Building the House of Their Dreams

The road to owning a dream home is different for everybody. Urs Viktor Strausak and Martina Feil decided to build their own, and they felt at home in next to no time.

Anyone who travels a lot, is at home everywhere but doesn't quite have a home anywhere wants somewhere to call home after a while. Their own "forever" home. It was just the same for couple Urs Viktor Strausak and Martina Feil. Strausak, 62 years old, has traveled all over the world. Latterly stationed as the Consul General of Switzerland in St. Petersburg, Düsseldorf and Vancouver, he has spent his whole life in large cities.

He and his partner Martina Feil, who is from Stuttgart, met on a flight to the Cape Verde Islands in 2003. They maintained a long-distance relationship for three years before Feil decided to join Strausak abroad. In 2016, the pair returned to Switzerland from Canada. They moved to Ittigen in the canton of Bern, where Strausak owned a condominium.

Choosing Compromise over a Dream House Abroad

However, this only ever felt like a holiday apartment to 52-year-old Feil. "Something was missing" was how they both described their situation on their return: a home they had truly built for themselves. This is because even during their years abroad, they had to settle for compromises, both large and small: not always the ideal location or layout of rooms, lower building standards or technology.

They lived in apartments that were made available by the government or that they managed to find at the time. In the latter case, this usually involved compromise solutions in overpriced or exhausted property markets, as is the case in many large cities. And as they were never in one place for more than four years, their situation was always temporary. In their temporary homes, they rarely changed anything.

The client advisor understood exactly what we were looking for and what we needed. We felt that we were in good hands.

Urs Viktor Strausak, homeowner

Building a House that Met Their Wishes

"Enough is enough," the couple said after returning to Switzerland. Even while he was still in Vancouver, Strausak had started designing his potential dream house using free software. What started out as a bit of fun soon became serious, and the self-designed concept for the home, which now stands in Lohn-Ammannsegg in the canton of Solothurn, was soon born.

Strausak first discussed his plans in general terms with an architect in the region. To see if it would even be possible financially, he wanted to have an affordability calculation carried out. Strausak contacted Credit Suisse. In the branch in Grenchen, a client advisor prepared calculations for a range of scenarios. "His proposals suited us, right from the outset," recalled Strausak. "The client advisor understood exactly what we were looking for and what we needed. We felt that we were in good hands."

Sustainable Construction with Photovoltaics

During the meeting, it rapidly became clear that the apartment in Ittigen would have to be sold to finance the new home. Having retired early, it was important to Strausak to maintain a balance between self-financing and debt financing – while keeping a certain amount in reserve. The location for the building had already been decided: In 2014, Strausak had acquired his parents' house in the village where he himself had grown up and lived for 25 years.

Feil: "I personally was less bothered about where we lived in Switzerland." But the 920-square-meter plot proved to be the ideal site to build the couple's dream home. Due to possible asbestos contamination and a number of other restrictions, Strausak decided with a heavy heart to demolish the parental home that had been built in the 1950s. Strausak and Feil had high standards when it came to energy solutions for their new home, including a heating system run on photovoltaics with a heating pump in order to reduce their dependence on oil and gas as sources of energy as much as possible, not least for the sake of the environment.

Rapid Timescale for Construction Work

The couple completed all of the construction work in record time: Strausak and Feil obtained a cost estimate from the architect in November 2016. They took this to Credit Suisse, and as early as January 2017, the financing was in place in three tranches over five, eight, and 12 years. Strausak is still pleased with the advice they received then: "Thanks to the variant agreed, the first five years of the loan are easily manageable, and even going forward the mortgage should be easy to budget for."

Strausak and Feil moved in at the end of October 2017, just months after the parental home had been demolished back in March of the same year. The couple also had a self-contained apartment built directly onto their new detached house, which can be used in a number of ways. If it is let, it will generate income, but it could also serve as a base for the couple in the future. The new spatial planning law was one reason that drove Strausak to opt for this combination: He wants to set a good example in compact living.