house boats — for people who harbor dreams of upscale living on the water but don’t mind cramped quarters.

“We decided to live on the water, simply. And it turns out that we were not alone,” said Cynthia Billings, 59. “We wanted to downsize, but we didn’t want to give up on the luxury.”

In just over a year, their company has built and sold four of their floating bungalows and has two more under construction at a warehouse in DeBary.

Each one-story floating bungalow is about 550 square feet and comes with hardwood floors, granite counter tops, stainless-steel appliances, flush toilets and an outdoor deck. The price tag is about $225,000 each, not including slip rentals at a marina.

The floating bungalows are legally considered boats. However, they are built to withstand hurricane-force winds and strong storms, said Warren Billings, 58.

The windows, for example, are hurricane-rated impact glass. The metal roof is double screwed and able to withstand up to 165-mph winds. The hull is constructed of 1-inch copolymer plastic. Holding tanks can be filled with up to 300 gallons of water to act as additional ballast during a storm.

The floating bungalows are designed to be hooked up to a marina or a home but not built to “live off the grid,” Warren Billings said.

His wife said, “When you’re sitting inside, you feel like you’re inside a home, not inside a boat.”

Kim Hadden, a retired hospital executive and nurse who lives in Honolulu, bought a floating bungalow from the Billingses in 2017 and keeps it at the Boat Tree Marina in Sanford. She rents it to vacationers through the Airbnb and HomeAway rental websites for part of the year and lives in it for a couple of weeks at a time the rest of the year.

“I absolutely love it, and people that rent it say they absolutely love it,” Hadden said. “They love the experience of being on the water.”

The Billingses moved to Sanford after selling their 5,500-square-foot home near Concord, N.H. They had both retired. He was a construction contractor and she headed a nonprofit organization.

“We were done with the cold,” Warren Billings said. “And I wanted to live on the water, but the only homes we found were dumpy houses.”

After building their first floating bungalow in 2015, they parked it at a Sanford marina. They quickly noticed the calm and easygoing lifestyle of their fellow residents, many of whom lived on their boats.

“The first thing you notice while walking around the marina is that no one has a frown on their face,” Warren Billings said. “Everyone is smiling.”

He and his wife also liked they were within walking distance of restaurants, shops and entertainment in downtown Sanford.

Cynthia Billings added that living in a tiny house forced her and her husband to forgo buying items they don’t need.

“Downsizing makes life much less expensive,” she said. “Now we don’t spend money on accumulating stuff. We don’t have the space.”

A smaller living space is one of the reasons Mary Elise Dean of Riverview ordered a floating bungalow from the couple. Her home is being built and should be completed within a year. She then plans to have it transported to a marina in Palmetto, where she will live after retiring as a special-education teacher.

“I’m so excited about it,” said Dean, 63. “I wanted to live by the water and this home has everything you need.”