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St. Joseph, Superagent in Real Estate

Lord knows it’s rough out there in the housing market. Still, you had to feel bad for Patty Bonadies, digging with a spoon in the rocky soil in front of the new three-story colonial for sale at 7 Old Roaring Brook Road in search of the tiny statue of St. Joseph she had buried in hopes of helping the house sell. “I should have brought a bigger spoon,” she said. She wanted to move the statue, which she had planted near the front door in May, to a perhaps more propitious spot. Her late mother-in-law’s house in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., is for sale, and she plans to plant a statue there, too. “You have to believe,” she said. “In this market, you’re looking for any help you can get.”

St. Joseph
St. Joseph

Mrs. Bonadies, a real estate agent for three years, is Roman Catholic, but St. Joseph, who is said to look after homes, families and carpenters, among many other things, isn’t just for Catholics anymore. With the housing market still dismal, the Catholic tradition of planting a statue of him as a way to help a house sell is going like gangbusters online, in stores selling religious goods and elsewhere — even if home sales are not. “In the past, we’ve seen some upticks in sales of the kits whenever there’s a sign that the housing market is on the skids,” said Nicholas Cole, director of marketing for the Catholic Company, based in Charlotte, N.C., which sells religious items online and through catalogs. “But the sales of the product have been really strong for the last two years. We saw a really big spike last year, and they’re still really selling. I don’t want to say ‘desperate’ is the right word, but I think it’s selling to people across the board, not just Catholics.”

He added that the statue had helped him sell a house and a condominium in the past few years.

It’s not completely clear when the tradition began, and devotees disagree over how best to participate. Head down? By the “for sale” sign? In a flowerpot? But it has been adopted by many real estate agents, who suggest that sellers, particularly in this market, give the statue a chance.

A religious-goods store in the area has four green-and-white St. Joseph kits — a 3 ½-inch plastic statue, a card with the words to a prayer to St. Joseph, and an instructional pamphlet — on its front counter. The front of the kit shows the statue and a house with a “sold” sign. The back explains: “Can’t sell home? Ask St. Joseph. He’s helping 1,000s.” It adds, “Faith can move mountains and homes!!!”

And online, St. Joseph is everywhere. The Underground Real Estate Agent Kit offers four-inch and eight-inch statues; a book, “St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent”; and a free online home listing. On sites like Amazon.com, the reviews of the statues tend to be pretty straightforward. It either worked (“House had been on the market for 7 months and got an offer within 1 week of this statue’s arrival”) or it didn’t (“I fell for it! I bought the St. Joseph. I followed his instructions to the T and got no buyers for my house still after 2 months.”)

SOME find the notion of magic house sales distasteful. “If you just bury the statue in the ground, you’re not going to sell your home,” said Gerard Siccardi, whose family runs a religious-goods business in White Plains. “You’re supposed to pray. You’re supposed to have some reverence about this. It’s a faith-based item.”

But Stephen J. Binz, the author of 25 books on religion, including “St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent” (“It’s the lightest of them,” he said), said that even on a casual level, there’s a kind of grass-roots spirituality involved. “I believe God can work in people’s lives in all sorts of ways without our really understanding them,” he said.

And so, for whatever reason, the statue has plenty of fans, even if asking the right price might mean more than finding the right statue.

Joe Becwar, an observant Catholic, said he sold his house in Southampton, N.Y., soon after his mother suggested the statue and his real estate agent told him to plant it head down, facing the house, by the “for sale” sign. His brother in Chicago had the same experience, he added.

And Cheryl Katz, who is Jewish and works with Mrs. Bonadies, said the statue helped her sell two houses as a real estate agent. Now that her own house is on the market, she’s using it for herself. “You want to believe in something,” she said.

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