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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 22, 2007

St. Joseph in big demand amid housing downturn

By Keith Uhlig
Wausau (Wis.) Daily Herald

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A clerk shows the statues many home sellers are buying at the Christian Bookstore in Weston, Wis., to bury in their yards.

COREY SCHJOTH | Wausau (Wis.) Daily Herald via GNS

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Dr. David and Rita Murdock don't really believe planting a saint's statue in front of their lake home near Hazelhurst, Wis., will help them sell it faster.

Instead, they buried the statue of St. Joseph upside-down in front of their log home on Lake Katherine as a way to affirm their faith.

"It really is about trusting God and his plan for us," Rita Murdock, 55, says. "The house will sell. In the meantime, our faith increases."

Dave Torkko, a real estate agent with Re/Max of Wausau, Wis., estimates that 10 percent of his clients call on the St. Joseph tradition to help them sell their houses.

"Some people swear by it," Torkko says.

National sales of $5 to $10 Joseph statues have risen as the housing market has dropped.

"I have seen more interest and more sales since the market tightened up," says Cary Uttech, owner of two Wisconsin Christian bookstores. "It's one of my top-selling items right now."

Burying a statue of Joseph the husband of Mary and the patron saint of workers, families and household needs has been a long-held tradition among Catholics who want to sell property. Many believe that if they bury his statue head-down on the property, Joseph guides buyers to the site.

Joseph had firsthand experience with the fickleness of supply and demand in the housing market, of course. The story of how he managed to find a room for his bride (albeit in a stable) has been the basis of the Christmas message for more than 2,000 years. For that reason, Catholic legend has it that Joseph is a special friend to real estate agents.

Uttech estimates that he's sold an average of a dozen statues a week for the past few weeks.

"I'm definitely seeing an increase, starting in 2006 and continuing through 2007," says Jeanne Acheson, director of product development for Roman Inc., a Bloomingdale, Ill., manufacturer and wholesaler of inspirational and secular gift products.

Acheson said the Joseph tradition is crossing denominational boundaries.

"I think the veneration of the saints started out in the Catholic Church," Acheson says. "But there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence passed along that this works. Particularly in a downturned real estate market, I think neighbors talk to neighbors, and they'll try it."

During a previous downturn in the housing market, about four years ago, Susan Schuerman of Phoenix urged her boss to plant a St. Joseph statue in the yard of his home. The house had been listed for sale for more than a year.

"He was starting to think it was a white elephant," Schuerman recalls.

Even though her boss is Mormon, "he finally gave in," Schuerman says.

Two weeks after the statue was buried, the home sold for asking price. Schuerman says she wasn't surprised, although she thinks her boss might have been.

The Murdocks view the St. Joseph tradition as a symbol.

"It took away some anxiety of the issue," David Murdock, 55, says. "It made me realize that this is out of my hands. ... I don't believe he actually sells the house for us, but by including him in our prayers, it's a sign of faith, of letting go. If your house is meant to sell, then it will."

The Arizona Republic contributed to this report.