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Baby Boomers Are in Downsizing Mode

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- At 78 million strong, baby boomers usually get what they want as consumer.

That's how we got the Ford Mustang, lite beer, granite countertops and video on demand. The younger half of the boomers famously said, "I want my MTV" -- and they got it.

So when boomers start saying they're tired of "going big" on everything from cheeseburgers to McMansions, businesses better begin paying close attention, and that's exactly what the generation born between 1946 to 1964 is saying now. It's a downsizing world they want, and they're going to get it, but not without the amenities and comforts the materialistic boomers are famous for.

"Those baby boomers who worked hard for and embraced the affluent lifestyle of the 1970s through the middle of the last decade  owning large homes and spacious vehicles -- have reached a turning point," says Sheryl Connelly, global consumer trends and a "futurist" for Ford. "This generation is now trending toward a simpler way of living, one that doesn't eliminate the lavish comforts they've come to enjoy.

"The boomer population has always set the trends," she adds, "and now they've set a course for a more streamlined life that doesn't sacrifice style and comfort."

Ford, along with the multibrand homebuilder Del Webb, commissioned a study on what boomers want these days and found that the demographic is tired of paying huge mortgages for large homes, and big payments for outsized SUVs. Instead, most boomers are turning to smaller, quieter homes and say they want to drive mini-sized, more energy efficient utility vehicles.

Home sizes are going especially full circle.

Del Webb notes that homes sizes have grown from 860 square feet in 1960 to 2,505 square feet in 2012. But the homebuilder says the times really are changing, and that 28% of Americans between the ages of 55 and 59 say they plan to downsize on their next home purchase. Previously, it was the 65-years-old-and-up demographic driving the downsizing, but that is trending younger these days, Del Webb says.

That doesn't mean boomers necessarily want to give up those granite countertops  they're just going be more selective, and more judicious before they sign any checks.

"Boomers may be downsizing," says Steve Burch, vice president of strategic marketing for Del Webb, "but they have worked for a long time, and they don't want to compromise on high-end [home] features."

The same sentiment goes for what vehicles boomers park in their driveways these days. According to Ford, the auto giant says it's seeing more interest in its compact SUV, the Escape, which is 31% smaller than the 2014 Ford Explorer.

Ford says that compact vehicle sales have "steadily climbed" since 2004, and that trend is accelerating 10 years later.

"Trendy baby boomers want to downsize their homes and their vehicles, but they're not willing to give up premium content in either case," says Amy Marentic, a marketing manager at Ford. "Personally, I felt the need to downsize. My children are in college and I have no need for the larger utility any more, but I still want to feel like I'm driving something special."

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