Contact real estate agent? Check.
Clean home from top to bottom, fix leaky faucets and buy fresh flowers? Check.
Bury St. Joseph in the yard? Huh?
When it comes time to sell a house, some homeowners rely on St. Joseph, carpenter, earthly father of Jesus and, well, earthly real estate agent. A centuries-old tradition claims that burying a statue of St. Joseph in the yard helps homes sell faster.
Stephen J. Binz believes it works. The author of "St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent," he became a believer when his own house had been on the market for seven long months. Upon the advice of his Presbyterian real estate agent, Binz buried a St. Joseph statue in his yard.
"I thought it was a rather ridiculous superstition," says Binz, a practicing Catholic. But a week later, he had an offer and sold the house.
Binz now says it's only a superstition if you treat it like one. "The distinction between superstition and devotion is created by the person doing it," says Binz. In other words, if you simply bury St. Joseph and count on that to sell the house, then it's superstition. If you do it as an act of faith, then it's devotion.
Happily for home sellers, kits containing small, easy-to-bury statues detail exactly how to deep six St. Joseph and pray for his assistance. Roman Inc., a Rosedale, Ill.-based company, has produced St. Joseph home-sales kits since 1996. Complete with a statue and a prayer card, the kit consistently ranks among its top-selling designs. Roman currently sells four different styles of St. Joseph kits, including one translated into Spanish.
The House of Hansen, a religious goods store in Chicago, sells between 30 and 50 St. Joseph statues a week to people of all denominations, according to manager Mary Arens. Buyers are usually on a mission, heading straight for the one style she stocks: "Someone either told them about it or they used it before," says Arens.
Marcia Gies, a metropolitan Detroit real estate agent for Coldwell Banker, purchases St. Joseph statues in bulk and gives them to clients who ask her about the custom. She handed the first one out as a joke 14 years ago after a listing expired that had been on the market for a year and half. It then sold in one showing.
But do houses with St. Joseph planted in the yard always sell quickly?
"Some do, some don't," says Gies.
When a friend suggested Judith Semas bury St. Joseph, she couldn't resist -- her San Jose, Calif., house had languished on the market for six months and she was pressed for cash. "I thought it was a crazy idea, but she insisted I didn't have to believe in it, just bury the statue," says Semas, who identifies herself as a spiritual person who doesn't practice any particular religion.
Semas' house sold less than two weeks later within $5,000 of the asking price. "Let's just say that from then on I decided that any time I'd plan on selling my house, I'd be soliciting a little help from St. Joseph," she says.
Not everyone agrees on how the practice of burying St. Joseph began. The most popular tale is that an order of European religious sisters in the Middle Ages buried a St. Joseph medal and asked the saint to help them acquire land for a convent. Others believe a religious brother in Montreal in the late 1800s buried St. Joseph medals in the land he wanted for a new oratory. Or that German carpenters first buried St. Joseph statues in the foundations of houses they built.
Just as vague is how and where St. Joseph should be buried. Some say the statue should be placed in a hole in the backyard upside down, with his feet toward heaven, facing the home. Others say he should face the new home, be in a corner or in the front yard. Most condo owners simply stick him in a flowerpot.
But one thing is certain: When the house is sold and the deal is done, St. Joseph should be dug up and placed in a spot of honor in the new home. How many people actually follow through and unearth the saint is unknown, says Binz, but he estimates that there are "a lot of buried statues out there that people have forgotten once the house is sold."
Michelle Blake turned to St. Joseph after she and her husband purchased a new home and their small Cape Cod residence remained unsold through the usually hot spring and summer real estate seasons. "We are both Catholic, so we figured what the heck, it couldn't hurt," recalls Blake of West Chester, Pa.
After burying a statue upside down, facing the street and next to the for sale sign, Blake and her family began praying to St. Joseph daily. The house sold within two weeks.
"Who knows if it was coincidence or St. Joseph," adds Blake. "But I'll tell you that I still have the prayer to St. Joseph on my fridge and the little plastic statue on my windowsill."
Darci Smith is a freelance writer based in Chicago.