Friday, August 25, 2006

St. Joe sold their homes

From: Los Angeles Daily News

St. Joseph must sense the housing market is in a slump.

For more than 500 years, home sellers have turned to Jesus' earthly father for help locating a buyer. Like a litmus test, sales of his 4-inch statues - which sellers plant head down on their property - ebb and flow with the tides of the real estate market.

Lately, they've been flying off Christian gift store shelves. And sellers testify they've turned into believers.

"Whether it is divine intervention or faith - or who knows? - definitely something is working," said Brian Moore, a Glendale real estate agent.

Moore, who was raised Catholic, first heard about the St. Joseph phenomenon six months ago from a colleague who, like him, was having trouble selling a home.

Moore bought and buried a statue on each of six properties he was listing. Each entered escrow that week.

Because some people think the practice is a silly superstition, Moore said, he sometimes buries the statues without telling the homeowner.

"You don't know how people will react," he said. "But I believe that it works - absolutely."

Since 2000, few homeowners had needed supernatural support to sell property. With annual double-digit price appreciation throughout California, homes were selling within days - sometimes hours - of appearing on the Multiple Listing Service.

All that came to an end late last year.

The median price of a home sold last month in the San Fernando Valley was just 1.2 percent more than in July 2005 - and 2.9 percent, or $18,000, lower than in the month before. Only 809 homes were sold this July, the fewest for that month since 1993, amid the last housing downturn.

"Coming off of several years of very strong sellers' markets, this looks shocking. And it is a dramatic turnaround, no doubt about it," said Steve White, president of the Southland Regional Association of Realtors.

Against historical measures, however, the housing market is returning to normal, he said.

Still, hopeful sellers are getting nervous. With a current inventory of 5.7 months, it has become common for a house or condo to go 60 days to 90 days without an offer.

Before Isabel Nu¤ez put her Winnetka town home up for sale in mid-June, she repainted the walls and updated the fixtures. No buyer. She shampooed the carpets and cleaned the patio. Nada. Finally, she dropped the price by $6,000 from $465,000. Still, no luck.

Hoping to comfort his client, agent Jeffrey Billinger sent her a St. Joseph statue. The Catholic woman buried it in front of the "for sale" sign Friday and waited.

Suddenly, real estate agents began calling, and looky-loos actually attended an open house.

"If you have faith in something, it will work," the 28-year-old customer-service representative said.

Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus, is a Catholic saint, though the home-selling tradition is not endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church.

"Catholics often make use of saints' images in meditating on their lives and asking them to pray for us," said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "I'm not aware of any place in the Gospel or in Christian tradition that justifies using saints' images to sell real estate. At best, it is probably a harmless superstition."

Legend has it that St. Joseph entered the real-estate market in the 16th century, some 1,500 years after his death. In need of land for a convent, St. Teresa of Avila dug a hole in the ground and buried an image of the saint.

"I'm only assuming it was a seller's market back then and there was no land available," said Phil Cates, owner of "Since she wasn't a real-estate mogul, she called on St. Joseph for help, and she buried a medallion of St. Joseph, and they got the land for the convent."

At some point, the saint crossed over to the seller's side to provide assistance during buyer's markets. Some real-estate agents use the statues "religiously," said Cates, who said his Modesto-based distributor has seen business double in each of the past three years. A few have printed business cards with a picture of St. Joseph on them.

Though some homebuyers have used the statues to ensure the close of escrow, there is no known saint through whom prayers will soften a seller's market.

"The market can do that on its own," said Cates, who also is a mortgage broker. "We're talking `St. U.S. Economy' there."

The statues aren't just for the Christian faithful. Take the Jewish man who recently visited Zimmer's Religious Art & Gifts in Toluca Lake after his home had gone almost a year without getting a nibble.

"He didn't want to enter the door because it is a Christian store, so he opened the door and stuck his head in," said owner Margie Murphy, who sold him a St. Joseph statue and gave him a prayer to recite. "Five days later he came back and said activity was hopping."

At St. Peter's Pier in Canoga Park, only one statue remained in a green box that read, "Faith can move mountains ... and homes!"

But don't expect that $9.95 purchase to add thousands of dollars to the sale of your home, said store owner Hal Storey, who deep-sixed a statue to sell his Minnesota home in 1964.

"You can't list your house $10,000 over the market and just use one of these and pray it will sell," Storey said.

"Sometimes," his wife, Barb, chimed in, "God says, `No."'