-- Generation X is putting its stamp on the home-construction market -- a big, tech-driven, design-oriented stamp.
It's hello media rooms, goodbye living rooms. Goodbye big yard, hello fourth bedroom.
Those born from 1965 to 1979 have redefined what "the comforts of home" mean.
"What's important to us is high quality," said Vince Aman, 38, of the brick and cement board two-story house he and wife, Bonnie, 31, commissioned Trustway Homes Inc. to build on four acres in Wayne, Wis. They chose Pewaukee, Wis.-based Trustway for its attention to detail and willingness to accommodate their design wishes, he said.
The price for their model was $318,900, assuming a 2,868-square-foot size, Trustway President Steven R. Clavette said.
"We exceeded that significantly" by commissioning a larger, more customized house, Vince Aman said.
Among the add-ons in the Amans' nearly finished 3,600-square-foot house: a built-in entertainment center and bedrooms over the garage, well-suited to a couple with two young children and a bevy of in-state family and friends.
"It was quite a bit more expensive," Vince Aman said, "but a good idea for the long run."
The long run is a common home-buying vantage point for Gen Xers, who represented 49 percent of all buyers in 2003, new Commerce Department research shows. Among other 2003 buyers, 33 percent were born from 1946 to 1964; 12 percent were born before 1946; and 6 percent were born after 1979, commerce figures show.
That makes Gen X the industry's 800-pound gorilla, getting pretty much whatever it wants.
"Gen Xers in particular are wielding their buying power to shape today's new-home characteristics," said Jerry Howard, chief executive of the National Association of Home Builders in Washington. "They're techno-savvy and more likely to be house shopping on the Internet. They have a strong awareness of all their options."
His statement accompanied a May 19 report by the association on generational differences among new-home customers.
Builders already knew that customers in their 20s and 30s expect the best, but trade group research discovered they weren't the less-is-more type as long believed.
In fact, they expect more personal space than their "gotta be me" baby-boom elders.
"It's not need; they have smaller families. It's lifestyle," said Gopal Ahluwalia, the builder association's research director.
In focus groups, Gen X buyers emphasized a belief that extra amenities would boost resale value.
Only 15 percent of today's new-home buyers are willing to trade away amenities to make the purchase more affordable, according to his trade group's consumer preference survey.
How do young people finance all this space and amenities? With both spouses' income and, in many cases, heavy debt, Ahluwalia said.
"They want to have everything but can't afford it. Their belief is that home prices will go up, and their income will go up," Ahluwalia said.
Lately, they've been right about home prices.
The U.S. median new-home price in May was $217,000, up from $211,700 in May 2004. In 1980, the median price was $64,600. Meanwhile, the American house size grows and grows -- from an average 1,500 square feet in 1970 to an average 2,300 square feet last year, Ahluwalia said.
His group found, in its consumer preference survey, that 67 percent of Gen Xers consider four bedrooms a minimum, and 77 percent want ceilings at least nine-feet high.
That's more ambitious than baby boomers, of whom 40 percent have a four-bedroom minimum and 65 percent want ceilings at least nine-feet high.
That isn't necessarily pie in the sky. Some people in their 30s are already buying their third house, like the Amans, who now live in the suburb of Sun Prairie, Wis., or their second, like Rebecca and Dodd Miller, who now live in Wauwatosa, Wis.
Such couples have dual incomes, a long-term view -- and equity.
"We want kids, our parents will be visiting a lot, so we're trying to build something with that in mind," said Rebecca Miller, 34, of the four-bedroom, two-bath house she and her husband commissioned Colby Construction Co. in Delafield, Wis., to build in rural-flavored Richfield, Wis.
Like the Amans, the Millers carefully researched Milwaukee builders.
They chose Colby, Rebecca Miller said, based on its reputation for customized quality and willingness to collaborate on rather than direct project design and construction. They're now in the final design phase.
"We're willing to sacrifice things like whirlpool tubs and fancy ranges and put our money more into finished details. We don't want something impressive, but we want it stylish and nice," she said. The couple's design includes a spacious living room, a common area between the bedrooms, 10-foot ceilings, a study, a formal dining room and a sunroom.
"We ended up with a bigger house than we expected -- 3,500 square feet," she said.
The Millers' planned house doesn't have a final cost estimate, but projects this size typically range from $450,000 to $750,000, said Pete Feichtmeier, president of Colby Construction.
Gen X buyers wind up with about the same space as older buyers, but for different purposes, Milwaukee area builders say.
"Young buyers don't want to pay for space they don't use. Maybe their elders always wanted a dining room, but their idea is, 'Can my house be flexible enough to accommodate everyday meal needs?' Maybe they'd rather have a nice dinette or snack counter and skip the dining room," said Joe Orendorf, a partner in Brookfield, Wis.-based Joseph Douglas Homes.
No room is a given with Gen X, Trustway's Clavette said.
"More of our customers are saying, 'Instead of a dining room, living room or great room, let's put our money into a den or a finished lower level," he said. "And a huge thing the last couple years is mud rooms with built-in lockers, and laundry rooms."
Rebecca Miller said her family's wishes, in essence, were simple.
"A lot of new homes might be visually stunning when you walk in, with vaulted ceilings and big open space. But they don't feel cozy, just big and vacuous. We wanted cozy," she said.
Builders hear "cozy" a lot from younger buyers.
"They want all the amenities in their home, so they can be at home," said Craig Rakowski, president of the Metropolitan Builders Association of Greater Milwaukee. He runs James Craig Builders Inc. in Wauwatosa, Wis.
"Home theaters, structured wiring, granite or Corian countertops, built-in hot tubs and saunas, hydrotherapy pools, pizza ovens. It's all about pampering yourself," Rakowski said.