Payoff parade celebrates homeowner’s big moment
Despite the pandemic, Anne Fenkner celebrates completing her final mortgage payment six years early with a COVID-19-compliant parade.
A jovial crowd of masked figures strode purposefully toward the bank branch down the street ahead of them. Leading the throng, Anne Fenkner wore a drum major cap and carried a megaphone, occasionally calling out, “Last payment, last payment. No more!”
Amid the masks, the social distancing, the drums, signs, costumes, and laughter, everybody in the procession had a singular focus. One banner said it all: “Anne’s Mortgage Payoff Parade.”
This was indeed Fenkner’s day. Nearly three decades in the making, she celebrated paying off her mortgage early at the end of a mile-long, COVID-19-compliant walk to a Wells Fargo branch in Sacramento, California. Friends and family members — including her parents, who are in their 80s — joined the festive occasion on July 7, which is also her birthday.
“With the pandemic and all that’s going on in the world these days, I thought about calling off this event, but my friends persuaded me to follow through with it.” — Anne Fenkner
“It is such a big milestone,” said Fenkner, 55, an urban forester and community activist. “With the pandemic and all that’s going on in the world these days, I thought about calling off this event, but my friends persuaded me to follow through with it. I’m so glad my parents were there to see this day. Owning a home is a big part of our family’s values.”
Fenkner’s accomplishment, once a rarity for homeowners long ago, is part of a decade-long trend driven largely by the baby-boom generation, Bloomberg reports, citing Zillow research. According to the most recent data, as of 2017, about 37% of Americans owned their home mortgage-free, an increase of 5.5 percentage points over the previous ten years.
Baby-boomer homeowners helped fuel the increase, outnumbering millennial homeowners nearly two-to-one, Zillow economist Jeff Tucker told Forbes. Baby boomers “have a strong preference to age in place, and it is becoming more prevalent for older adults to own their homes outright after paying off their mortgages,” he said.
Personal finance experts often caution homeowners about paying off their mortgage early, citing the better investment returns they could earn with the extra money it costs them to pay down the loan sooner.
By all indications, however, Fenkner did it the right way — budgeting, saving, investing, and building up a rainy day fund, all while carving down her mortgage debt through the years, while still donating to charity.
“She really did it the old-school way,” said Nadia Melzer, district manager for the branch Fenkner visits. “She set her goal, saved up, lived within her means, and managed her money well.”
Still, when Fenkner first contacted the bank about her parade plan, branch staff members were a little nervous about the idea of dozens of people marching to the bank amid a pandemic. She assured them the crowd would be orderly, practice social distancing, and wear masks while remaining outside as Fenkner made her final payment.
“All of us may have been wary at first, but on parade day, we were swept up in that magic that Anne created with her energy,” said Melzer, who presented Fenkner with a certificate of recognition for her achievement. “My team members were outside, cheering her on as they came down the street. We were excited to be witnesses of this really great thing.”
“During these difficult times for everyone, this was an overwhelmingly positive event for our community and obviously for Anne,” said Kevin Barri, Sacramento region bank president for Wells Fargo. “Ultimately, it was a gift to us all.”
For Fenkner, the mortgage payoff came after decades as a nonprofit worker, managing to buy a home in one of the country’s most expensive housing markets. About five years ago, she landed a corporate job as an urban forestry planner, significantly boosting her income and allowing her to accelerate paying off her mortgage.
“I’ve been saving diligently in the past five years or so to really make aggressive payments, and today it’s going to be mine,” she told CBS affiliate KMAX-TV in Sacramento, on parade day. “I bought it for a reasonable price, but when you add it all up, it’s just overwhelming.”
Long-time friend Stacey Powell has witnessed much of Fenkner’s story.
“The parade wasn’t just a celebration of her last payment,” said Powell, author of “The Finance Gym Action Plan for a Better Life with Money,” which includes some highlights of Fenkner’s journey. “It’s also a celebration of a younger Anne who struggled through years of barely being able to make ends meet. Years of beans and rice, driving old cars, and do-it-yourself home projects because that’s all she could afford.
“Paying off a mortgage when you’re financially comfortable is celebration-worthy — and Anne is comfortable now,” Powell added. “But paying off a mortgage when you’ve been through tough times is parade-worthy.”
When asked what she will do now that her house is paid for, Fenkner said there’s no shortage of causes she has supported through the years — from environmental causes to LGBTQ and human rights groups.
“I contribute my time and financially to the organizations that I believe in,” she said. “I want to be part of the solution to make a better world for us all.”