It really shows how the housing market is ICE COLD and nobody can sell their house, since St. Joseph statues are selling at 10X the normal rate. I think the bubble has burst!
Superstitions, statues reflect cooling housing market
Kathleen Mitchell, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent, couldn't sell a bayfront Miami condo that was about to lose its water view to a high-rise luxury apartment building. So she turned to a Catholic saint who's known as ``the underground real estate agent.''
At the advice of a co-worker, Mitchell asked her client to bury a four-inch plastic statue of St. Joseph upside down in a planter on his balcony. He followed her instructions, and his condo in the Charter Club on 36th street sold 10 days later for around $315,000, she said.
''Every time I've put a statue in a property, it's sold,'' said Mitchell, a Methodist, who said she has buried statues of St. Joseph on 15 properties. ``I've used it for the majority of my listings, whether they know it or not.''
The folk tradition of burying a statue of St. Joseph -- patron saint of carpentry, home ownership and real estate -- has grown increasingly popular among Florida real estate brokers struggling to sell properties in a cooling market, real estate agents and vendors who sell the statues said.
Joseph, a carpenter and husband of the Virgin Mary, has long been regarded as a saintly intercessor for laborers and home buyers. Some believe the ritual of burying St. Joseph's statue originated with St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Catholic nun who prayed to St. Joseph and buried his medals in the earth to find land for convents.
The practice has grown so widespread that Realtors and home sellers can now choose from basic and ''deluxe'' St. Joseph real estate kits that include a statue, prayer book and tips on the proper way to petition the saint. The instructions usually go like this: Bury a statue of St. Joseph head first, six inches deep near the property's for sale sign. After the property sells, unearth the statue and keep it in a prominent place in your new home (failure to do so, legend holds, could reverse your good fortune).
Since the real estate market started to fizzle in the past year, stores and websites that stock the statues have been selling out.
''Sales have just gone crazy,'' said Phil Cates, owner of the website stjoseph
statue.com. ``We have really devout Catholics who call on St. Joseph for most things in their lives, and on the other side we have people who think St. Joseph is nothing more than a piece of plastic, but hey, what have I got to lose?''
Cates said the website has sold thousands of kits to Realtors and brokers who purchase the statues in bulk. Florida is his biggest market, with about 5,000 to 6,000 customers, he said.
Some homeowners are still waiting for results.
Claudine Sivilla, 29, recently ordered a St. Joseph statue to help sell her house in Homestead for about $440,000. Sivilla, a Coptic Orthodox Christian, said she regarded the tradition as an old wives' tale but buried a statue of St. Joseph after a friend recommended the practice. She's yet to see any miraculous results, she said.
The Catholic Church does not endorse or condemn the ritual, which arose as a form of popular worship in the Middle Ages and has no roots in Catholic theology or liturgy, said the Rev. Juan J. Sosa, chairman of the Committee on Popular Piety for the Archdiocese of Miami.
Some theologians, however, say there's a substantial difference between praying for land to build a convent and petitioning St. Joseph to make a profit.
''The saints are heroic figures; are they there to help us sell a house at a good price?'' said Edward Sunshine, associate professor of theology at Barry University. ``You're reducing the whole spiritual realm to commerce.''
Whether the practice of burying St. Joseph is an act of devotion or a commercialized form of superstition, its rise seems tied to the dip in the housing market.
Nationwide, home prices in August fell for the first time in more than a decade, according to a recent industry report comparing August sales nationwide to the previous year. In Florida, single-family home sales fell 34 percent in August compared with the previous year, while condo sales dropped by 41 percent, a report released this week by the Florida Association of Realtors said.
Ron Weissman, who sells St. Joseph statues on the website goodfortuneonline.net, said he's been stunned by the rise in sales.
''I figured we'd sell a few hundred of these, but we're selling 10 times what we thought,'' said Weissman, who lives in Delray Beach. ``My wife and I both think it has to have something to do with the fact that the real estate market is in the tank.''