Homesellers Seek Saint Joseph

Wilmington, NC – While the cooling real estate market has some local sellers biting their nails, others are turning to divine intervention to woo that 'sold' sign.

Divine intervention in this case comes in the form of a four-inch statue of Saint Joseph, patron saint of homesellers.

Local Christian stores say they've had trouble keeping his statue in stock over the last year. Especially since their national suppliers are often sold out as well.

According to tradition, sellers bury a small statue of Saint Joseph upside down in the yard of their home, say daily prayers, and wait for the buyers to arrive. When the house sells, Saint Joseph is then supposed to be dug up and displayed proudly in the new home.

David Latham, manager of the Saint Mary Shrine gift shop, says he's seen sales of the statue increase mightily over the past few months. He became especially intrigued when he noticed some customers were buying five or six at a time. They turned out to be realtors, stocking up for their clients.

On average, Wilmington homes sat on the market ten days longer in 2006 than in 2005, according to numbers released by the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors, and numbers for the first two months of 2007 suggest the wait for buyers is only getting longer.

Although existing home sales surged last month, according to the National Assocation of Realtors, the statues are selling well nationwide. A representative of Malhame, the national distributor that supplies Saint Joseph statues to one Wilmington store, says they've been running through tens of thousands of the product in recent months, trying to meet demand.

It's a quirky modern twist on the saints - Saint Joseph 'homeseller kits' retail for around $5.99 - but there's some old history behind it. Latham speculates that burying the saint upside down continues a medieval tradition of insulting saints to attract their attention.

"Back in the Middles Ages," Latham says, "there was a practice that, if you asked a saint to intercede for you on behalf a particular need, that you hurled insults at the saint until you got what you wanted."

Latham says Mary's husband may have become the patron saint of home-sellers because of his profession as a carpenter and his ability to find homes for his family.

Some customers at the Saint Mary gift shop swear by the saint's intercession, Latham says, although he knows others for whom the statue didn't work. But he likes to point out that, when asking for God's help, "no" is also an answer.