Uncategorized June 26, 2024

The Symbol of Mortgage Freedom: The Metal Eagle

In the United States, there are roughly 81.5 million owner-occupied homes. Of these, more than 31.3 million, or about 38.5%, do not have a mortgage, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. While being mortgage-free is a significant achievement today, it was once so notable that homeowners would display a symbol to announce their freedom from debt: a metal eagle.

If you drive through older neighborhoods or own an older home, you might still see this symbol—a metal eagle—displayed proudly. These eagles, made of wood, cast iron, bronze, or other dark metals, can often be found above garages and front doors. At first glance, you might think the eagle is simply a patriotic emblem, given that the bald eagle is America’s national bird.

However, this symbol has a deeper meaning. To understand the significance of these eagle plaques, we need to go back about 70 years.

A Post-War Tradition

After World War II, American soldiers returned home and many took advantage of the newly signed Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, better known as the G.I. Bill. Signed into law in 1944, the G.I. Bill provided veterans with funds for college, unemployment insurance, and housing. Within a decade, 4.3 million home loans had been granted, and 20% of all new homes built post-World War II were bought by veterans.

This era was marked by strong national patriotism, which seemingly sparked a tradition among homeowners. As they paid off their mortgages, many hung eagle plaques above their front doors, garages, or other parts of their homes to signify they were free from debt. This decor, sometimes known as a “freedom flyer,” became a symbol of financial independence.

The Tradition Today

“The tradition continued for decades, but much of its history has been lost to time,” says Chris Varsek, the lead real estate agent with The Varsek Team in Illinois. Today, nearly 2 in 5 homeowners are mortgage-free, according to Census data. In West Virginia, more than half (53.3%) of the 531,000 owner-occupied homes are mortgage-free, meaning about 283,000 homes could, in theory, display a “freedom flyer.”

Mortgage-Free Homes Across the U.S.

The interactive map below shows the percentage of owner-occupied homes without a mortgage, based on five-year estimates from the Census’ annual American Community Survey, released in 2022. The darker the blue, the higher the percentage of mortgage-free homes.

Mississippi is the only other state where over 50% of owner-occupied homes are mortgage-free. Meanwhile, Colorado, Maryland, and the District of Columbia have rates below 30%. This lower rate is partly due to the high mobility in the District of Columbia, where about 70% of householders have moved in since 2010.

Modern Mortgage Trends

If you’re a newer homeowner or currently house-hunting, it might be a while before you earn your “freedom flyer” eagle. The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate rose to 6.90% last week, up from 6.77% the previous week, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages also increased, reaching 6.29% from 6.12% the previous week.

For comparison, in 1955, when the typical home price was around $22,000, the average mortgage rate was about 4%. The last time rates were this low in the U.S. was early 2022. However, experts predict that 2024 will likely be a better year for home buyers.

Finding Your Freedom Flyer

When you finally pay off your mortgage, it’s unlikely that anyone will bring a cast iron eagle plaque to your home. However, you can still purchase these plaques from retailers like Home Depot and Amazon to proudly display your mortgage-free status.