Generations ago, possession of a fully paid-off home was considered a luxury enjoyed by a decidedly favored few.
That has changed, according to a new analysis of mortgage data by Seattle-based real estate data tracker Zillow.
Zillow says that more than 20 percent of homeowners in the Sacramento area own their homes outright, unencumbered by a mortgage.
Sacramento's percentage of 21.5 percent was among 30 top U.S. metro markets broken out by Zillow, which said 20.6 million Americans, or 29.3 percent of homeowners, own their homes outright.
In California, Sacramento's percentage of fully owned homes slightly surpassed Los Angeles (20.8 percent), matched San Diego (21.5 percent) and was slightly less than San Francisco (21.8 percent). Riverside came in at 20.6 percent, San Jose at 22.1 percent.
Among the nation's 30 largest metro areas, Pittsburgh had the highest percentage (38.6 percent) of homeowners not paying on a mortgage. Washington, D.C., was on the bottom of the list at 15.5 percent.
To calculate the free-and-clear home-ownership rate, Zillow calculated the number of homeowners and those with no outstanding mortgage debt by location and demographics.
The data were amassed through the third quarter of 2012 and did not include investor and rental homes.
Zillow noted that U.S. areas with lower home values generally had higher outright home ownership rates.
Not surprisingly, owners' ages produced a pattern.
Nationally, Zillow found that 65- to 74-year-olds are most likely to be free-and-clear (20.5 percent), followed by 74- to 84-year-olds (17.9 percent).
But there was also this: Zillow said 34.5 percent of 20- to 24-year-old homeowners are free of mortgages.
And only 15.5 percent of those with the highest credit ratings are free-and-clear homeowners.
Stan Humphries, Zillow's chief economist, said one good reason to identify the free-and-clear group is that "homeowners unencumbered by a mortgage may be more flexible than indebted homeowners, and therefore more apt or willing to list their homes or enter the market for a new property."
"By determining where these homeowners are located, we can also gain insight into potential inventory and demand in those areas as well."