Home sellers seek help from a saint
After three real estate agents, two price reductions and nearly a year with no offers on their town house in Las Vegas, George and Katherine Grodin turned to a higher power for help.
They bought a 4-inch plastic figurine of St. Joseph -- the patron saint of home and employment -- and placed it upside down in their patio with hopes of breaking their home-selling slump.
“I just felt so helpless,” said Katherine Grodin, 47. “I needed to do something.”
The trick hasn’t worked yet for the Grodins, but as the real estate market continues to flag, a growing number of the faithful -- and the desperate -- are embracing the odd ritual of burying St. Joseph to clinch a quick sale.
Amazon carries St. Joseph. So do some True Value and Ace hardware stores. At the four Elliott’s Ace Hardware stores in the Milwaukee area, customers have snapped up more than 182 in the last 12 months, said manager Scot Stark of the Elm Grove branch.
Robert DiCocco, manager of the DiCocco Family St. Jude Shop in Havertown, Pa., said that not a day goes by without someone coming into the store for a statue to help speed up a house sale.
“They’re a little sheepish when they ask, ‘What saint do I bury?’ ” said DiCocco, whose family business is one of the largest religious goods stores on the East Coast.
Real estate agents are snapping up “St. Joseph Home Selling Kits” for would-be clients -- in both English and Spanish-language editions. Ronnie Wilson, an agent in Carlsbad, Calif., includes the figurine in her regular marketing kit, along with “For Sale” signs and online advertisements.
She started suggesting that home sellers bury the icons in their front lawns three years ago after hearing about the practice from other real estate agents.
“I do carry a hoe around in my car in case they want me to do it for them,” Wilson said. “Every little bit helps.”
The interest in St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, has a history in the real estate world.
During the real estate busts of the 1980s and 1990s, agents and homeowners revived the tradition, which may date back to medieval Europe. As the story goes, a group of nuns received a needed parcel of land for their convent after burying their St. Joseph medallions and praying to the saint for aid.
These days, most people opt for a kit like the ones sold by Philip Cates, a Modesto, Calif.-based mortgage banker and owner of StJosephStatue.com. He sells an 8-inch model for $13.95.
Typically, the kits include a 3- to 8-inch figurine, a bag to bury it in, instructions and sample prayers. Burial should be beneath a “For Sale” sign or near the entrance of a home.
Once the property sells, tradition calls for the seller to dig up the statue, dust it off and keep it in a place of honor.
And if no one makes an offer?
“Perhaps it’s not time to sell,” said Cates, who has sold more than a quarter of a million do-it-yourself kits since he launched the mail-order company in 1990.
For some homeowners, the statues only stay as long as it takes for escrow to close. Debra Schneider was having trouble selling her custom-built home three years ago in Columbia County, N.Y., when a neighbor’s relative suggested she bury a statue.
“I thought she was kidding me. I told her, ‘I’m a Jewish yogi. I don’t believe in that,’ ” said Schneider, 55.
The next day, though, she went and bought a statue, figuring she had little to lose. The house sold.
“Of course, I had lowered the price, which might have helped too,” Schneider said.
But when Schneider decided to pull up stakes again this fall after her daughter got into an academic program in Chicago, one of the first things she did was bury another St. Joseph statue.
“There’s something ritualistic about it that people can connect with,” Schneider said. “It’s taking a moment to connect with something bigger than ourselves, at a time when most of us feel totally out of control.”
Some religious leaders, however, are less than enthusiastic.
Father Pat Lee, lead pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Chicago, regularly pleads with anxious parishioners to pray for divine aid -- not to bury their church’s namesake in the dirt. When a nearby religious goods store started carrying the St. Joseph kits, he chastised the staff for encouraging “a ridiculous superstition.”
“You are burying a saint and holding him hostage in the ground until you get what you want,” Lee said. “This is not magic. This is ridiculous.”
But vendors who sell the kits say they expect sales will continue to be brisk through the country’s economic crisis.
No real estate idea these days seems too unorthodox to try.
In the Bay Area, feng shui practitioners are working on homes with real estate agents to help them entice buyers. In Denver, David Stevens, owner of Yoga of the Mind, is booked solid by agents and homeowners wanting his “energy work” to clear out the bad vibes of properties that aren’t selling.
“At least half the people I’ve done this with, this is the first time they’ve done anything like this,” Stevens said. “They’ve done everything right, they’ve priced things right, they staged it right. This is that something extra.”
As for St. Joseph, Cates envisions a new wave of converts. His four-person company plans to reach out to builders, developers and banks.
“With so many financial institutions trying to sell off so many repossessed properties, I think the bankers could use a little help,” Cates said.