Desperate Sellers Dig That Saint

From Times Wires Services

Patricia Vincente has been trying to sell some commercial property for longer than she cares to say. And some of her clients have had homes on the market for two years without so much as a nibble--even though they've dropped their prices, offered to help with financing and even suggested trading with potential buyers.

So Vincente has gone a step further in hope of getting an edge in a depressed real estate market: She bought three 6-inch, $3 plastic statuettes of St. Joseph, suitable for burying.

"Business is so bad I'll try anything," said Vincente, a Catholic and owner of Vincente Realty. So she buried one of the statuettes upside down on her property. The other two, she plans to give to the sellers she thinks are "most desperate."

In back yards from New York to California, statuettes of the patron saint of home and family are being buried by owners wishing for a little luck, or at the very least, a firm offer.

"We've got about 10 agents burying the statues now," said Chuck Lamb, who owns four Century 21 offices in the San Fernando Valley. "Most of them aren't even Catholic."

Added Jackie Anderson of the West Orange County Assn. of Realtors in Garden Grove: "We had 50 statues, but we sold them all. They're in short supply right now."

No one agrees how or when the idea originated--some say it goes back to the Middle Ages when nuns buried St. Joseph medals on property they wanted to acquire for convents. Others say it was on a Chicago talk show in the early 1980s--but they do agree on one thing: St. Joseph statuettes are to home sellers what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are to school kids.

At Panation Trade Co. Inc., a religious import and wholesale business in New York City, owner Fred Mulfeld has been getting daily calls from retailers begging for more. But he can't help. His stock has been almost depleted.

"St. Joseph has been a popular statue . . . but in the last six months, it's been a phenomenon of the sort that doesn't usually happen in this industry," he said.

Times Staff Writer David W. Myers contributed to this story.

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