With slowing real estate sales in many markets across the country, some real estate agents are willing to try almost anything to sell a house — even if that means burying a saint.

No, not the actual saint — a statue. Some real estate agents believe that digging a hole and burying a statue of St. Joseph on the site of a for-sale home can help to lure a buyer. But the practice has stirred debate about whether the practice is true to the faith or a commercialized and superstitious ritual. There are several companies that sell statues and offer St. Joseph kits with instructions about how to bury the statue.

Bill Wendel, owner of The Real Estate Cafe, a real estate company in Cambridge, Mass., and a practicing Catholic, has created a Web site to foster communication about St. Joseph and offer a forum for people to share their personal experiences and spiritual perspectives.

He calls the project “St. Joe 2.0: Geography of Faith.” The Web project resides at the Platial.com site and features an interactive map with links to information and commentary about St. Joseph and the statues that bear his name.

“Many people think he is the patron saint of real estate,” but that is not accurate, said Wendel. “He is the patron saint of social justice.” The Catholic Online Web site also refers to St. Joseph, an important biblical figure who was the husband of Mary and foster father to Jesus, as patron of the universal church, fathers, carpenters and the dying.

The practice of burying statues is said to have descended from a European tradition born hundreds of years ago in which a group of nuns buried St. Joseph medals in the ground as a sign of devotion when they sought more land for Christian converts.

Some real estate professionals believe that burying a St. Joseph statue upside down in the yard of a for-sale property and praying to the saint can assist with the home sale. There are some variations of the practice — in some cases the statues are buried in particular areas of the property, for example, or buried right-side up. And there is some difference of opinion among statue users on whether to dig up the statue after a home sale or to leave it in the ground.

One Web site offers an “Underground Real Estate Agent” kit, for $9.99, that “contains everything thing you need to successfully bury your own St. Joseph Statue. Be it fact or be it fiction, it’s worked more than once,” the site states.

And that Web site also carries “St. Joseph Believer’s Home Listings” — sellers who purchase a kit can list their homes at the site, and there were 1,535 homes listed at the site as of Tuesday afternoon.

There are believers in other techniques that also can supposedly help to sell a house, such as the Chinese practice of feng shui to bring a living space into harmony with the environment.

Wendel is not a fan of the St. Joseph statue burials, but he said his St. Joe 2.0 site isn’t intended as a soapbox for one particular view.

Ardell DellaLoggia, a Seattle real estate agent who blogs at RainCityGuide.com and SearchingSeattleBlog.com, has used the St. Joseph statues — in an August 2006 blog post she noted that a client who is Jewish had heard about the practice of burying a St. Joseph statue and asked her to plant a statue upside down in her backyard.

“St. Joseph is ‘the worker,'” she noted in her blog. “He’s the symbol that any pursuit backed by one’s sincere desire and hard work is achievable. For many years after he helped my clients, I had this little statue (right side up) wherever I worked. When I had too many closings all at the same time, I would lay him down and put a little felt blanket over him and tell him it was time to rest. St. Joseph and I performed some great miracles together and he was my guiding force my first few years in the real estate business.”

Wendel said different expressions of faith are what his Web site is all about. “I’m less interested in trying to parse out what’s true … than I am in inviting people into a dialogue about faith and meaning and the power of prayer and what’s the highest and best use for those expressions of faith. Calling it St. Joe 2.0 is clever, perhaps, but more importantly puts the tools into our own hands to reinvent this in a way that’s meaningful for ourselves and then to invite people to participate in ways they are comfortable with,” he said.

“My intent isn’t so much to use this map to simply say, ‘Let’s rethink this practice of burying St. Joseph statues upside down. Let’s rethink what we are all doing here. For those of us achieving real estate wealth, how do we want to use our wealth to make this a better place?” he added.

In the name of social justice, Wendel said he is hopeful that people will support the plight of AIDS orphans, for example — whether or not it is explicitly in the name of the saint or any particular faith. “I’m trying to seed something and I would love to enlist the creativity, genius and the firepower of the Web 2.0 community.”

He added, “Let’s create a forum to share the richness of that experience.” Non-believers will hopefully find something at the site that is “meaningful and invites them into reflection as well — and maybe helps answer for them, ‘Is this some superstition or is there really some substance here?’ ” he said.

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