At a recent brokers’ open house, a lunch was offered, and a group of us sat around munching as the conversation turned to marketing strategies we were employing to sell our listings in a depressed market.

One agent wondered aloud whether more of us were asking seller clients to bury a statue of St. Joseph in their yards, a custom which many believe helps to sell homes. There were a couple of giggles in response, but one by one, each agent related his or her personal story about the practice.

“I’m Jewish,” said Geri, “but a few times I’ve told my clients that I ‘hear’ there just ‘may’ be something to this St. Joseph belief, and that it can’t hurt to try it.”

Carol and John were most familiar with the practice, and even knew the right and wrong ways to bury the statue. “You have to bury him upside down facing the house,” said John, “and you have to dig him up once the house is sold and place him in an honored place in your new home, like the mantel.”

Carol, a former president of our area’s board of realtors for three years, as well as a past “Realtor of the Year” in our region, would not seem like someone prone to suggesting hocus pocus to market a property. Still she said, “I give a statue of St. Joseph to those clients where it seems appropriate. After all, this is a religious thing, and you must feel that your seller would be receptive. But it’s amazing how many coincidences have happened where people believe that St. Joseph helped them out.”

Jason, a quiet but brilliant office manager of another firm, listened to the discussion intently, and I wondered what he was thinking. After everyone had spoken, he disclosed without hesitation that he has given a St. Joseph statue to nearly all of his clients. “I even suggested the idea to an audience of 300 agents at a real estate marketing seminar, and it was amazing that so many in the audience were already doing it,” he said.

Not all realtors are on board with the practice. Maria, a self-described devout Catholic, rolled her eyes when asked about the practice. “Statues are meant to honor the saints they represent,” she said with conviction. “Considering that St. Joseph was the earthly father of Jesus and the protector of His mother Mary, why would anyone show such a lack of respect as to bury him in the ground, and upside down at that?”

Based on a tip from Jason that the a nearby association of realtors sells St. Joseph statues to its members, I checked and found that, yes, they are available for sale for $4.95 in both their offices. When I emailed its president asking for a comment about the service, how long it had been offered, and her personal feelings about it, I received no response.

I also called two Catholic parishes in our area leaving messages for a monsignor at one and a priest at the other, asking what they would advise if a parishioner asked for the Church’s position on this practice. Neither returned my call.

As with most folklore, especially those involving religion or superstition, it’s hard to track down the roots of the custom.

Some real estate bloggers report that it originated in the Middle Ages when an order of European nuns buried a medal of St. Joseph, asking that the saint intercede in a quest for a convent. Others say it is connected to carpenters in Germany who buried medals of St. Joseph in the foundations of houses they built. Some suggest that the practice may have originated as recently as the early 1970s by realtors in a down market, or it may have been re-popularized at that time.

There are some amusing anecdotes in blogs about the proper way to bury the statue. One home owner mistakenly faced the statue away from his house, rather than toward it, and the house across the street sold without even being on the market!

Another story is about a man who couldn’t figure out the right location for the statue to work. In frustration, he threw it out with the trash, only to read soon after in his local newspaper that the city’s garbage dump had been sold!

My favorite story is about two sisters who lived in different cities, and one advised the other about employing St. Joseph to sell her house. When she wrote the letter, she mistakenly typed the requisite size of the statue to be buried vertically and upside down as 6’ rather than 6”. The response was, “Wow, that’s some job! Wouldn’t I have to get a backhoe for that?”

There are websites capitalizing on the tradition. In selling the statue, one of them advises that the practice works most effectively “if the homeowner completes all the necessary fix-ups in the home, has it staged and, finally, adjusts the sales price to reflect market value.” Well, duh!

Another site offers a St. Joseph Home Selling Kit available with a 4” statue for $9.95 and an 8” statue, which I suppose works twice as hard, for $13.95.

The site also offers a book for $8.99 titled “St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent.” Try it if you’re so inclined, but you might also consider giving St. Joseph a hand by retaining a more earthly realtor who knows your local market thoroughly.

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