Can’t sell? Ask saints for divine intervention
By Tom Kelly
What do you do when the housing market is slow and you absolutely must sell? You pull out all the stops — and pray for the best.
Let’s focus on the “pray” part for a moment. More than 15 years ago, when home prices plummeted along with the hopes of many would-be sellers, I wrote about an ex-Jesuit priest and his family who had bought a new home in another city. They cleaned, polished and painted but could not find a buyer for their home. And carrying two mortgages at the same time began to take a heavy toll. To help speed the process of the home sale, they buried palm leaves in the four corners of their lot and said a few prayers.
The couple not only soon got a full-price offer, but they heard from other folks who had buried religious articles in their yards — statues, medals, holy cards — in the hope of divine intervention. Many claim they sold their home almost as soon as the garden spade was rehung.
“The idea came from the agent who was helping us sell our place,” said Kevin King, the former priest who passed along the palm tip. “She was a member of our church and her mother had buried palm leaves in her yard. We thought, ‘What the heck?’ We had made an offer on a house we really wanted and we had to sell our place to get the house. I was certain a few prayers weren’t going to hurt.”
The topic often surfaces in early spring because palms are plentiful in Christian churches during the Easter season. But palms don’t seem to be the top choice when it comes to religious services to sell the home. Leading in divine intervention is the practice of putting a statue of St. Joseph in the yard.
A Modesto, Calif., couple has now sold more than 500,000 “St. Joseph: Underground Real Estate Agent” kits for $8, plus $1.95 for shipping and handling. When I contacted Karin Reenstierna and Phil Cates seven years ago, total sales amounted to about 6,000. You can get one by calling (888) BURY-JOE or by visiting www.stjosephstatue.com.
“You would think our market would really pick up when the market turns soft,” Cates said. “But sales have been consistent — fast and furious. Most of our sales come from the Internet, and there are months when we send 4,000 kits out the door. If you buy the kit, we also offer to list your home for sale on our site for free.”
Reenstierna first used babysitters to help place the small plastic statues and printed-out prayers into woven bags and manila shipping envelopes in her basement. The next phase included a part-time employee who made a few trips a week to the local post office. Now, “product fulfillment” is a big-time operation.
St. Joseph is the patron saint of the family and household. (If you are really desperate, St. Jude is the patron saint of impossible situations.)
“I’m not Catholic, so I was really new to all this,” Reenstierna said. “But I had a friend who years ago bought a statue of St. Joseph from a religious supply house and the salesperson said it was the very last one. ‘People,’ the salesperson said, ‘bury these in their yards and we can’t keep them in stock.’”
Shortly after my first conversation with Reenstierna, my mother-in-law called to interject that her mother once buried St. Anthony upside down in the mud so that he could “think about that new house” she wanted to buy in 1931. When everything worked out, she replaced the statue that had done the dirty work with a more expensive one from Italy and housed him in a beautiful garden grotto.
St. Anthony? Isn’t he called upon to help find lost possessions?
Perhaps my mother-in-law’s mother was simply confused. That’s because St. Anthony is the “marriage saint” in many areas of Latin America. On his feast day, June 13, women often buy a small statue of St. Anthony and bury it upside down for a week. If she finds a good husband, she turns the statue upright.
Come to think of it, maybe my mother-in-law’s mother knew precisely what she was doing in 1931.
Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk-show host.