The birth of your first child can fundamentally alter what you want from your own home. Felix Hauser knows this first hand. The priorities of the father of two and UBS mortgage expert have changed considerably since he started a family.
Mr Hauser, what do you associate with the word “home”?
My wife and I are at home and have our roots in Zurich. Most of our relatives and friends live in the city. This is where we pursue both our professional and private lives. It was always clear to my partner and me that we wanted to raise our kids here, too.
Zurich is an expensive place to live. Did you never think about looking for a house outside the city on the Limmat?
No. Living somewhere else was never an option for us. Of course, we could find more living space for the same cost in the suburbs or in a small village. But we would miss the convenience of urban life, which we really appreciate.
How challenging was the house hunt?
We were incredibly lucky. About six years ago, a couple we were friendly with invited us to their new home. When we saw how their family lived in their single-family row house, we really liked that style of life. Shortly after our visit, a house in the same housing complex went on sale – and we jumped at the opportunity. About half a year after the birth of our first son, we moved into our little castle.
Could you have imagined life in a row house as a 30-year old?
(Laughs) Definitely not. My wife and I enjoyed our life as tenants with all the freedom it offers. Even when she became pregnant, we didn’t think about buying a home of our own. We thought that as a small family, we could live pretty well in our rented flat on the fourth floor.
Today, you see that a little differently.
Perhaps we were somewhat starry-eyed back then. But our priorities ended up changing completely. It became clear how impractical our living situation was with a small child. The building didn’t have a elevator. Climbing the stairs to the fourth floor carrying groceries and a toddler was a real challenge every time. And having the washing machine in the cellar and only a small balcony was far from ideal for the daily needs of a young family.
What factors were decisive in the house hunt?
For us, safety is the highest priority. Our sons must be able to move about freely. This is why we chose a house in a car-free housing complex.
What structural changes did you make?
In terms of facilities and renovation, we only did the most necessary. Kids will leave their mark anyway. That’s why we mainly focused on the safety of our children. We replaced all the window handles. These can now be locked with a key. The stairs were a big deal for us as well. Because we live on three floors, they are always an issue. We childproofed them by installing non-slip carpets and baby gates.
You said that kids leave their mark. Can you give an example?
(Smiles) Of course. Our youngest decided one day that our light, single-colored couch was a little boring to look at. And so he grabbed a pen and got busy. Thankfully, we were able to remove the marks. But ever since, we’ve been even more certain that we’ll only invest in high-end furniture once the boys are older.
Where does life for the Hauser family mainly play out?
Mostly in the living room. Because it is on the ground floor, the kids can go straight out from there into the garden. After moving in, we started redesigning the garden. We made sure we had more lawn space and planted hedges to shield against noise and give us privacy. Whoever comes to visit will notice that our living room and garden are popular playgrounds. Our boys are supposed to tidy up their toys every evening, but this seldom really happens (laughs).
Have you given up certain conveniences in favor of your kids?
As a couple, we used to live in small apartments. We have more space now, despite having two kids. But sometimes we find ourselves longing for somewhere just for adults, where nothing can fall into the children’s hands. At the moment, we only have one such room – which also acts as an office, storage room, library and ironing room.
Were neighborhood schools a decisive factor, too?
The nearest school or kindergarten is never far away when you live in a city. This is also true of our location. So we didn’t really have to deal with the question. It was more important for us to be near our families. The kids’ grandparents should be able to reach us quickly and easily - and getting to them should be just as easy for us.
What are your long-term plans for your home?
The house should remain the center of our lives for the long term. We’ve got some big changes planned for when the kids hit puberty. Their own privacy will become more important to them then. We plan on restructuring the top floor, where we will have our bedroom. And both our boys can then sprawl out on the first floor.
And even more long term, when your sons move out?
We feel very comfortable in the neighborhood and the house. That’s why we can very easily imagine staying in this house once the kids have moved out.
What advice would you give expectant parents in terms of living arrangements?
I actually have two pieces of advice: Life changes completely when you have kids, and your needs with it. I used to want to live on the top floor – because of the peace and quiet. Now, I find it more important to be able to use a garden. The kids and I enjoy going outside straight from the living room. This especially pays off in the summer months. The second piece of advice involves the safety of the kids. It should be a decisive factor. Because we took the right steps right after moving in, we won’t have to think about it all the time.
About Felix Hauser
Felix Hauser (40) has been married for 10 years. Together with his wife and two sons – aged two and six – he lives in a 5.5 room single-family row house in Zurich. As a UBS mortgage expert, he thinks about the topic of home ownership every day.